Modern Chinese secret

St. Clair Shores' Gim Ling takes classic Chinese-American to the next level

Gim Ling has served dine-in and carryout at the same St. Clair Shores strip mall location for decades. Only relatively recently has it been transformed into a "Modern Asian restaurant." In this case, the term "modern" mostly serves as a stand-in for "better." New diners, as well as those with memories of a Gim Ling past, are in for quite a revelation when they dig into a dish.

With dark wood furnishings, white tablecloths and a service of silverware instead of chopsticks, modernity starts in the simple and elegant dining area. Walls are painted light mustard and support photo blowups of lotus flowers north, cherry blossoms south. Though white foam drop ceilings are better off in basements, and the soundtrack on one occasion was a perturbing Muzak, the vibe is generally warm and comfortable. Far more interesting than the common bric-a-brac you usually find in these places, works of wood sculpture, pottery and traditional Yixing clay teapots are placed about the room in various small lighted nooks. It's worth a couple of minutes to browse these remarkable pieces after a meal. It's a miniature gallery of fine Asian art. 

Other than prices slightly higher than you might expect from a typical Chinese restaurant, the menu isn't wholly unusual in its offerings. It's when the plates start to arrive that you begin to understand how Gim Ling diverges from the crowd. Besides the food being artfully presented on plates and in bowls of contemporary shapes, many times garnished with an edible flower, the food itself is attended to with extra attention. For instance, the egg rolls have lightness about them and are served with a sweet dipping sauce incorporating a swirl of hot mustard for unexpected depth. Such a simple twist on traditional ingredients is both surprising and satisfying. These are the little things that can make all the difference in a
dining experience.  

Egg drop soup is bright and not overly starchy. The same holds true for the hot and sour soup, which transcends the ordinary in that not only is it ideally balanced between hot and sour, you can also taste specific components, notably the roasted pork. We always try to sample a broad range of dishes to gauge the overall value of a restaurant, but at Gim Ling we ordered the hot and sour soup twice in a week, and will again. The fact that this particular soup is made to order and is served with a large bowl of crunchy fried wonton skin triangles for garnish might have something to do with it. 

For starters, the potstickers are nicely done. Lettuce wraps come four to a plate and are generously loaded with a rich, fried noodle mixture. This is a much more effective use of iceberg lettuce than salad, in our regard. We wanted to try the Hawaiian spring roll of fresh fruit, but our server, somewhat flustered with a table of six and struggling through a language hurdle, interpreted the order as a regular spring roll. By the time we all figured it out, we had a table full of food anyway. Otherwise the service was adequate. 

Bird's Nest Chicken was a standout entrée. A julienne of lotus root is somehow shaped into an airy bowl and deep-fried. Into this edible container goes a stir-fry of chicken and vegetables in clean and subtly flavored clear gravy. The Gim Ling special shares a similar sauce but also comes with shrimp and ample chunks of bok choy. If you're hungry, order an enormous (and quite attractive) plate of moo shu pork spiced to order. With four additional pancakes and a sweet Hoisin sauce, it's just about three meals' worth of food. 

Another pleasantly piquant dish of meat is the Mongolian beef: onions, scallions, carrots and bamboo all topped with fried noodles. Though a bit heavy on the onions, the gravy is well-balanced between sweet, savory and hot, without the glutinous texture sometimes encountered at lesser establishments. It's not all standard fare. A flavorsome dish of shrimp wrapped with bacon over onions in a sweet and sour sauce and garnished with almond, wo dip harr diverts from the norm. But it seems like just about every other diner is ordering the almond boneless chicken anyway. 

The locals have been spreading the word. On a typical Saturday night, you'll find a substantial line of folks waiting on carryout. Gim Ling has as robust a takeout business as we've witnessed at a Chinese restaurant. The dining room is usually at least half-capacity, and we can't help wonder how big a crowd might be drawn if they served adult libations along with the quality fare. 

Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sundays and holidays.

Todd Abrams dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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