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Oriental Table
106 Exchange Street
775-3388

 
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Oriental Table Reviewed: Summer, 2004

Now, as I've mentioned before, I've never been the biggest fan of Chinese food. Even more so recently as there seemed to be a general lack of decent Chinese establishments around the Portland area. This is what I thought until my friend and I happened upon Oriental Table on Exchange Street last week. Amazingly cheap, super fast service, awesome lunch buffet, perfect Old Port location, outdoor patio and delicious Chinese cuisine too!

I know it seems too good to be true but I kid you not. It had never crossed my mind before to even look at the board listing the daily buffet entrees outside of Oriental Table. When there are so many wonderful gourmet restaurants in such a tiny radius of the city, why choose a Chinese restaurant? So I've been going about my dining research and all this time I'd been passing over one of the best deals in Portland.

The space itself is rather large. Tons of tables inside and a good amount outside on the very casual patio as well. Nothing is very fancy, but it all serves its purpose well. We arrived around 1:00 on a weekday, our lunch break from work, to find the place about half full, mostly with single business people dining alone. We sat ourselves in a corner table inside but as close to the patio door as we could get. A waitress quickly came over, gave us menus and took our drink orders.

I could see the buffet, had read the tempting entrée specials on the board outside, but was still confused as to how the whole deal worked. I saw one guy getting a Styrofoam take out box filled from the buffet so I kind of assumed that it was a take out center only. But when our server brought our beverages, we had each gotten ice waters, I inquired about the luncheon special. She explained that it included a choice of one appetizer, two entrees, one side dish, and either soup or soda. I thought the soup or soda option was a little odd seeing as though soup is not the best replacement for a refreshing beverage or vice versa but it seems to work nonetheless. We quickly jumped on the $5.95 luncheon special train and our waitress told us to go ahead to the buffet whenever we were ready. There were a couple of others ahead of us in line but it moved rapidly. Two servers stood behind the buffet scooping out generous portions of each diner's choice.

I very happily chose an Eggroll for my appetizer, the Pineapple Chicken and the Sesame Chicken as my entrees, Vegetable Fried Rice as my side, and a Pepsi instead of Hot and Sour Soup. My friend ordered everything I didn't: two Crab Rangoons (which the server excitedly explained was actually a vegetarian appetizer) Bean Curd with Garlic Sauce (a double helping since it was the only vegetarian entrée), Pad Thai for a side and a Pepsi in lieu of soup. I couldn't believe the overflowing heap of food on my plate all for only $5.95 which we paid to the cashier at the end of the buffet. We carried our trays back to our table and dug in.

Everything was excellent. I started with the Sesame Chicken. Tender little nuggets of chicken coated in thick sweet red marinade and tons of sesame seeds. This was perfectly balanced by the mild Pineapple chicken, strips of flavorful chicken with those razor edge carrots, crispy pea pods, coins of water chestnuts and pineapple chunks swimming in a brownish sweet and sour type sauce. Very light and almost verging on seemingly healthy. My vegetable fried rice was equally as good. It wasn't all greasy like you might expect from a fried rice dish. The rice was somewhere in between sticky and dry, but not fluffy either, just the right consistency for fried rice, mixed with shredded cabbage, round peas, bean sprouts and thankfully, no fried egg. I saved my eggroll for last as I usually do. It was ok, not the best, but decent. The single layer of wrapper was filled with tiny bits of meat, which I think was mostly pork, some cabbage, and maybe a few other veggies but I couldn't quite discern as it was all a mesh of red dyed stuff. Still good though, and I ate the entire roll. Despite the enormous amount of food I was served, I finished every last bite and didn't feel disgustingly sick afterwards like I usually do when I eat Chinese food. I felt completely satisfied and very happy with my most recent meal, even hoping to return again soon.

My friend enjoyed his meal just as much as I did. He polished off both the cream cheese and scallion filled fried pastries, a.k.a. "crab" rangoon, and ate all of his Pad Thai Noodles, despite the generous fried egg, and Bean Curd before I had even made a slight dent. I was slightly tempted by the desserts on the menu seeing as though I had never felt like I was able to even consider ordering dessert after a Chinese meal before, but I passed over the Fried Bananas (2 for $2.75), Crispy Honey Apple (4 pieces for $3.95, 6 for $4.95), and Crispy Honey Banana (4 pieces for $3.95, 6 for $4.95) to save for my next visit which most likely will be soon considering I've already raved about the lunch specials to all my friends.

If you don't feel like a buffet or you roll in for dinner or you're simply in a take out kind of mood, there's tons of appetizer, soup and entrée choices on the menu as well including the usual moo shi, noodle, rice, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp and vegetarian dishes as well as some interesting choices I have yet to encounter in other Chinese Restaurants before: Tomato Bean Curd Soup ($4.95), six different scallop dishes such as Szechuan Scallops or Scallops and Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce (served with white or brown rice $8.45 lunch $11.75 dinner), Chinese Sausage Fried Rice ($5.95), and various fish fillets including Hunan, Haddock, Chang Sha, or Oriental Table Crispy fish fillet (also served with white or brown rice $7.75 lunch $10.25 dinner). The big appetizer platter, entitled "O.T. Platter" comes with one egg roll, one teriyaki beef, one teriyaki chicken, four chicken fingers, two chicken wings, two crab rangoons, and one shrimp for $6.95, and there are five great combination plates to choose from as well mixing items such as boneless spareribs, rangoons, various teriyaki, egg rolls, wings, wontons, and shrimps each served with fried rice for $6.85-$7.25 per plate.

parking  
reservations  
wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections
beer
wine
liquor  
most credit cards accepted
The Vegetarian and Light Menu Selections are quite varied as well, not the usual Steamed Broccoli with White Rice you typically see offered for healthy eaters. They offer Bean Curd in various flavors and textures with everything from Mushrooms to Ginger and Scallions to Peanuts and Vegetables or Chinese Vegetables (all $5.65 lunch $7.25 dinner). And the light fare menu boasts Steamed Chicken and Vegetables ($5.75 lunch $7.75 dinner), Seafood Medley ($7.75 lunch $10.25 dinner) and Steamed Bean Curd with Pea Pods ($5.65 lunch $7.25 dinner) among several other choices. All of the dishes are well marked for anticipated spiciness and they claim to use no MSG and pure vegetable oil only.

Oriental Table has by far the best Chinese cuisine (Szechuan, Hunan, and Cantonese to be precise) I have yet to find here in Portland. Everything seemed very fresh and tasted delicious. The service was speedy and friendly and the prices were extremely easy on the wallet.

Oriental Table is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 am - 8:00 pm and Friday through Saturday from 11:30 am - 9:00 pm. They are closed on Sundays.  back to the top

 

Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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