China Pan in Farmington is a vegetarian's paradise that also happens to be delightful even to the most ardent carnivore.
The Vibe: China Pan has a bit of an identity crisis: Tiki bar? Well, there are tabletop fountains and a drink menu of delicious and powerful tiki favorites, but no palm trees, only fake cherry blossom branches. So Japanese, right? The sushi bar in the back of the restaurant would lead one to believe so. But the combination is just part of the charm.
The Food: Chinese restaurants are known for having expansive menus. At China Pan, double it. For almost every entree there is a vegetarian or vegan equivalent, and that is where the restaurant shines.
Such dishes as the Crispy Bean Curd and Five Flavored Bean Curd ($9.25 each) sound great, but this diner prefers the bite of textured vegetable protein. Meat substitutes can seem intimidating to the uninitiated meat lover, but TVP has a similar mouthfeel and lacks the squishy consistency in a lot of tofu.
Basically anything labeled vegan uses the TVP. For something familiar, go for the General Tso's Vegan Chicken ($10.95), with chunks covered in sweet and spicy sauce that don't exactly look like chicken but taste good. And the crave-inducing Citrus Vegan Spare Ribs ($11.95) should be on everyone's short list.
Vegan shrimp has more of the bean curd texture, with pieces shaped in the curled form of the crustacean. They're still tasty: I liked the Vegan Shrimp With Basil Leaves ($14.95).
Silver Vegan Chicken Balls at the bottom of the menu jump out with the absurdity of their description: "Just give it a try, and write the definition of your own. It is as unique as it is wonderful." The flavor is indeed unique and wonderful, with hints of Chinese five-spice in a rich dark sauce.
Service is quick and efficient; unless the place is swamped. Expect to order and begin eating within 10 minutes.
The Bill: Prices vary, but are on par with most sit-down Chinese restaurants. Both faux and real chicken or beef entrees average about $10, and seafood-inspired items are roughly $13. Two people can easily eat for $25, and have enough for dinner the next day.
The Particulars: Like a lot of great Chinese restaurants, China Pan is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall. It's just a good excuse to get some holiday bargains at the neighboring Nordstrom Rack and TJ Maxx. China Pan is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and an extra hour (until 11 p.m.) weekends.
Information: 1600 SE Road, No. 6, Farmington. 860-674-1311.Copyright © 2015, CT Now