T.S. Ma Chinese Cuisine
Its hard to find good Chinese food these days, let alone healthy, but I finally found one. Situated in Upper Montclair, its a very unassuming place. In fact, its so small, you can miss it. It only seats about 30 people maximum and only has 2 parking spaces out front. (Above photo taken from their website at www.tsmachinesecuisine.com). My brother wanted good Chinese food, not your greasy fried takeout. Although they do takeout, dining in is a pleasant experience The decor is nice and of course the meal starts with complimentary tea, but not just a stainless pot, a very large ceramic pot, and crispy fried noodles with spicy mustard and sweet and sour sauce. The mustard was good, but not quite as good as that from China Paradise.
Owner Thomas Ma’s approach is never using canned vegetables, and making whatever food can be made fresh daily. Its voted #1 Chinese and takeout by Essex Magazine. I was impressed. Two people with a healthy appetite could order 2 appetizers and a main course and split it since they are very generous portions. For appetizers we got the Crispy Crab Cheese Dumplings which came out first. They were fried and served with spicy and sweet chili sauce. The inside had crab meat with something creamy, from its name, you would assume cheese and perhaps it was, but I am not really sure what kind, but they were very tasty.
Next they brought out the Asian Chicken Wings. The name leaves a lot open for interpretation, but these were really good, very crispy, and between the chicken and the batter was a thin layer of curry. Very tasty as well, even better than the first appetizer.
Next came my brother’s main course, Mu Shu Pork. I’ve never been a fan of Mu Shu pork, but this was very good, very fresh, the vegetables out-shined the pork. The pancakes were the very best I’ve ever had for something like this and the sauce was great.
As mentioned, this would not have been my choice, but it was my brother’s and it was his birthday, and that being said. It was the best Mu Shu pork I’ve ever had, but its just not my thing. He admitted that the dish I ordered was the dish to get. I haven’t seen or tasted anything like this since my days in New York. There was a small place around the corner on 21st Street & 6th Avenue that had the absolute best Orange Chicken or Beef. I’ve been dying for it, but cannot seem to find it anywhere. I am not sure if that place in Manhattan is still in business, but I found a close replacement. They call this “Tangerine Fish” and it is basically a sweet but very spicy dark orange sauce with rinds of caramelized tangerine, scallion and very hot spicy chili peppers. I know it would be hard to recall the last time I had something this good, especially if it was over 10 years ago. But this, was really good. Its the type of sauce you want to add your brown rice to so you get every drop, just as with Italian Spaghetti & Meatballs you would use a piece of bread to get every drop of sauce, thats how good it is.
The fish (flounder) was very lightly breaded and almost puffy, really really good. The fish was fresh and I am tempted to say this dish might even do better as crispy beef or chicken rather than fish, but I was trying to keep it healthy. I love fish more than anything, but the strong flavor of the sauce occulted the the battered fish. I am not complaining, but when I go back (and I will) this will need some greater texture to stand up to the sauce and it need not be battered, perhaps not even fried. (They use canola oil by the way for frying, no trans fats). The broccoli garnish was fine, I actually wished there was more of this since its fresh, steamed and I found myself overeating the fish only because I know I would not take it home and reheat it. Fish does not keep or reheat well.
So, the only other thing to report on was the beverages. The tea was great, not too strong or too weak. They do not serve alcohol, so I brought some Ashai beer. Yes, I know Ashai is from Japan, but I don’t really care for Tsing Tao Chinese beer but I love dry Japanese beer, and dry beer is the only way to eat Chinese food with the exception of Champagne perhaps. In case you are wondering, I choose hot or cold sake when I eat at Japanese restaurants. I know the two cuisines are very much different but I find the food/beverage pairing to be perfect.
So, the bill comes and its roughly $45. Not cheap for Chinese food, but inexpensive in general, especially since this could have easily fed 3-4 people. The only item I singled out was mine. On the takeout menu it says $16, on their dine in menu it says $17, but when the bill came it was $17.50, plus .50 cents for the brown rice (I made the healthy choice over white rice, but would the white rice have been free or at least cheaper, if so, why)? Sure, it was only $1, but it was principle, but my brother (ironically) encouraged me to let it go. No, I am not cheap, and I can care less about the $1 (it cost me $1 in coins to get a parking spot for 1-hour since they don’t have ample parking), I just don’t like when people print one price then charge another. Its a common practice, and I know its tough for restaurants to survive, especially these days, but listing one price and charging another insults the customer’s intelligence. I would want them to know that I know what they are doing, not to get $1 knocked off the bill, but to point out to them, consumers aren’t always passive or morons. I let it go… all is fine. The real problem is when a diner orders the “special’ and is charged $10 more for it above all other entrees… they serve “specials” because they are not on the menu and no one ever asks the price, only to find that when the bill comes (even if they notice it) something not so special cost $10 more than the most expensive entree on the menu. Keep that in mind. Always ask what the special costs. Again, for me its not a matter of money, its a matter of clever ways a business get extra money from you which clearly to me is deception.
That being said, this place gets my full endorsement. Not as inexpensive, but great, huge portions and plenty of leftovers to take home… just look at the bill before you hand them your credit card.
T.S. Ma Chinese Cuisine
199 Bellevue Avenue
Upper Montclair, NJ
Phone: 973-509-8878 – Open 7-Days Week