Hunan House - Bow Down

2350 E. Dublin-Granville Rd. Columbus OH (614) 895-3330
Columbus has an army of Chinese restaurants loaded in strip-malls, plazas and shopping centers, but the overall lack of authenticity, consistency and quality would have General Tso turning in his grave. Where’s the fresh ginger and roasted garlic? Where’s all the other stuff that’s not brown, soggy, salty and drab?

You’ll find that place a block west of Cleveland Avenue on 161, where two noble granite lions overlook the entry of Hunan House. The Hunan lions stand strong, as if guarding the four stars and top-ten titles of gourmet Chinese and Thai cuisines that have been feeding Columbus for a quarter century.

Once permitted entrance, the calmness of cascading water and goldfish greets you in the foyer. A step further into the restaurant you’ll discover three spacious sections softly lit and surrounded by engraved frosted glass. The spacious dining area is embellished with white tablecloths, elegant porcelain vases, bamboo plants, palm trees, soft jazz and artwork, including a brilliant Zhang Heng seismograph. This truly sets the scene for a tranquil dining experience—all created by owner Jason Chang and his older brother, Head Chef Steve Chang. “People are becoming more sophisticated about Chinese food, and they know we provide great cuisine for a good value in a nice, clean place,” says Jason. “Honesty and quality. They’ve kept us in business for 25 years.”

A single dining experience at the Hunan House makes a few things perfectly clear: the wait staff has decades of experience, Asian cuisine is their specialty and their service is tight. “We don’t take it for granted,” Jason confesses. “I’m still working 7 days a week. I get up in the morning and I still can’t wait to work. I love the challenge, and I really enjoy it. I found my passion in seeing my employees and my customers enjoying a good meal and good experience in my place.”

Take these words to heart and get cozy in your honestly comfortable seat because you’ll need to allow more than a moment to gaze upon the menu; it’s a little overwhelming, but nothing a few appetizers can’t temper. Try the Thai Spicy Wonton, Chang’s mother’s recipe. It’s pan fried, filled with shrimp and served in a Thai chili sweet and sour sauce. While you’re at it, throw in an order of Fried Minced Chicken served with the chef’s special hot and spicy sauce in a leaf of lettuce and the Seafood Velvet Soup (Shrimp, Scallop and crab meat in rich broth). These will ensure you’re off to a hot Hunan start and buy you some time to wrap your palate around the scroll-like menu.

Actually, before you even get into your car to go to Hunan House, the first thing you need to fully understand is that the Peking Duck isn’t just dinner; it’s a succulent, scheduled experience. By this we mean you must call 24-hours in advance because the open flame grilling and marinating process can’t be rushed. The duck will be ready soon after your arrival and is presented whole for the table’s approval. Then, the chefs will do the carving and the wait staff will roll the crispy skinned, golden duck on crepes glazed with a rich plum sauce.

Once you get to Hunan, the second thing to know is that the Curry Prawns and Scallops are remarkable and deserve the attention of even the most ardent scallop skeptic. The Changs’ pride in their quality herbs is revealed in this Thai sensation. Slowly simmered green curry with fresh basil and rich coconut milk form a sauce that will make your brow sweat through the oh-so-sweet sensation.

In between chunky morsels of eggplant, sautéed prawns and large scallops, sip on a homemade Mai-Thai that contends as one of the city’s best. Its ripe tropical flavors complement such dishes as the Mango Shrimp. The light, crisp and clean Mango Shrimp are served with peapods, onions and mushrooms and cooked in a specialty rice wine that accentuates the ripe Mango. Pair it with a little Ozeki Sake and you’ll experience the sophistication of true gourmet Asian cuisine.

Wanna go for something a little meatier and have a taste for Mongolian Beef? Well, kick it up a notch with the Mala Lamb. The tender meat sautéed with fresh garlic and green chili peppers is served with carrots and green onions. Squeeze a little orange over it and the spicy dish with a citrus twang will have you licking your chops. If that doesn’t tickle your tummy, then we suggest posing a taste-bud battle with the flash fried Sesame Chicken served over rice noodles. It will remind you why the dish became a staple of Chinese cuisine. The mouthwatering sweet brown sauce isn’t over syrupy or greasy; the spices are mild and the light batter makes each bite a crunchy sensation that goes down with ease, especially when followed by a Tsingtao or Sapporo.

Now, if you are like us and are still in search of the perfect Pad Thai, Hunan’s version comes as close to imagined perfection with its full and consistent flavor. However, it’s not your typical Pad Thai, as it’s the chef’s own recipe. Like any Pad Thai, though, it’s sautéed with shrimp and chicken, but not overwhelmed with cilantro and peanuts. The dried red pepper garnish can pack some serious heat, but the spicy sauce alone is enough to wake the taste buds.

Speaking of taste buds, do yourself and your buds a favor and save room for dessert. The fried banana with Oriental coconut ice cream is nothing short of an edible tropical bliss. Be sure to also try some Lychee Fruit. It offers a peculiar dynamic of texture and taste wherein pear meets grape.

Over the years, his success has permeated through his other endeavors such as the Hunan Lion at 2038 Bethel Rd. and the Hunan Gourmet at 5125 E, Main St. Now that he’s nearly perfected his hand in Chinese and Thai gourmet, keep an eye out for his next endeavor: a Kobe Japanese steakhouse named Kosemi (meaning “light rain) that’s set to open near Easton this August. No doubt it’ll be smokin’ hot.