I grew up on Chinese food. For a time when I was a kid, my family's Sunday night tradition was to drive downtown for shrimp fried rice, mushroom egg foo young and beef chop suey. I still have a soft spot for that kind of Americanized Chinese, even as I've come to learn and appreciate more authentic dishes.
So I loved sitting down at Dragon Gate, the 22-year-old restaurant operated by brothers Rick and Mancheong Yeung, and finding three menus: a big regular menu, a smaller authentic menu and a one-sheet list of daily specials.
Where else can you get both honey-garlic ribs ($11.95) and Szechuan-style kung pao squid ($11.95)?
We started with pan-fried pork dumplings ($7.50, six per order), which are delicately fried so the dough doesn't lose its tenderness. They're served with classic soy-and-rice-vinegar-based dipping sauce. Meaty barbecue pork ribs ($10.25 for six) are oversized and perfectly chewy. If you're in the mood for a retro appetizer, the pu pu platter for two ($16.75) features egg rolls, barbecue ribs, fantail shrimp, chicken wings, krab Rangoon and steak on a skewer.
Dragon Gate's dining room is painted bright yellow. Tablecloths and cloth napkins lend the place a nice bit of formality. So do the oversized frames on the walls, one holding a collection of tin tea boxes and others containing Asian decorative objects. Instead of boring white tableware, Dragon Gate uses bright-orange-and-black plates along with mismatched complementary serving pieces such as white bowls, black hot pots and wooden trays that hold cast-iron griddles.
Among the entrees we ordered were soft-shell crabs ($25.95) with black-bean-and-pepper sauce. I always dine anonymously, but the efficient waitress came back to our table and said the chef wanted to suggest a salt-and-pepper preparation instead of the bean sauce. In my lifetime of eating in Chinese restaurants, this was a first. Chefs in strip-mall Chinese restaurants don't usually make suggestions. What a delight. We asked her to thank the chef for the suggestion, but stuck with our original order. It was the only dish that disappointed, less for its sauce than the fishy flavor of the crab.
Many more great dishes are on the menu, including Singapore noodles ($12.25), the thin rice noodles loaded with pork and chicken and a nice blast of curry. The onions and bell peppers, so often overcooked in this dish, still had their crunch. Dishes can be ordered mild, medium or hot. We were delighted with medium. Special lo mein ($11.95), another noodle dish, starts with al dente wheat noodles and more fresh vegetables and protein.
The special menu included sizzling black-pepper beef ($13.95), the fajitas of Chinese food, a bubbling mixture of sirloin, onions and peppers. Good Chinese food is always a delicate balance among salty, sweet and fat, which Dragon Gate seems to understand. The restaurant even offers a few dishes labeled health conscious that feature steamed shrimp, chicken and vegetables.
Among the less healthful dishes we ordered were a solid rendition of General Cheng's chicken ($11.75) and outstanding orange-peel chicken or beef ($12.50). It's $1 extra for white-meat chicken. Both of these dishes featured lightly breaded and fried chicken, but neither overdid the oil.
The beer menu features refreshing imported Asian lagers such as Chinese Tsingtao ($4.75) and Thai Singha ($4.75), but I was reminded how much I like hot tea with Chinese food when they automatically dropped off a hot pot to our table. Just like the old days.
11232 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: Only for parties of six or more
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot