Blue Willow

Let's put it this way . . . N and I went so you don't have to.
Just call us "sacrificial diners".
You're right. You rarely see a negative review on eatsalem. There are a few, you just have to dig a bit to find them. It's something the eatsalem contributors talk about amongst themselves. We know we should be heading to places we have heard are iffy, but when it's our own belly and our own dollars, it's not an easy decision. Kinda like willing yourself to get under that cold shower--not that I have any experience with that.

I suppose I could be generous and say that this restaurant provides an inexpensive sit down dining option for families. But if I were too tired or too busy to make dinner, I'm pretty sure I'd make a toasted cheese sandwich and open a can of soup if my only choice was Blue Willow.
Too harsh? Maybe you like this type of Chinese food: cheap with large portions. Personally, I've always been fairly picky about my food--more so since I've been with I believe that quality ingredients are the key in creating quality menu items. The more items that are made from scratch on site, the more apt my taste buds are going to respond in a positive manner.
Chapter 1--First Impressions.
As N and I stepped out of our car, the first thing we noticed was the nearly full parking lot and the row of visible diners seated near the windows. Once we were inside, it was apparent that the window seats are filled first. It's a technique N and I have seen often. The long continuous bench seat along the south wall, the bamboo chandeliers, the flowered wallpaper and carpet, all reminded me of the first Chinese restaurant I was ever taken to 40 years ago. The restaurant appeared clean, though a little worn around the edges.
Chapter 2--The Food
We were seated quickly. A pot of tea, menus and glasses of water arrived soon after. The tea was warm and had no flavor. I opted for the ice water instead. We decided to order Family Dinner B with hot and sour soup. The soup and then appetizers, spring rolls and barbecued pork, arrived immediately. The hot and sour soup was okay. It did have hot and sour flavors, although not a lot of character or depth overall. The spring roll had a nearly impenetrable exterior shell and was the same diameter as my wrist--daunting, yes daunting is a good word for it.  It was difficult to determine exactly what was inside. It might have been mashed potatoes for all I know, except I did find some slivers of carrot and a fragment of a shrimp body.  On a slightly more positive side, the barbecued pork was moist and the dipping sauce was okay (no heat).

Approximately, 6-8 minutes later our fried rice, Triple Dragon and sweet & sour chicken arrived at our table. I was anticipating what the "delicious sauce" on the Triple Dragon would taste like. (Yes, I was still hopeful.)  Well . . . I understand there are people who enjoy the flavor of soy sauce. I like what soy sauce can contribute to a sauce or dish, but don't enjoy it solo. All I could taste in the "delicious sauce" was soy sauce, nothing else. The sweet & sour chicken had an overly generous amount of breading surrounding the dry chicken breast and the sweet but bland sauce tasted like it had been poured out of a can. The fried rice was the best part of the meal and at that point (yes, I was disappointed and still hungry) it didn't matter that the added mushy peas and diced carrots were most likely canned.
Chapter 3--The Verdict
It felt wrong to fill the 3 to go boxes with food we knew we wouldn't eat, but the family who run the restaurant were very sweet and attentive. I just couldn't bring myself to leave so much food behind. (What a dope!)
Bottom line? We can not recommend Blue Willow. We just can't.

1985 Lancaster Drive Northeast
Salem, OR 97305-1020
(503) 581-3067


Salem Man said...

Don't think of it so much as a negative review as you are alerting the owner honestly of some problems in their restaurant. It's funny, so many people at the Bite and Brew said they loved that place. When you got home, did you put the leftovers in the fridge or just toss them in the garbage bin?

Chuck Bradley said...

K and N,

I, for one, appreciate you candor. As I'm rapidly running out of options for new places to try in Salem, I find myself eyeing places I've, for one reason or another, been driving by for years. The Blue Willow is among them. I think I'll save my time and money on this one. Thanks!

smc said...

Well K, at least your photos were good. You make the food look quite appetizing. I have to admit that I use to go there many years ago with an old boyfriend for their killer martinis. A couple of those and we didn't really care much about what the food tasted like,

My tastes have become much more discriminating since!!!

KandN said...

Hi SM, CB & SS, Of course, once this is up on the site, I'm having regrets. Not because the food was better than what I described, but because all I can do is think of that sweet family putting out what their clientèle seems to enjoy.
If there are any second opinions out there, I'd like to hear them.

KandN said...

Oh, and those leftovers? They went straight from the car to the garbage can. The fridge refused to accept delivery.

