Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Peony Asian Bistro

Adapted from a post to Usenet newsgroup triangle.dining in 2007. Eldest son and I had a spontaneous lunch (delayed a trip to a nearby Home Depot) at a new restaurant open a few weeks in Patterson Place (near New Hope Commons off US Hwy 15-501) in Durham. This mini-mall is badly laid out and so it can be hard to spot but this place is across the way from Panera's.
We entered about 1 pm on Sunday. Only a few tables were occupied and they seemed to have about 5 servers and dining room managers. Plenty of service but it was confusing as to who to turn to for assistance. Although the posted paper menu looks like every other storefront "Chinese" restaurant, one's impression changes suddenly upon entering. The space is small but spacious. Tall ceilings and large expanses of orangey-peach walls give an open dramatic look. 
Most of the menu is conventional but they do offer sushi that we didn't try or see. Shortly after we were seated, our server brought a small artful salad as welcoming gift from the chef. I can't tell you what it was for sure but it was unique and delicious and beautiful. Seemed to be formed from fried panko crumbs, shreads of cold vegetables and a light savory dressing. A big surprise in a "store front" restaurant.
What makes this place a winner are the special dishes. Son ordered crispy shrimp with salt and pepper. Generous serving of large shrimp in a tempura-type breading ($11.95). Nicely garnished. He thought them excellent. The side order of pork fried rice was bland and forgettable. They frequently refilled his Coke. The side order of hot and sour soup was said to be better than average but not hot enough. My dish was especially outstanding. Half a boneless duck, crispy skin, moist tender meat over a bed of nicely sauced stir-fried vegetables with a side of steamed brown rice ($12.95). Very generous serving, beautifully presented. The flower garnish fashioned from orange carrot and *white* carrot was elegant. Not a surprise but a shock in a store-front mall restaurant but proof these people both know and care.
My only complaint was the tea. Oddly served in a coffee cup and very strong -- been sitting around for a while. I should have ordered fresh in a pot. They have beer and wine but very limited offerings. We will be back soon.

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