The food? You know. It wasn't really Chinese food. It was Chinese-restaurant-in-America food. It was consistent. It was filling. A lot of it tasted the same. It had the connotation of being healthier than American meat and potatoes because there were so many vegetables in it and it was served with rice. It wasn't, of course: bathed in gravy, glistening with MSG, the words "egg" or "fried" in the names of 25 percent of the dishes. It didn't matter then. I was a kid, just before it was discovered that everything could kill you. So we wolfed down our moo foo goo in blissful ignorance. We felt exotic, adventurous and nearly cosmopolitan.
I suspect Tiki-Tiki was the Golden Phoenix for a lot of you. Except for the lack of zodiac place mats, the place is a carbon copy of the Phoenix. It is a quintessential late-'70s Chinese restaurant. It bills itself as a Polynesian restaurant that also offers Cantonese and Szechuan fare. I'd never eaten in Polynesia, nor at a Polynesian restaurant, before. I don't know what denotes that region's food. Tiki-Tiki has a couple of entrees with pineapple in them. Maybe that's it. Otherwise, the menu is a lock for the traditional Chinese restaurant.
The food is better than I remember the Phoenix's being. The Crabs Rangoon ($4.25) were irregularly shaped and filled with more crab than cream cheese, suggesting that they were made by hand rather than removed from a bag by hand. The Hot and Sour Soup ($1.50) was full of minced veggies and strips of pork, and had a nice bite and tang to it. My Sizzling Go Ba ($12.95) was dished onto a sizzle platter at the table. Heads turned as the lobster, duck, pork and veggies began to roar on the superheated plate. This sort of thing would have mortified my parents, so we never ordered such verbose food. I always envied the folks at the Phoenix who received those flaming, flashy dishes, so I indulged myself. It was worth it.
Everything I ordered was worth it. Most of the entrées run $10-$15. The appetizers hover around $5. Portions were generous and none of the ingredients had the rubbery brown texture you can observe at lesser restaurants. There was no MSG glare, though "egg" and "fried" are simply unavoidable at such places. So be it. We all have to die of something.
The service is swift and cheerful. The atmosphere is pure nostalgia. I'm surprised that restaurants like Tiki-Tiki have not become popular with the hipster crowd. They are rife with kitsch charm, nostalgia and great amounts of food for relatively small amounts of money. There is better Chinese food in Richmond. But if you're looking for a great Chinese restaurant, you can't do much better than Tiki-Tiki. S
8917 Patterson Ave.
Lunch and dinner Monday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Dinner Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
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