If I was much more delusional and irrational as a person, I would claim that there was a minor and low-grade Chinese conspiracy to keep me from eating dinner a few nights ago. First, I went to the Hunan People’s Commune. (Thank Google Translate for the name. I can’t seem to find that establishment’s name in English) It’s restaurant filled with pro-Mao propaganda to the point of fun silliness. The menu purportedly contains all of his favorite dishes. Plus, there is a bust Chairman Mao that can watch you and smile while you eat. From mapo tofu and fish head stew to octopus tentacles with veggies, I have always enjoyed eating there. Apparently, so do other people. The place was slammed to the gills with diners. So, I walked a few storefronts down to a small and cheaper Chinese place. Here, I had both a tasty fish-smelling pork dish and very good chicken noodle soup. Also, too crowded. I frowned in frustration. Okay! Maybe I would have better luck at the Korean joint near my college? They have good rice bowls and potato pancakes! No such luck. All there three restaurants had no tables to spare. Was there a conspiracy afoot to keep me from eating? No. Thankfully, I am not THAT crazy and irrational. After all, it was 6pm, and it was the height of the supper rush hour on Mingxin Road eateries. It’s even more pronounced when college students have returned. So, Plans A, B, and C went out the window. I didn’t want to go home and cook, so I had to concoct a Plan D.
That’s when I decided to try out a place called Bistro Café. It’s a little place with a red marquee and white lettering in Chinese. It’s across the street from the Changzhou College of Information Technology – in a little shopping area that services not only the students, but the residents in three high-rise residential buildings nearby. Bistro Café sits into the farthest most remote corner. Empty store fronts surround it. If you stand outside their door, you can see the last B1 stop on Mingxin before it turns onto Changwu and heads towards Wujin’s long distance bus terminal.
My neighbor across the hall had told me about it. Apparently, it is expat owned, and before its current incarnation, it had tried to be a bar with failing results. My neighbor told me he had pasta in creamy mushroom sauce, and for him, it wasn’t all that bad. Sure, I had an itching for Asian cuisine, but since that wasn’t in the cards for me at the moment, I would just have to go with what was available. I walked over. Unlike the places I wanted to dine in, Bistro Café seemed utterly devoid of humanity – if you exclude the bartender/waitress. When I walked in, she seemed to be equally dividing her attention between an eReader, a plate of food, and bottle of rice wine. It looked like she had foregone a glass and just had been swigging from the bottle. She immediately got up once I entered and showed me a menu.
For a moment, my spirits raised in hope. The menu boasted of a “Western Food” section. T-Bone steaks! Cheeseburgers! Pumpkin pie! And I could walk there, instead of taking the bus or my eBike to Jack’s Home and the other restaurants near Yangcheng! I was thinking in happy exclamation points! Really! Giddy with those thoughts, I ordered a cheeseburger with fries and a coke. I sat down at a table near the door and fiddled with my cell phone as I waited to be served. The red-walled décor didn’t bother me so much. Yet, once I looked up from my Huawei phone, I noticed something that jarred me slightly. In the window, a spider had set up a home with a rather large web. Apparently, the bug had been there quite awhile. The web looked that big. It made me wonder about Bistro Café’s overall cleanliness. If there was a large spider web in the dining area where everybody could see it, what did the kitchen look like? Plus, with the lack of fellow diners, I started to worry. Remember, I am the sort of guy who once marathon watched Gordon’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on Netflix, once – and by “marathon watched,” I mean both the American and BBC incarnations of that show. Maybe I was overreacting to just an oversight in cleaning and upkeep?
It didn’t take me long to get my sandwich. All giddy thoughts of easy-to-walk-to western food melted away with that first bite. The meat seemed both greasy and rubbery – almost as if it were micro waved. It certainly didn’t taste grilled pan-fried. This was a “double,” yet the patties themselves were thin and flimsy. Besides a slice of processed
American cheese, this burger only had a tasteless bit of lettuce and a lot of mayo. The French fries were slightly undercooked and in no way crispy, as French fries should be. I managed to eat all of it, but that was more of a testament to my hunger. Merely “edible” and “it wasn’t that disgusting” are not ringing endorsements.
For me, McDonalds and Burger King work as a baseline when it comes to judging hamburgers. Hey, I actually like Big Macs and Whoppers from time to time, but that’s only when I am busy and don’t have a lot of time to eat. I’m lucky to live in a Chinese city where I can have that American fast food luxury if I want it. Yet, if an independently owned place serves hamburgers of even lower quality of Micky D’s or BK, then they are just not worth your time of day. And, I am very sorry to say, Bistro Café isn’t really worth the time of day. The only expats who might want to eat here would be those working in Wujin’s College and Education Town. Again, the absence of people at peak dining hour is a rather telling sign.
So, I started this review off by pretending to be delusional, and suggesting that a “minor” and “low-grade” Chinese conspiracy kept me from eating supper – when 6 and 7pm usually ends up being the dining rush hour around here. I was trying that for comic effect. There was no way in Hell I was being serious. Plus, I thought it might be a good attention-grabbing lede. Contrast my attempt at sarcasm, however, with this serious quote from the intro in Bistro Café’s menu, which is bilingual in both English and Chinese: Do you already forget the essence of life when you spend every vacuous day in such a noisy city? If you can’t bear to vanish yourself in the fleeting time, come here!
Um. No—no, I will not.