Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cate Zone Chinese Cafe Guides Diners into China's Northeast

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cate Zone Chinese Cafe Guides Diners into China's Northeast

Article excerpt

Maps of New York City's subway system cover the walls inside Cate Zone Chinese Cafe, a 4-month-old restaurant along the Chinese-restaurant spine of Olive Boulevard in University City. I love maps one of the few childhood possessions I've kept is my collection of vintage National Geographic maps so I'm predisposed to like Cate Zone's dcor. But with each visit here, as I dug into yet another dish I'd never eaten before, these subway maps seemed more appropriate.

The number and range of traditional Chinese restaurants here will never match what you can find in New York. It will never match what you can find in Queens alone. But recent years have seen a dramatic increase in St. Louis restaurants serving regional Chinese fare, and among the reasons to recommend Cate Zone, it expands that map into China's northeast.

Dongbei cuisine, as it's known, reflects its geography, heartier food for a colder climate. (The region borders Russia, Mongolia and the Korean peninsula.) Owners Daniel Ma and Quincy Lin are both natives of this region. The two men opened Cate Zone, their first restaurant, after working together at Joy Luck Buffet in Brentwood. The name was their attempt to translate the concept of delicious food into English. They realized their error too late. Lin told me he sometimes tells customers Cate is the chef's name.

Ask your server to recommend a dish or simply watch plates being delivered to other tables in the cramped dining room and you'll likely find yourself ordering the China Northeast Sweet-Sour Pork ($12.99). This is an ideal introduction to Dongbei cuisine, not only on its own merits, but for how it subverts our American expectations of neon-bright, candy-sugared sweet-and-sour pork.

An order brings a stack of what looks like a cross between schnitzel and chicarrones, thin planks of pork dredged in flour and fried to a shattering crisp. Atop this stack is a tangle of slivered ginger, and after an initial hit of sweetness, the pork's sauce wallops you with a gingery, vinegary bite.

Sourness also defines Chinese Sour Cabbage With Pork Belly ($13.99), a soup of glass noodles in a broth shot through with the puckering acidity of pickled cabbage. …

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