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  • Dry Pot Pork from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners is served in a mini wok with a fire underneath.

  • The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Fried beef dumplings from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Hong Kong Fried Buns from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Shanghai Steamed Dumplings from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Beef chow mein from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Seaweed salad from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • A steamed bun filled with Dong Po Pork from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Wontons in chili oil from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Fried donuts from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Egg drop soup from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Some of the decorations in The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Vegetable egg rolls from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners.

  • Barbecued pork steamed buns from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Almond chicken from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Some of the artwork in The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

  • Dong Po Pork from The Han Dynasty in The Village of Time Corners

Sunday, September 30, 2018 1:00 am

Chinese restaurant fits upscale description

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

The Han Dynasty

***1/2

Out of a possible five

$$$

The promise of “Fine Chinese Cuisine” in an upscale setting was enticing in a time when fast-casual is all the rage, especially when it comes to Chinese food.

And when I walked into The Han Dynasty in The Village at Time Corners, it certainly fit the part.

With its dimly lit dining area, modern furnishings – big round, glass-topped tables with lazy susans in the middle – and a nice smattering of Asian art that perfectly accentuated the atmosphere, without becoming too busy or distracting, it was, indeed, upscale.

The service mimicked the looks. It was formal, professional and exactly what an upscale eatery should produce.

So the only real question I had was whether the food would satisfy enough to make the effort worthwhile. One should expect to pay a little more at a place like The Han Dynasty than at their favorite local Chinese take-out spot. But that can be a tall task given the good quality of affordable Asian food we are blessed with here.

My first tastes from the appetizer menu were up to the task.

The wontons in chili oil were the highlight, with eight large steamed wontons stuffed with pork and peanut butter coated in an oily red sauce dotted with dried chiles. I asked to have mine medium and was surprised at how spicy they were. The background flavor of peanut butter helped tame that heat and added another flavor profile to this unique offering.

The fried beef dumplings were a much safer, but just as tasty, option. These potsticker-shaped treats were fried until super crunchy, and their wrappings bubbled up a bit. They looked more like South American empanadas than Chinese appetizers, but the minced beef stuffing's hint of curry made you realize they were Asian pretty quickly.

A much lighter appetizer that I would have again was the black seaweed salad.

This cold offering featured the name ingredient tossed in a spicy garlic sauce. The lightly blanched seaweed emulated noodles and had a perfect texture that rode the line between crunchy-raw and al dente. The garlic flavor was strong and stayed with you, and it, too, was dotted with chiles to give it heat. All it needed was a splash of soy sauce to round it out and make me love every bite.

The gratis egg drop soup was far better than the hot and sour. The egg drop had peas, carrots, onions and noodle-like tofu strips, and it was seasoned so perfectly that I could have eaten a giant bowl of it. The hot and sour had a few mushrooms, egg, bamboo and tofu, but it was flat and boring which is the last thing one wants from a hot and sour soup.

I also did not care for The Han Dynasty's vegetable egg rolls. They, too, were boring with just cabbage onion and carrot. I expected more from an upscale Chinese establishment.

The Han Dynasty also had dim sum available during all hours, which is a rarity in these parts.

I tried two staples that I have almost every time I do dim sum – barbecued pork buns and Shanghai soup dumplings – and both were up to snuff.

The Shanghai dumplings are a challenge to eat because hot broth explodes out of them with the first bite, and I love them so much I almost never wait long enough for them to cool. The burn was worth it because the broth had the perfect mix of salty and slightly sweet, the pork meatball was super tender and they were delicious.

The best entrée I had was also not exactly an adventurous choice, but there was no way the beef chow mein could have been better.

The pieces of bamboo and cabbage mixed in with the lightly sauced beef were slivered finely so it ate like a noodle dish. There were stringy mushrooms and bean sprouts, too, to keep its texture consistent. The flavor was delightfully straightforward so everything could be detected, and the fried noodles on the side were freshly fried so they were light and crisp.

I also loved the more unique Dry Pot-style Pork, which is meant for two. The pork – chicken, beef, fish, shrimp, calamari or fresh tofu are also available – was served in a mini wok with fire underneath and was stir-fried with water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrots, onions, green peppers, snow peas, celery and lettuce in “the chef's special sauce.”

That sauce had a little spice here and there whenever you got a dried chile flake – seemed to be a theme here – and the meat was fork-tender. I loved how crisp and vibrant the vegetables were, and the pork itself was extremely tender. It was a dish that will bring me back for sure.

The Dong Po Pork did not fare as well.

The famous Hangzhou dish was served in a clay pot with steamed buns. It features pork belly that is pan-fried then red-cooked (stewed or braised in a red sauce). I first questioned if it was actually uncured belly, because it was extremely salty like bacon. The meat was tender, but the cabbage in the bottom of the pot was cooked to death and the buns were tacky and rubbery instead of soft and pillow-like.

The almond chicken was also flawed. I had no qualms with the construction or basic flavor of the dish – it was very light and vegetable-centric – and the chicken was of fine quality. I struggled to find enough almonds, however, and that is kind of a big part of almond chicken.

The Han Dynasty did leave me on a high note with something I don't usually expect to have at Chinese restaurants – dessert.

The Hong Kong-Style Fried Buns from the dim-sum menu used the same buns as the Dong Po Pork, but these were crispy – just like the restaurant's standard dessert doughnuts, which were also very tasty – and served with a thick, rich cream sauce to pour over them.

The sauce was a little tangy like a good cream cheese icing, and these little goodies are a must-get if you try The Han Dynasty.

Restaurant: The Han Dynasty

Address: 6401 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 755-2338

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

Cuisine: Chinese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Fried beef dumplings ($6.95), wontons in chili oil ($6.95), seaweed salad ($4.95), egg rolls ($4.95 for 2), barbecued pork buns ($5.95 for 2), Shanghai dumplings ($8.95 for 8), beef chow mein ($12.95), dry-pot pork ($16.95), Dung Po Pork ($16.95). almond chicken ($12.95), Hong Kong buns ($4.95 for 5)

Rating breakdown: Food: *1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.