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Authenticity rules at Red Pepper.

Byline: Bill Clapper

Red Pepper

1/2

1083 Main St, Worcester

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Phone: (774) 243-6488

Website: www.redpepperworcester.com

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express.

Prices: Moderate.

Parking: Spaces to side of building; on-street.

Pluses: Extensive menus with wide range of choices; off-street parking; credible authenticity.

Minuses: Uninviting exterior; distracted wait staff; tepid meals.

Most Chinese restaurants serve what can be best described as Chinese-American fare. Meals that appeal to American palates but are not true authentic renderings of what is served in China.

Relying on first impressions and outward appearances, Red Pepper in Worcester doesn't fit that model.

The restaurant touts itself as "authentic Szechwan'' and judging by the number of young Asians inside the two-room restaurant the night our party of four visited, it must be so.

We noted other indications of authenticity as well.

There are no faux Chinese decorations adorning the walls or soft, Chinese background music.

The menus (an eight-page main menu and a two-page specials menu) identified the different dishes by Chinese characters (thankfully, there were English subtitles).

The menu's grammatical missteps and abundant misspellings were giveaways that the text was not prepared by a slick marketing agency striving to be real.

And we could only imagine that the meals themselves would be what are served in a popular restaurant in China.

We settled in our seats in one of two good-sized dining rooms and were greeted by our server with a pot of tea. She then left, giving us adequate time to look over the menus and come up with our selections.

Out of respect to the relentless winter weather, we began our meal with soup. The traditional hot and sour soup ($1.95 cup, $3.95 bowl) had all the requisite ingredients but was weak in taste, had the consistency of thin syrup and was barely warm when it arrived at our table.

On the other hand, the tomato and fried egg soup ($6.95) was a welcome surprise, and not something you would normally find at a Chinese restaurant.

Crushed fresh tomatoes dominated the broth and the chopped fried egg added to the soup's appeal. The flavors were subdued but the soup proved hearty enough to ward off the chill. Be prepared to share, because the tomato soup is served in a tureen and there is more than enough for two. We brought enough home to have the next day for lunch.

Other soups we noted on the menu were minced beef, mushroom and egg drop ($7.95), and sponge gourd and sliced pork ($7.25).

Spring rolls and egg rolls ($2.95 for two) are a good indication of a Chinese restaurant's attention to detail. We found that both rolls at Red Pepper were adequate, good-sized and presented well. But the filling in both was mostly cabbage with just a hint of other ingredients, none of which could be identified.

There was also a noticeable lack of flavor. The wraps themselves had a tough consistency and the egg rolls, which were deep fried, were a bit too oily for our taste.

The crab Rangoon ($5.95) and the fried pork and vegetable dumplings ($5.95 for six) followed their egg roll predecessor with a distinct chewiness and greasiness of the wonton covering and a tasteless filling.

When it came to the entrees the four of us purposely went in different directions -- beef, chicken, seafood and pork -- so we could cover the spectrum of Red Pepper's offerings.

The dishes shared the same tepid temperature and overall blandness that befell the appetizers. But the portions were very generous and the preparation and presentation was above average.

The beef with broccoli ($11.95) was fairly straightforward in ingredients but the beef appeared to be shaved rather than cubed or sliced. The result was an appetizing blend of flavors and a firm yet manageable consistency to the meat. The broccoli remained crisp and the fresh veggie flavors were readily apparent.

The chicken with vegetable delight ($9.95) was rather good. The chicken was firm and flavorful, the vegetables were cooked but retained a fresh crispness and the sauce was not overpowering sweet or sticky.

The seafood delight ($14.95) turned out to be a pleasing mixture of shrimp, scallops, calamari, white fish, crab, mushrooms and vegetables. The sauce was a little thick and lacked any distinctive flavor. But the seafood morsels were all expertly prepared and blended well with the veggies and mushrooms.

The presentation of the pork spareribs in a special sweet and sour sauce ($12.95) paled in comparison to the three other entrees at our table. The bone-in nuggets of rib were slathered with a flavorless sweet and sour sauce and served in a bowl. No vegetables, mushrooms or cabbage accompanied the unadorned meat.

The pork rib nuggets however, were well-prepared and the meat was tender, moist. The sauce did not interfere with their flavor.

The four entrees we selected were a small fraction of what was available on the main menu. We noted some representative dishes from the various categories that might be fun to try on a return trip.

But the really innovative meals were on a single-page weekly special menu. Highlights included sauteed duck with ginger in spicy sauce ($14.95), sauteed Sichuan sausage with dried turnip ($13.95) and lamb with bone and bean noodle in spicy sauce ($14.95).

Our dinner for four came to a reasonable $75.80 before tax and tip. Red Pepper does not have a liquor license, hence our bill didn't reflect any beverages. There was no indication on the website or the menu that patrons could bring in their own beverages.

Four candies came with our bill instead of Americanized fortune cookies in a final salute to authenticity.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Clapper, Bill
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 19, 2015
Words:979
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