Each week in 'Knockers' we order from a different delivery restaurant, assessing their efficiency and keeping a running score.
Panda's Restaurant & Bar
3917 Cedar Springs Rd
Promised delivery time: 30-45 minutes
Actual delivery time: 28 minutes
Dialing options: 3
Early delivery: 10
Number of times name of my dish, "Subgun wonton," ran through my head the next day: 63
Baby corn so big, you might could just call it "corn": 7
Cents added to my final bill for "rounding": 3
Dollars my driver had been given in each of his previous tips that night, he complained: 2
Total Score: 88
New Big Wong 92
Lover's Pizza and Pasta 91
Philly Connection 90
Piggie Pies Pizzas & Pasta 90
Panda's Restaurant & Bar 88
(Panda's drops Scalini's Pizza & Pasta from the top ten)
See complete 2009 standings here
Since moving from East Dallas to downtown a month ago, I've been looking forward to a new world of delivery options, but each of the late nights that would've normally lent themselves to pizza by phone, I've opted instead to walk the couple blocks to 7-11 (another place where I have yet to try the pizza).
Settling in around 11 one night to edit photos after a late shoot, I was looking forward to trying out one of the local spots in the new neighborhood, but after flipping through the menus I've collected so far, realized it was already past delivery hours for all the places but one: Panda's, which wasn't even in the new 'hood, but was close enough (in the thick of Cedar Springs) they'd deliver.
Their menu is extensive, with a coupon for a free soup and egg roll, three phone numbers, and a cartoon panda wearing a bolo tie and holding a knife and fork. "99% MSG Free," the menu advertised, and I was sold.
But the menu is meticulously, if a little confoundingly, numbered from 101 to 379, with some numbers showing up more than once (the powerhouse #312 runs from 312A "Sesame Beef" to 312I "Aromatic Chicken," which is "deep fried cooked with authentic spicy chef's special sauce").
It's a long way down the rabbit hole of this menu, and without wanting to spend the hours it would take to read the whole thing, I scanned it for the dish with the weirdest name. "Panda's Seafood Splendor" and the beguiling "Orange Beef (Orange Chicken)" came close, and I nearly fell for the understated "Two Kinds of Shrimp," but in the end "Subgun Wonton" got the nod.
The sauce would be "delicious," the menu promises, with lobster, chicken, beef and pork on a bed of vegetables with four fried wontons. On the phone, they took my credit card number and told me to expect a 30 to 45-minute delivery.
Less than half an hour later I got the knock on my apartment door. In his rush to beat the clock, the driver had somehow sweet-talked his way past two security code panels, even more surprising thanks to the beaten-down look he had as I took the bag of food.
I asked how the night was going, and as he took a rubbing of my credit card, the guy gave a dramatic wince and told me about the lousy tips he'd been given so far that night--two dollars, three dollars.
"What's a tip on a good night for you?" I asked, noticing the note printed on my receipt about the two-dollar minimum tip.
"Five dollars, that's a very good tip," he said, with admirable frankness, though I sensed we'd crossed some line in diner-waiter conversation.
Five bucks it was, bringing the tab to $22 for an order of Subgun in under half an hour.
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The dish, along with an egg roll, fried rice and a cup of sweet and sour soup, was big enough to last three meals. The tray held a generous helping of vegetables, including some of the biggest chunks of baby corn I've ever laid eyes on. The variety of meat didn't make too much difference really--whatever the meat, the flavor was crushed under the weight of the "delicious sauce."
The only exception was the lobster, which came in one big chunk in the corner of the box. This took on the usual Chinese-delivery taste of the sauce, but with an extra fishy flavor. The other three meats seemed to go better with the sauce, and I was glad I hadn't shelled out the $26 for a lobster-only dish.
One stray lobster chunk, well-camouflaged and rising from a soupy pool of sauce--like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now--was an especially jarring seafood redux, when I'd expected smooth chicken-and-beef sailing in my reheated leftovers the next day.
I still haven't tried out any of the new downtown delivery spots, but with a solid B+ performance, and delivery until 4 a.m., Panda's is a good candidate for a repeat order.