August 1, 2008

Review: Qin’s Offers Antioch a Chic Setting and Reasonable Prices

By Chrissa Ventrelle

At center stage is a raised circular bar, accented by glowing blue lights and a massive glass chandelier. Two flat-screen TVs behind the bar are visible from most of the open room. A water wall, life-size Qin warrior statues and blooming orchids contribute to the Asian flair.

All the seating is in booths, giving guests a dual sense of privacy and inclusion in the scene. Smart touches include a separate take-away counter and private and semi-private areas. To satisfy the city mice, the swanky restrooms house completely private stalls. While it's possible to eat from Qin's Asian fusion menu for about the cost of dinner at a neighboring chain, the decor makes you feel like you're somewhere a little classier.

Our first visit was lunch, and we started with a Thai steak salad ($10) with rib-eye, red pepper and hearts of palm. Though the rib- eye was juicy and tender, any Thai flavors sunk under an overpoweringly sweet coconut-lime dressing.

At the waiter's suggestion, we next tried the Dragonfly Roll ($9) with fried shrimp and crab meat inside and unagi, avocado and ebi on the outside. Unfortunately, the overcooked shrimp was a distraction, and the curry barbecue sauce was overpowered by ketchup.

The wok-fried chicken with wasabi mashed potatoes and braised bok choy ($14) lacked oomph. The plate arrived with three enormous panko- crusted chicken breasts that were difficult to cut. The wasabi mashed potatoes were disappointingly mellow, lacking the horseradish bite I anticipated. I kept returning to this dish, hoping that the next forkful would bring more flavor, but no dice. Though general manager John Davis says that is one of their more popular fusion specialties, it tasted to me as though the kitchen had been told to hold the spice, as if to appease to a bland American palate circa 1940.

A second visit brought greater success from the kitchen. A highlight was the eggplant claypot ($12) with scallions, bamboo shoots, peppers and a garlic sauce. This is a winner dinner, rivaling any I've had before.

Dessert brought fried cheesecake ($7), Oreo brownie ($7) and green tea ice cream ($5). The popular cinnamon-dusted fried cheesecake is a spitting image of a county fair churro stuffed with cheesecake. Mango and raspberry dipping sauce worked well, adding color and texture to the plate.

The 100-bottle wine and sake list was designed by Adam Jed, a certified sommelier and former PlumpJack Group guy, now working on a modern steakhouse in San Francisco. Most bottles are in the $30-$60 range.

The $8 Asian-influenced signature cocktails are another draw. Davis says the Lava Flow (pineapple, rum, light rum, coconut and grenadine) and the Ruby Dragon (ruby red vodka, yuzu citrus sochu and pomegranate) are among the most popular.

On my two visits, the servers were efficient and the right amount of friendly. They nimbly fielded questions from our high- maintenance table, advocating for their favorite items without sounding too promotional. Dishes arrived with a trail of steam, although the restaurant wasn't busy on either occasion. One runner, however, made several minor mistakes, such as bringing out dessert without utensils.

Qin's offers a unique dining option for those in Antioch, Brentwood and Discovery Bay. Though it looks the part of a special- occasion restaurant, its fair pricing makes it accessible for frequent pop-ins. Hopefully, success at Qin's will prompt more independent restaurants to open here as well. QIN'S ASIAN BISTRO & BAR

HH -- FOOD: HH -- AMBIENCE: HHH-- SERVICE: HHH-- WHERE: 5007 Lone Tree Way, Antioch.-- CONTACT: 925-754-8888, HOURS: 11 a.m.-10-p.m. daily; dim sum brunch on weekends, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.-- CUISINE: Cal-Asian fusion.-- PRICES: $$.-- VEGETARIAN: Eggplant claypot, vegetable stir-fry, pan- fried noodles.-- BEVERAGES: Specialty house cocktails ($8), 100 bottle wine and sake list, most $30-$60.-- RESERVATIONS: Recommended.-- NOISE LEVEL: Fine for lunch; progressively louder as it converts from restaurant to lounge.-- PARKING: No problem.-- KIDS: Plenty of options, such as fried chicken, orange chicken or beef and broccoli. They recommend calling ahead to reserve a high chair or booster seat.-- PLUSES: Showcase bar; friendly wait staff, large private room, an independent restaurant amidst many chains.-- MINUSES: Some dishes don't work; kitchen can be uneven.-- DATE OPENED: May 12, 2008.


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Star key

H Fair

HH Good

HHH Great

HHHH Extraordinary

Price code

$ Most entrees under $10

$$ Most entrees under $20

$$$ Most entrees under $30

$$$$ Most entrees under $40

Originally published by Chrissa Ventrelle , Correspondent.

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