Amecameca said...

There are no Chinese restaurants in Salem that I have found that have high quality food. Most seem to make their money in an attached lounge where they have video poker (sad). That explains why you often see a good number of cars, but very few diners in the restaurant. I have a fondness for Tong King Garden on 12th St, not that the food is that great, but the owners are nice and have been in business there for about 30 years. If you are willing to try Chinese restaurants in Salem, I think you make a big mistake by ordering a "Family Dinner" which is guaranteed to be bland and dumbed down for American tastes. Talk to the server and ask what food they have for "Chinese tastes." Tell a white lie and say you once lived in China. Or do what I do and get in your car and drive 45 miles to Portland where you will find acceptable Chinese food in the vicinity of 82nd St. which is the new "Chinatown" in Portland (my faves: Ocean City, Wong's King, Shenzhen, Lucky Strike on Hawthorne).

KandN said...

I know what you mean about sticking with an old favorite. N and I have enjoyed Marco Polo for a long time. Our preference at MP is to pick 3 dishes and share, often asking for recommendations.

Unknown said...

I ate there once. I wasn't impressed either.

Chuck Bradley said...

Amecameca's comment about Tong King Garden sparked a memory of another Chi place with an exterior which belies the treasure within. It's the Lucky Fortune (1401 Lancaster DR NE).

Here are my impressions from a couple of months ago:

Had it not been for the advice of a co-worker I would have continued driving by this place as I've done for decades. The exterior first impression is less than conducive to an esurient condition. The place sits off Lancaster Drive in the middle of a weed patch. The next thing you notice, as you enter the parking lot, is a couple of # 5 tin cans sitting close to the front door haphazardly serving as cigarette butt receptacles. I considered whether or not to turn around and drive off, but remembering my friend's positive comments, I went inside. The décor was what one expects in a typical Chinese restaurant. It was neat and clean. My server was energetic and friendly. Here's the fantastic part! She brought me two menus one of which was their "Lunch Special Menu". It listed ten items. You can select any three for……Get this…. $2.99!!!. I had Egg Fu Young, Pork Fried Rice and Sweet and Sour Chicken and it was all good! All this for about the price of a Big Mac. This has to be Salem's greatest lunch bargain. This is the second place I've tried recently that I have ignored for years by judge-a-book-by-it's cover thinking. (The other being Tong King Garden on 12th ST SE)Sometimes beneath a rough exterior there rests a diamond!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I arrived in Salem very spoiled from all of the fantastic Chinese food we'd eaten in San Francisco for many years. We were extremely disappointed at the Chinese food available here, and asking for recommendations from local people didn't help a bit. The best we could find was Chan's on Fairground Road, and we've been loyal customers ever since, but if anyone here can top Chan's we'd love to know about it (and Portland doesn't count because we're way too lazy to drive over 90 miles round trip just for dinner).

KandN said...

Anon, Have you tried Marco Polo downtown? Our experiences have been less than satisfying at Kwan's, but I've heard so many people who claim you just need to know what to order.

d. davis said...

I think you hinted at their success with 'inexpensive, large portions.' Considering the location their clientele probably isn't expecting dazzling fusion or cutting edge recipes. More of the familiar straight-out-of-the-FSA-catalog variety. Which is fine and seems to be working for them, think sort of a local version of Panda Express.

Anonymous said...

Marco Polo is really good food. We ate there with a big group last weekend and ordered probably ten dishes to sample family style. I did not care for the shrimp (in two of the dishes) but everything else was very flavorful.

I also like Tonk King on 12th street.

Kwan's is good if you get the right dishes - garlic vegetable is excellent, the pot stickers are heavenly, ginger chicken - that is about the extent of what I like there. Those three dishes are great. Kwan's is best taken to go. The atmosphere is a tad dull.

Chuck Bradley said...

Anon, My favorite Chinese place in the area is John's in Keizer on N. River RD. Hot on its heels is the Hong Kong House on S.E. Commercial which, as far as I know, is the only Dim Sum place in town. Also worthy of mention are Lum-Yuen, The Golden Crown, The Gold Dragon and, if your budget minded, The Lucky Fortune $2.99 lunch menu is one of the best values in Salem!

Anonymous said...

I am very picky about Chinese in the Salem area. Same goes for Mexican. Frankly because there is an over abundance and its mostly horrific bad.

When I do get the craving for Chinese I go out of my way to avoid all but a handful of Chinese joints in this town.

