Santa Rosa's new China Legend restaurant, which recently opened in the strip mall on Mission Boulevard just north of Highway 12, isn't an innovative or epicurean dream, but it certainly has charms.
The mostly Cantonese recipes, with nods to Hunan and Szechuan provinces, have the virtue of familiarity. You know what you're getting, whereas in China itself, foods can get pretty exotic: seahorse, scorpion, cicada and starfish are among the street foods sold there.
A most wonderful aspect of the food at China Legend is the sheer volume of it. You can order a main dish for nine or 10 bucks, eat your fill, take the rest home, and have it for lunch and dinner the next day. Put some on tortillas with squirts of Sriracha sauce to make fiery Chinese tacos and you can stretch it out for two days.
The quality of the ingredients is another point in China Legend's favor.
The chicken is the Rocky brand from the Petaluma Poultry Processors, which means it's local, never given antibiotics or hormones, and is "free range." (But don't imagine flocks of chickens pecking and scratching on green pastureland.
The company uses poultry houses with access to an outdoor area.)
Service is snappy and attentive. Chinese, Japanese and Thai beers are available, along with teas made with filtered water. You get chopsticks if you ask for them. Otherwise, it's spoons and forks.
Some menu items come pre-prepared from suppliers, or, in the case of the Chilled Lychee Dessert ($6.95 **), from a can. You do get a full dozen husked and pitted lychees. They don't have the melting texture, floral aromatics, or full flavor of fresh lychees, but they're good nevertheless.
Steamed Barbecued Pork Buns ($7.95 for 6 **) are an example of an item bought pre-made from a food supplier. The small amount of pork filling is short on flavor and the buns are gummy — but so are the fresh-made pork buns you can find in San Francisco.
When the food is prepared in-house, things start looking up. A cup of Egg Drop Soup ($5.95 ***) featured a delicious chicken broth, floating shreds of egg, and bits of vegetables, and was salted with admirable restraint. A large plate of Mongolian Beef ($10.95 **1/2) mixed sauteed onions and hot little Chinese bird peppers with thin slices of tender beef, all tossed with lots of glistening brown sauce.