Leaving another restaurant at Tamiami Square in North Naples, I saw the nearby O’mei and my stomach sank.
I hadn’t visited this upscale Chinese restaurant since it returned to this plaza off U.S. 41 earlier this year. Then my stomach growled when I remembered how delicious O’mei can be.
Executive chef Mark Cheng and his wife, Mary, first opened O’mei Chinese Cuisine in this very spot 11 years ago. They packed up and moved to a Naples Boulevard location in 2014 before returning to their original home in April.
“We have some consistent customers that have come since we were in this location,” Mary Cheng said in an April interview. “People loved this location, and we did too.”
I wanted to learn more about that love, and thus this review found me tucked into the corner of an O’mei booth in a dining room that seats about 150 but, on this day, only contained the three people in my party and the occasional customer bobbing in and out for takeout.
At O’mei, diners can find anything from Peking duck to General Tso’s chicken to Yangzhou fried rice. O’mei dishes wonton and egg drop soups and drizzles its salad with a homemade sesame and soy vinaigrette. It packs its eponymous pan fried noodle dish full of chicken, shrimp and scallops.
All that is to say the menu is large, catering to Chinese and Americanized tastes and doing both fairly well.
The dining room, too, is well done. Lanterns hang from the ceiling and an open kitchen lets the scents from the kitchen waft into the dining room, tantalizing you with the promise of food soon to follow.
The first dish to fulfill that promise was a steamer basket of pork soup dumplings placed on precious carrot slivers.
The thing about these suckers was that they’re full, as the name suggests, of soup. That soup, if you’re wondering, is scalding hot. The thing about me, if you’re curious, is that I have not one patient bone in my body. I had no sooner tossed aside the basket lid than I’d bitten gum-deep into a crimson-hot pool of broth.
The pain was worth it. But a better idea would be to wait a few minutes before tucking in and spare yourself my agony.
I do, however, question my understanding of the drunken fish. At $25 a pop, you get grouper stir-fried with Chinese mushrooms, scallions and a yellow sauce infused with wine. It is good, and chewing through the rubbery-then-soft mushrooms was entertaining.
For that price tag, it didn’t entrance me the way the other more affordable (and admittedly more delicious) entrees did.
Where O’mei lost me with the drunken fish, it won me back with the Kung Pao chicken.
The Sichuan dish came swaddled in a measured portion of plum sauce. Chili peppers added a welcome heat, and peanuts brought another pop of texture. I could swim in a pool of that sticky-sweet sauce, its warmth slowly fading with each fluffy bite of brown rice.
While nothing at O’mei astounded me, the restaurant was solid, fresh, good. The Chengs take familiar dishes and infuse them with beautiful ingredients. They see no need to fix what isn’t broken but still manage to elevate and enliven these classics.
Their regulars love this original location, and I can see why.
Jean Le Boeuf is the brand under which our restaurant critics have written for more than 40 years. This article came from staff writer Andrew Atkins. Follow our critics at facebook.com/jeanleboeufswfl or @JeanLeBoeuf on Twitter and Instagram; email [email protected] Connect with this reporter: [email protected]
O’mei Chinese Cuisine
14700 Tamiami Trail N., Naples
Hours: 4:30-9 p.m. daily
Pork fried dumplings, $8.95
Chicken lettuce wraps, $11.50
Salted pepper calamari, $12.50
General Tso’s chicken, $18.95
Orange crispy beef, $20.75
Mango prawns, $22.95
*hours and prices subject to change
What the symbols mean
$ – Average entree is under $10
$$ – $10-$15
$$$ – $15-$20
$$$$ – $20-$25
$$$$$ – $25 and up