Chef at Wok does not offer the best Chinese food in town. Arguments could be made for any of a handful of places serving up food that someone in Shanghai might actually recognize. But amend that thinking to the best American Chinese food, and it's a contender. Modify with "that delivers to my doorstep" and there's a surefire winner. Untangled from the myth of authenticity, American Chinese food has its own standards to strive for, and Chef at Wok hits them with comforting accuracy. Leave xenophobic fears of ethnic cuisine behind for newly-minted comfort foods like hot-and-sour soup (Chef at Wok does a soul-pleasing version), and there is little more indulgently soothing than the smell of American Chinese food wafting out of the familiar white folded takeout box.
There's a diamond in the rough on Chef at Wok's menu, a careful reading of which will catch any noodle-connoisseur's eye: an upgrade to hand-rolled noodles is available for the chow mein. Chow mein, loosely defined as noodles and stuff, can mean anything from spaghetti with a little soy sauce to the most authentic of hand-shaved noodles with thinly-sliced pork and cabbage. Chef at Wok follows the American Chinese principle of keeping the vegetables large and familiar, bulking the dish with quartered button mushrooms, baby corn, and bell peppers. Snaking around that mundane selection, though, can be the thick, hand-made noodles. They may not the authentic version one could pick up from a Beijing cafe, they're nothing like the dreamy perfection that came at Jack's, but those aren't arriving 45 minutes after a phone call is placed. Nor can they arrive with a dish quite like the eggplant.
Chef at Wok's Crispy Eggplant in Tangy Hot Glaze, catchy name aside, illustrates the key characteristics of American Chinese cuisine, painting a clear picture in orangey-red and sticky-sweet. Beneath the sauce is a vegetable, yes, but barely identifiable from within its thick coating of deep-fried breading. It is the trifecta of American Chinese: familiar food, encased in batter, dipped in hot oil, and smothered in a sugar-spiked sauce. For those of us to whom Chinese food as children was General Tso's, Orange Chicken, and Crab Rangoon, this is comfort food.
It's the middle of winter, and while the sun is sticking around until later in the day, the various colds, coughs, and flus are sticking around too. Even (especially) on calm, quiet Monday, the motivation to get up and drag oneself out the door for dinner can be difficult to muster. Seattle might not be a city big on delivery, but this is the season where those outdoors-driven principles take one look at the rain and pick up the phone. For those of us in the Northwest quadrant of the city, there are few options, but Chef at Wok is good enough that there's no need to look further.