Peking Chinese Restaurant emphasizes decor more than most of Janesville’s local restaurants. Ornate golden lion statues flank the entrance, and the warm wood tones combined with red lanterns and wall sconces inside make for a cozy, comfortable atmosphere.
Established in 1986 and known to be the first restaurant in Wisconsin to serve Szechwan and Northern-style Mandarin cuisine, Peking still resides in its original location on Milton Avenue. The dining area is nicely lit but a little chilly, so we suggest bringing a sweater. Booths line three walls, and there are several tables in the center for larger parties.
We were surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot when we visited on a Tuesday evening. The hostess led us to a booth and promptly brought our water.
As with many Asian menus, there was a long list of numbered items to mull over. Since we came hungry, we quickly decided on a couple of appetizers to buy some time and curb our appetites while we deliberated over entrees.
For starters, we had to try the teriyaki beef sticks (2/$4.50) and fried wontons (6/$2.50).
The beef sticks, served on wooden skewers, consisted of tender, succulent hunks of beef with sliced green peppers and onions. The beef was flavorful, and the ratio of meat to vegetables was perfect. Peking doesn’t skimp on meat.
The beef filled wontons were good but a bit too crispy. They came with two traditional dipping sauces: sweet and sour and hot Chinese mustard. Helene couldn’t keep her hands off of them, and she kept getting an intense brainwave rush. Still, both were delicious.
When our server came to take our order, we had several questions. She was very accommodating, so we peppered her with inquiries such as “What is in the Peking Platter appetizer?” (it includes all appetizers except fried wontons) and “Is moo shu sauce purple?” (no, it is blackish and slightly sweet).
We gained a lot of information as she explained that every dish served at the restaurant is made to order. If a selection says that it is “hot,” Peking can make it mild, and brown and white sauces can easily be exchanged. This is good to know because the white sauce is gluten-free and the brown is not.
After our inquiry into the moo shu sauce, our server not only described it but also brought a bowl to our table for sampling. What great customer service!
When Jennifer noticed potstickers ($3.50) on the menu, she knew this would be one of her choices. The Chinese dumplings are served either steamed or fried, and Jennifer decided fried was the way to go. Five potstickers arrived with the traditional dipping sauce made from soy sauce, ginger and rice vinegar. Crispy on the outside and tender with ground meat and Chinese vegetables in the middle, they were delightful.
Always a big fan of fried rice ($8.95), Jennifer chose the pork variety. A huge platter with enough to feed at least three people was overflowing with thinly sliced, tender pork, carrots, peas, onions and bean sprouts. It was moist and delicious in every way.
Entree No. 63—the Mandarin double greens ($9.50)—was Helene’s choice. Including just a simple plate of broccoli and snow pea pods in a light white sauce (with rice included), the meal was bland but easily perked up with a little soy sauce. The vegetables were cooked to perfection, as the snow pea pods had a nice crunch and the large broccoli crowns were tender enough to easily chew through.
For our entrees, Nikki and I decided to share the Mongolian beef ($10.75) and the Szechwan shredded pork ($9.95). The pork was served with thin strips of carrots, bell peppers and bamboo shoots in a spicy sauce that featured garlic and chilies—both signature Szechwan ingredients.
The Mongolian beef had a salty, smoky flavor as if it had just come off a barbecue. The meat was tender and plentiful, and it was served with sauteed green onions, cellophane noodles and rice. Both dishes were tasty, but of the two, the Szechwan pork’s heat and combination of flavors edged it ahead of the beef.
For anyone whose sweet tooth requires more than the traditional fortune cookie for dessert, Peking offers almond cookies (4/$1). They won’t entertain you with confusing predictions, but the crisp, buttery cookies boast intense almond flavor and pair well with an after-dinner cup of coffee or tea.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.