Restaurant Review #33: West Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant (Matawan, NJ)

Will's fried tofu and sauteed vegetables.
Fried tofu and sauteed vegetables.

Unlike Crown Palace, this sit-down Chinese restaurant does not hearken back days of old. There are no uniformed waiters or expensive umbrella cocktails. Actually, West Lake is a BYOB, something which acts as a saving grace as you will see later on in this review. While takeout places are a dime a dozen in Monmouth County, those fancy sit-down restaurants are getting increasingly harder to find. And usually when you do find one, the food is average and you end up paying copious amounts more than you would have for a delivery order. West Lake is kind of in the middle here, as it pulls you back and forth. The food is excellent, but is the value worth it? At what point do high prices send you out of the restaurant and back to reaching for the takeout menu when you want Chinese food?

Two weeks ago, I went with my friend Dave for lunch. Specials were all $7.95. This is fine, although most Chinese restaurants offer these same specials for a dollar or two cheaper. We both had soup (which was included)—mine was wonton, his was egg drop—and we both agreed that it was the best of such soup that we ever had. The wontons were thin-skinned and perfect. The broth was light and lovely. The meals themselves were my shredded pork in garlic sauce and his beef in oyster sauce. No complaints, even though there was not much meat to be found. Still, the flavor was good. It was enough to get me back for dinner one night.

Beef with scallions and ginger.
Beef with scallions and ginger.

A few weeks later, another friend and I gave it a try. I guess you could say our jaws dropped when we opened the menu and saw the prices. This place made Crown Palace look like Dollar Tree. I had the beef with scallions and ginger, $18.95. The portion itself was smaller than what I would have gotten than if I ordered a pint for probably $10 cheaper at Sultan Wok in Matawan or No. 1 Chinese in Hazlet, both takeout places. There’s also Shanghai Bun right down the street which is mostly takeout but has a fair amount of tables. Anything on the menu would have been much cheaper at these three places and at probably the same quality. Anyway, it tasted great. There were a lot of scallions and the ginger was sliced large enough that you could avoid the pungent flavor if desired. The steak itself was lean, not fatty at all. But that price just slams you (chicken wasn’t much cheaper either). Overall, it was a tad disappointing because I could have had a filet mignon at Portuguese Manor in Perth Amboy for the same price and actually left feeling full.

Fried vegetable dumplings.
Fried vegetable dumplings.

His meal was fried tofu with sautéed vegetables (pictured at top of page). While they made a nice presentation and he enjoyed the vegetables, the tofu was bland and had no flavor whatsoever. I didn’t mind it so much, and it was fried perfectly, but it just did not taste like anything. The price on his was $15.95, all for not much food. On the other hand, the $7.95 fried vegetable dumplings appetizer was well worth it. Just like the wontons, the skin was thin, fried perfectly, and they were probably homemade. Usually, I start out with soup, but they get $3 for a pint when everyone else gets half that, and I just could not bring myself to do it.

Not going to lie, but I left here feeling robbed. Well, maybe just half-robbed.The food is fresh and generally well-cooked but the prices (mainly the seafood) were outrageous. Anything not involving just mere shrimp started at well over $20, and if you wanted the fried seafood rolls with conch, you were going to have to shell out $43. For the two of us eating just two basic meals and one appetizer with no drinks or anything else, came to $48. If this place had a bar and you wanted to have a few drinks and an extra appetizer, you probably wouldn’t be able to get out for under $100. Thankfully, though, they are a BYOB, so you can save some money there (which makes the prices even more mind-boggling since they are not compensating for an expensive liquor license). It really is a shame, because with so many interesting and unique options, I would have loved to come back and try a few new things as I usually do when eating ethnic food. But for these prices? I don’t know if I will be back. I can get better Chinese food at a greasy takeout joint and not feel like I have to mortgage the house to eat it. 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

West Lake is located at 1016 State Route 34 in Matawan, New Jersey.



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