In spite of how many Chinese people live in Cupertino, I can’t say I’ve found a lot of really good Chinese restaurants outside of the few that I like in Cupertino Village. So I was pleasantly surprised with the discovery of Rice Cafe which was tucked away next to one of my other favorite Cupertino restaurants, Kitsho.
When we walked into the restaurant, it was already pretty full, but luckily there was an empty table or two and we were seated immediately. Much to my chagrin, I inadvertently let a group that came in after us to get seated ahead of us. This ended up biting us in the arse, because in addition to the wait that everyone else in the restaurant was suffering, we ended up getting overlooked and we sat hungry for longer than we should have. I get the impression that the restaurant was literally a mom and pop shop… with the mom running the front and the pop running the back. Unfortunately, with a packed house including one huge table of 10 or so people, it only became more apparent how poorly understaffed the restaurant was. On the upside, because we were all having to waiting an extraordinarily long (particularly for being a Chinese restaurant), they did bring us some appetizers to hold us over.
We got to try 3 different dishes, Spicy Beef Tendon, Shredded Bean Curd in Spicy Sauce, and Shredded Radish with Green Onion Sauce. With each plate that came out, I happily looked forward to digging into it but simultaneously felt profound disappointment knowing the wait would continue before the food that we actually ordered would arrive.
The Spicy Beef Tendon was probably my least favorite of the 3. It had a slight spicy taste and a more noticeable ginger-flavor that reminded me a bit of the kind of cured beef that gets served on those house special appetizer plates that you have at Chinese banquets. The Shredded Bean Curd dish was kind of interesting. It looked and tasted like a cold noodle dish. The sauce had a slight kick, but nothing to burn the palate. It was very good, and I would consider ordering it again. The best part of the dish was not only did it remind me of noodles, but it lacked any of the carbs that would make me avoid it more than I would want to. 🙂
The last appetizer that they brought out was the most deliciously unique dish I’ve had in a long time. When you see the dish, you expect it to be pickled and kind of tangy in taste, but in actuality, it couldn’t be anymore different. The radish was seasoned with what I assume to be a green onion infused oil, although I’m not sure. Either way, it was really very flavorful and tasted kind of refreshing. It was so good that I almost considered asking the waitress for more. Haha! Needless to say, I would definitely order this dish again.
By the time that the main entrees FINALLY came, almost a solid hour had passed, and boy, were we ready to eat. I was thoroughly annoyed that tables were getting served all around us while we sat in hunger, but it was amazing how quickly I forgot about it after tasting the food. The Kim Chi Fried Rice seemed out of place on a Chinese menu, but it turned out to be pretty good. Granted, I’ve only eaten Kim Chi Fried Rice once before, so I probably don’t have the best baseline upon which to adequately judge it. It might have been partly out of near starvation, but I seriously liked it. One of my biggest beefs with Korean food sometimes is that the dishes often times are so spicy to the point that it is all you taste. It’s like they don’t put any other seasoning. Although the fried rice was pretty spicy, the kim chi added some needed salt to balance out the dish. It was a little bit on the oily side, but then with fried rice, it’s hard to not expect a little bit of grease.
The Salt and Pepper Chicken was definitely the best dish of the night. Although it was listed under the appetizers, the serving was definitely more than enough for the table as a main entree. The chicken was lightly battered and deep-fried and then tossed with some fried onions, bell peppers and basil leaves. I’m not sure what the seasoning was on the chicken, but it seemed to be a lot more depth of flavor than just salt and pepper. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but it actually reminded me a lot of the Popcorn Chicken that you can order at Tea Station or Q-Cup. Only instead of being bite-sized, there were bigger, more normal-sized pieces. A majority of the Yelpers raved about this dish in particular, and I can see why it is so popular. A definite must-order for next time as well.
We completed the meal with Pea Sprouts in Garlic Sauce. These pea sprouts were a little thicker and more bitter than I have had it before, but they were still pretty good. Again, the serving size was healthy so we ended up having more than enough as leftovers for a couple more meals after wards.
Overall, although the wait was extremely long, I have to admit that the food helped mitigate some of my initial frustration with the restaurant staff. To their credit, they did come often to apologize, fill our water glasses, and obviously, give us some of those complimentary appetizers. The food is very good, and there is a distinct “homey” quality to the restaurant. This is a compliment but also a criticism. It’s not a very spacious place, so it is very intimate without being cramp. It definitely has the air of being family-run which is kind of quaint. However, because of this same mom-and-pop feel, the decor is simple yet sort of random. It kind of reminds me of the way someone without much thought for aesthetics and decor just pulled together a bunch of disparate looking paintings and old drapes to decorate their home. Nevertheless, this is all rather unimportant, because ultimately, the food is good… and that is mainly what I care about most. 🙂
10074 E. Estates Dr
Cupertino, CA 95014
PAFO Ratings for Rice Cafe:
Price 2 stars
Ambiance 2 ½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3 ½ stars