Few culinary concepts merit the title of hidden gem more than homegrown ethnic eateries residing within hollowed-out shells of former fast-food restaurants. One such obscurity popped up a couple weeks ago in a long-gone Taco Bell in Overland: Chef Ma’s Chinese Gourmet Restaurant, featuring authentic Cantonese-style cuisine.
Hong Kong native King Ma got his start in kitchens at the age of 14, working in numerous kitchens throughout China, Singapore, Malaysia and eventually the United States, following a Chinese hospitality company that opened new restaurants in California and Hawaii. As stated with pride on his new restaurant’s menus, he even managed to emerge victorious in a 2009 Iron Chef competition based out of Texas.
Most recently, his career led him to the head of the kitchen at Mandarin House in St. Louis, where he helmed the back of the house for two-and-a-half years, cooking for big banquets and demonstrating his seafood mastery. At Chef Ma’s Chinese Gourmet Restaurant, the worldly chef returns to his roots, offering homestyle recipes for lunch and dinner on disposable plates in a petite, frills-free space.
A popular dish is Walnut Shrimp — jumbo shrimp breaded, fried until crispy and tossed in a sweet, creamy sauce. Another chef specialty, Hainan Chicken Rice, features extraordinarily tender cuts of bone-in chicken served with a ginger dipping sauce, peanuts, flavorful rice and a side of vegetable soup.
“We’ve only been open for two weeks, but it’s already so busy. I’m so happy. Customers know me from Mandarin House, and they know my food,” says Ma. “It’s different from other restaurants — it’s my style, Hong Kong style.”
One of the foremost concerns Chef Ma’s mind, he says, is quality control, and he manages his initial menu with zest. The menu begins with appetizers including egg rolls, pot stickers stuffed with pork, and a Chef Special Chicken Salad. Entrées are divided into categories: chicken, beef, pork, vegetable and seafood. Fried rice and lo mein noodles are also available.
Options within include dishes such as saucy short ribs with black pepper and stir-fried with vegetables, Egg Plant Szechuan Style and Mandarin Pork Chop with Rice. At the counter, look for a board of highlighted specials that features items such as pumpkin shrimp and a lamb hot pot.
Though not available just yet, the restaurant will also feature bubble tea down the line. If business goes well for this veritable diamond in the rough, Ma intends to expand by opening a second location, possibly on Olive Boulevard.
Chef Ma's current hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 9:30pm and Friday through Sunday from 11am to 10pm.
Chef Ma's Chinese Gourmet, 2236 Woodson Rd., Overland, MO, 314.395.8797.
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