West Ashley. 1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. 573-8787
When Tony and Kelly Chu opened Red Orchids in September 2003, they were both just out of college and knew they wanted to have their own business. While Kelly came from a restaurant family (her parents owned Joy Luck for many years and just retired) -- neither had any real food and beverage experience. Maybe such a fresh outlook is the formula for success at their innovative Chinese-American restaurant in West Ashley, because it really is like no other. The menu offers one treasure after another -- from classics done well like Hunan shrimp and scallop to original offerings like the Shanghai fettuccini. Kelly gives much credit to their families, noting that many of the dishes have been down passed through generations.
Both Tony and Kelly were born in China but left at an early age, and they seem to share an Eastern sensibility embellished with a Western awareness that informs their cuisine. That mentality stands out on the menu when reading about the Five Spice Lamb Chop, which they describe as, "tender lamb chops wok seared with Red Orchids house five spices, served with asparagus on the side." This is one of Tony's own creations and fits right in with the soft jazz and impressive wine list. Kelly attributes most of the dishes to Tony, but in fact she runs the kitchen. "We are very strict on consistency with flavor, taste, and amount of sauce," says Kelly. She implements these standards while expediting the dishes, and Tony manages a smooth front of the house.
In truth, Tony's charm adds much to the ambience of Red Orchids. The strip mall façade seems to fade away at his friendly greeting, and the simple bistro decor evokes a more urban setting. The aforementioned wine list makes for an interesting read, and Tony's knowledge goes beyond rudimentary as he offers suggestions with the passion of an aficionado.
The Chus' panache makes it difficult to imagine that a Chinese buffet used to inhabit this space, but Kelly claims that their predecessor presented them with quite a challenge. "It's hard to break that mentality," she says. Finally, the Chus simply put a sign on the door -- "No buffet" -- that almost seems like a password to their refined environs. The devoted clientele certainly give their seal of approval on a daily basis, and regulars are privy to insider information like wines that may not appear on the list and special menu items. If you're lucky you just might find yourself at Red Orchids on a weekend night when they serve Chinese Pot Roast (a dish that both Chus grew up eating with their families.) The braised beef riblets with Chinese spices and a secret sauce certainly seals their credibility as the "Best Chinese" in Charleston.