For most people, Chinese food is about convenient takeout, home delivery and a reliable list of dishes that is exactly the same, no matter which combination of “No. 1,” “Golden,” “Dragon,” “Phoenix,” “China,” “Garden” or “Palace” is printed on the red, black and white menu.
While Red Stixs’ menu is in fact red, black and white (a color scheme used throughout the interior), Water Mill’s new Beijing-style restaurant is nothing like your garden-variety takeout joint. So, if you haven’t traveled to Asia or experienced real Chinese fine dining, forget everything you might expect when it comes to the country’s ethnic fare.
Executive Chef Skinny Mei has designed a menu loaded with flavorful dishes suitable for a wide range of palates. The large portions are served family-style, making the restaurant perfect for groups who don’t mind sharing a few plates. Many of the offerings, both appetizers and entrées are quite rich, so bring an appetite—you’ll want to try everything. Lee Meyer, my date for this bro-mantic dining adventure, and I can both attest to mourning every morsel of wasted food at Red Stixs, because anything we left behind was due only to our gastro-capacity and not the quality of the meal.
We began our foray into “authentic Beijing cuisine,” à la Hamptons, with a selection of satays—skewers of shrimp, chicken and beef—each in a luscious peanut cream sauce. All three satay varieties had the refreshingly NOT peanut-y peanut sauce, but each had its own unique character. The chicken came rolled in an orange carrot flake, and the beef, with its tangy hoisin glaze, played nicely off the cream sauce, while a trio of fluffy shrimp committed fully to the shared dressing, with nothing to interfere.
Following the incredibly rich, and absolutely delicious, satays, we dove into the house-favorite Chicken Lettuce Wraps. The savory mix of crumbled chicken and diced veggies (zucchini most prominently) folded nicely in a crispy and refreshing lettuce leaf, which held together well beyond expectation,r and dazzled with a dash of plum sauce. These surprisingly easy to eat bites would be perfect on their own, with a cold bottle of beer, for a quick lunchtime stop.
The Seaweed Gambei is a good choice for first-time seaweed eaters looking to expand their food repertoire. It’s also great on the lettuce wraps.
Next, our attentive-but-not-intrusive waiter Marco delivered a bamboo steamer with a piping hot Dumpling Sampler comprising Chicken Sieu Mai, Jade Dumplings (shrimp and bamboo shoots) and two Vegetable Dumplings. Together the trio of flavors was tasty, with a nice texture, if not entirely remarkable. The Pork Dumpling with black mushroom and vinegar sauce, served separately, was more noteworthy.
Last in the succession of appetizers was some deliciously doughy, Hand-Pulled Noodles in a red pork and bean sauce. Prepared in-house from scratch—as demonstrated during a very entertaining noodle show—these have a dense, al dente texture and simple taste that pair well with the tangy sauce.
Marco returned with our first entrée, a magnificent Filet Mignon that was the best dish of the night—and I rarely even eat red meat. Each lovely slice was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a flour and spice crust—a definite must-order for anyone eating at Red Stixs.
An order of Green Prawns and the Vegetable Fried Rice appeared closer to standard Chinese fare, but the freshness, texture and subtleties of flavor set both far apart from anything on a takeout menu. The Beijing Chicken with walnuts in a sweet brown sauce was another standout, with a crisp, light quality (though dense of flavor) more akin to really well done tofu than chicken. A side of bok choi is also worth ordering for fans of the Asian veggie.
Our dessert of individual-sized red velvet and chocolate cakes proved irresistible, even if ginger milk curd, grass jelly or fried ice cream would have been more congruous with the otherwise ethnic cuisine.
Red Stixs is located at 1020 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Call 631-726-6200 or visit redstixs.com.