Trinh's Cuisine (sadly now closed due to Salem Transits inability or corruption in not honoring a lease at the Bus Depot building downtown)



Marco Polo

all others are mediocre to outright nasty.

Which is sad but true

Rebekah said...

I am not one to eat a lot of Chinese, but when I do I agree with the commenter that said they eat at Chan's on Portland Rd. Of course, as usual, they have some dishes that are better than others. They have a good beef and broccoli dish.

KandN said...

Maybe that's what we should be doing--sharing not just our favorite Chinese restaurants, but the particular dishes we like.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the suggestions; I'm starting to see that the Chinese food situation is more frustratingly subjective here than just about any other food category I've encountered. I'm amazed at the love for Marco Polo; I've eaten there twice and now describe the place to anyone who asks me as "food for old people and the English." Absolutely the blandest Chinese food I've ever had, and there wasn't even the mercy of a salt shaker on the table to brighten it up a bit.

We haven't actually worked our way through the entire menu at Chan's, but our favorites there are the pepper salted shrimp, sesame beef, orange chicken, and green beans with either garlic or black bean sauce, and my husband has a thing for the BBQ pork chow fun.

We used to get sesame beef from a place in San Francisco that was so good I couldn't sleep if I knew there was still some in the refrigerator. I started calling it "addiction meat." If I knew for certain that that dish was waiting for me somewhere in Portland right now, I might reconsider the drive.

KandN said...

Anon, that's a shame about your bland meals. I don't know if it has to do with what we order, but we only had that experience once and the waitress brought out a "heat tray" so we could doctor up our meal. We veer towards those dishes with the asterisk indicating spiciness.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy for the tip about Chan's. I've been walking by there for years and thinking it could be a diamond in the rough, or it could be terrible. I'm glad people are giving it good reviews--its appearance gives a glimpse of what the Hollywood district must have been like before so-called urban renewal.

kneznanski said...

Looks like Chan's and Tong King Garden on 12th should be next on the review list, just be sure to order something they specialize in. Too many times people order the "americanized" chinese food and then are suprised when it's just so so.

I like Marco Polo, their food is good, but I wouldn't call it particularly inventive. Anyone have dishes there that they especially enjoy for my next trip? I'm definately enjoying the many dish recommendations in these comments, I think that's really the conversation to have... :)

Mary said...

Wasn't it chan's that was hit by a car the other day? Anyone know the status?

KandN said...

Mary, N and I drove past Chan's on Saturday. It looked like it was their front door that was hit by the car. That section of the restaurant has been covered by sheets of particle board. I'll keep checking back. Anyone else know the details?

Pam said...

I noticed the damage, too, back in September. Now it's the end of October, and am I imagining it, or was it fixed and then damaged a second time in the same spot? It's under reconstruction right now and I could have sworn I saw it repaired after the first damage in early Sept.

KandN said...

Pam, I heard that this was the second time, but this hit damaged the basic structure of the building.

Chuck Bradley said...

Ignore K and N's advice at your peril!

She who must be obeyed and I were right next door having a look at the Ocean Star Seafood Co., prompted by the excellent review here. And having been to every other non-chain eatery on Lancaster, we decided to take an ill-advised chance. (Will I never learn?) My bride ordered an Egg Fu Yung, Pork Fried Rice and Fried Shrimp combo with Egg Flower soup. I had Curried Shrimp which came with Pork Fried Rice and I chose Hot and Sour soup. Both orders included fried Won Tons. As previously mentioned the portions were gargantuan. Carol’s Egg Fu Yung was about the size of a Frisbee and about as flavorful. The BBQ Pork on/in the Fried Rice was of questionable vintage. The Won Tons and Tempura Battered Shrimp were very greasy. (I’m betting this will be true with any deep fried item here.) Carol’s Egg Flower soup was good, she said. My Hot and Sour was long on hot and short on flavor. I liked my Curried Shrimp. We both checked out the restrooms which had been neglected for, what appeared to be, some time. The whole place begged for a Hoover, and I don’t mean the long dead president. Our server was not rude, but had an unintentional but caustic quality. K and N thought she might have been a little hard on this place. I think, if anything, she was generous.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh.. If you want THE BEST CHINESE FOOD.. You need to go to Lum Yuen!!
It's on Portland rd and ill never go anywhere else :) best egg flour soup, best
Beef and broccoli, best anything! It's delicious!!