Review: Unique Wok
51 Grafton St., Charlottetown, PEI – 902-892-0609
Date of Visit: July, 2016
I was drawn to Unique Wok, not merely because it was close to my hotel, but because of the sign which advertises both Chinese and Canadian cuisine. At one time, not many decades back, you would be hard pressed to find a Canadian ‘Chinese’ restaurant that didn’t specify both, chiefly because most Chinese restaurant owners were reluctant to lose custom simply by relying on their native cuisine. Times have changed of course; the Asian population is much larger, and diners are less provincial in their tastes, so, inevitably, I suppose, such signs outside Chinese restaurants will soon be a thing of the past. Accordingly, it was with something of a sense of nostalgia that I visited the place one evening for a late supper…
The interior of the restaurant is very plain and remarkable for not having much in the way of Chinese style decoration. The pictures on the wall seemed to be Parisian scenes and almost the only thing that indicated the place was a Chinese restaurant was the little packets of soy sauce in on the tables. The furniture was just small tables with brown tablecloths and the non-descript nature of the place made it… Well… somehow very Canadian.
There was only one table being used when I got there and the service was really good. The young lady who served me showed me to my table and then returned with a menu. It only took her about a minute and a half but she actually apologized for the delay.
The menu does indeed include some ‘Canadian’ cuisine but the list is short. There are 12 items in all, with nine being sandwiches (both hot and cold), plus chicken fingers, fried chicken, and French fries. There are actually two sizes of fries so possibly one should count thirteen, rather than twelve total items.
Beyond that, the restaurant offers a few simple appetizers, including wonton soup and eggrolls, but nothing approaching a dim sum offering, such as Shu Mai, or Har Gow. After that, the categories include Fried Rice, Noodle, and Chow Mein dishes but, surprisingly, no ‘Chop Sueys’. That is a little odd, actually, because there are six ‘Foo Young’ dishes available, and these have largely fallen out of style in the past twenty or thirty years, much as has ‘Chop Suey’. Naturally, each of the Beef, Pork, Chicken and Fish entries inevitably includes a ‘Sweet and Sour’ offering, and, following the ‘Combination’ plates and dinners, the menu rounds itself out with a short list of not especially exciting ‘House Specialties’.
I haven’t had a Chinese Combination plate in eons and so, feeling nostalgic again, I went for the ‘Combo C’, which includes an eggroll, sweet and sour chicken balls, beef chow mein and chicken fried rice.
My eggroll was served first, which is a little unusual as usually everything comes together, often on one plate. It was actually pretty good as the filling was mostly pork with just a little cabbage, in reverse to the usual case. The sauce was just plain ‘Plum Sauce’ and I suspect that it was a commercial variety rather than made in house.
The combo looked pretty good and mostly tasted so… The chicken balls were pretty much the same sort of thing you will get at any westernized Chinese restaurant; that is, neon bright factory made-sauce over batter fried chicken chunks. It’s comfort food of a sort for those of us who grew up with it, and I liked these as much as any. The rice was a bit mediocre, but I find that rice often varies from day to day with some restaurants… great some days, less so on others. This was salty and filling but that’s the best you can say for it. As for the ‘Chow Mein’ … it was just beef with bean sprouts. That would be okay in its’ own right, I suppose, but, for all that, it is categorically not chow mein. Indeed, the words ‘chow mein’ actually translate as ‘fried noodles’ in English. Still, I suppose that many non-Asian Canadians have so long confused chow mein with chop suey that some restaurants gave up trying to distinguish as well.
Anyway, while I have had plenty of Canadian-Chinese meals that were worse than the one I had at Unique Wok, I have also had many better. The one thing that made the experience for me was the charming and very quick service. I rate the place at a middling 3 out of 5.