Wok, don't run

For Chinese take-out, Best A Round seldom delivers

Sometimes, not often, you simply can't face pizza again. In that case, there's only one thing to do: Order Chinese. In other cities, Chinese might be a first choice. Buildings all over New York City post notices discouraging the pink-and-white flurry of take-out menus that get left by every unprotected door. In Dallas, there's not very much top-notch Chinese food anywhere, and most of it stays in the restaurants.

But it really doesn't matter where you are: Delivered food everywhere is rightfully held to a lower standard than other food. The incredible convenience of having dinner brought to your door ready to eat completely overwhelms the fact that the food isn't actually that good to eat once it gets there. Isn't that how Domino's stays in business?

In our neighborhood, the Domino's of Chinese food is called Best A Round. It's a mystery to me how Chinese food became the take-out cliche, anyway, since it seems to be the most fragile of cuisines: Each dish is precariously balanced between good and awful.

It's an unforgiving cuisine. The slightest error--overcooked vegetables, too cool a wok, too much cornstarch in the sauce--throws off a whole dish. And even more than most foods, the success of Chinese dishes depends upon on immediacy. Add the lag between preparation and delivery, and you're setting the food up for failure. It's amazing that any of it is edible at all.

Besides convenience and its endearingly optimistic name, Best A Round only has a few things going for it--well, really, only one: garlic pork. The egg rolls are only OK, and the beef with broccoli is fine, with lots and lots of bright green florets (after all, that's the point of this dish) in savory sauce. The lemon chicken is unmentionable--cross-cut boneless breasts fried at low heat, rendering the batter crust pale and greasy, and the lemon sauce on the side is nothing but a glutinous and overly sweet plasma-looking glop. Crispy chicken is just a bunch of overfried chicken bits, drumettes, and so forth.

But the pork with garlic sauce is so good it seems to have come from another kitchen. It comes as thin squares of chewy meat mixed with slivered vegetables in a glossy brown sauce with bare overtones of heat that bind with starchy white rice and makes a deliciously satisfying meal. Other stir-fries--that's right, chicken with garlic sauce, for instance, but also Hunan beef and kung-pao chicken--are satisfactory, too.

And the restaurant's "signature," or at least eponymous, dish--Best A Round Chicken, a stir-fry of chicken, napa cabbage, snow peas, broccoli, and other vegetables in a barely thickened sauce--has just the proportion of vegetable-to-fat-to-starch that made you inclined to order Chinese food instead of pizza anyway.

Well, as they say, best around.
--Mary Brown Malouf

Best A Round, 3607-A Greenville Ave., 827-3631. Open Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-3 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-4 a.m. Delivery in limited area.

Best A Round:
Beef with Broccoli $4.99
Pork with Garlic Sauce $4.69
Egg Roll $1.

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