Location: 4755 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square.
Contact: (610) 353-5353, sangkeenoodlebowl.com.
Cuisine: Traditional Chinese with modern inclinations.
Cost: Appetizers, small plates and soup $3-$12.50, entrées $6-$19.
Atmosphere: Friendly and fun yet sophisticated.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Extras: Happy hour Mon.-Fri. 5-7 p.m.; outdoor dining.
It was 5 p.m., following a long weekend afternoon with family, when the hunger pangs hit. “Is there somewhere new around here to get a quick bite to eat?” was the unanimous question. I thought of Sangkee Noodle Bowl, another suburban offshoot of Michael Chow’s Sang Kee Peking Duck House in Philly’s Chinatown, which had just opened in the Shoppes at Marville in Newtown Square.
If you’re a regular at Wynnewood’s Sangkee Asian Bistro, you’ve probably braved the lines, tolerated the pushing and shoving of (apparently) famished patrons making their way to the cashier’s counter, and endured an occasional hourlong wait for a table in the small eatery. While the latest Sangkee outpost isn’t as conveniently located for some, the atmosphere is far less hectic. It replaces Parker’s Prime Steakhouse, one of six local restaurants owned by Win and Sutida Somboonsong of Win Signature Restaurants. A chance meeting with Chow and a subsequent discussion of a Sang Kee collaboration confirmed the restaurant power couple’s decision to close the steakhouse in favor of something more family-friendly and affordable. “We did some research and realized that there weren’t many Chinese places in the area,” says Sutida.
It took about three months to turn the space around, and it certainly has that playful yet sophisticated Win restaurant feel. Though the outside has an almost corporate feel, the interior is spacious (there are four rooms, plus a bar area) and thematically dramatic, with gold bird cages, Chinese umbrellas suspended from the ceiling, and a round space that houses the restaurant’s rice-wine bottle collection, among other things. Sutida made countless shopping trips to New York to outfit the place.
With its increasingly popular happy-hour specials, the bar offers a small but serviceable wine list with several affordable bottles and varieties by the glass. And while the environs aren’t really evocative of the Chinatown or Wynnewood locales, the sizable menu is. Regulars at the other spots will be pleased to find their favorite dishes, plus plenty of aromatic noodle bowls—always a great way to start a meal. Highly recommended for sharing, the generous portions of steaming broth, noodles, vegetables, and (if you choose) meat or seafood also make a filling entrée.
Sang Kee is known for its steamed and pan-fried dumplings, but several visits to the new location revealed some inconsistencies. The steamed Shanghai juicy buns—delicate parcels of dough filled with meat and hot broth—were a disappointment. The broth lacked character and barely filled the dumplings on one visit, and there was no broth at all on the next. Better were the juicy, delicate, paper-thin wontons in the dim sum platter. The shrimp dumpling soup also lived up to Sang Kee standards.
Traditionalists should appreciate the well-executed General Tso’s chicken and chicken-and-broccoli entrées. The most expensive item on the reasonably priced menu, the Peking duck ($19) was slow roasted until the skin was ultra-crispy, and served with the customary pancakes, scallions and hoisin sauce. A good alternate is the Hong Kong roasted duck, but skip the overpowering plum-garlic sauce. And if you’re looking for something tasty to pair with another meat or vegetable dish, try the seafood fried rice wrapped in lotus leaves or the grilled lemongrass chicken and vegetable rice bowl.
The Shanghai noodles—a heaping plate of the udon variety, flecked with shredded pork, shiitake mushrooms, napa cabbage and bean sprouts—was generously portioned, but underseasoned and heavy overall. The more prominent hit of spice that came with the thin glass rice noodles made a more lasting impression. Also memorable was the tangy orange sauce that coated the walnut beef, served with asparagus.
THE SKINNY: It won’t be easy to keep the tables full in this large space, but the quick and friendly service and the affordable menu give Sangkee Noodle Bowl a fighting chance. The duck is a true standout, and the soups and noodle bowls are filling and fresh. With Regal 10 Cinema just steps away, there’s no disputing the convenience factor, and you’re likely to leave satisfied—and not feeling like you overspent to get that way.