In University City’s pocket of Chinese businesses, a new restaurant features Dongbei-style cuisine. Cate Zone Chinese Cafe opened on Nov. 12 in the space previously occupied by J&W Bakery, offering authentic dishes from Northeast China. The menu features entrees, street-food style skewers, malatang or hotpot-like bowls and more.
The concept comes from co-owners Quincy Lin and Daniel Ma along with chef Yuming Han. Han has nearly 20 years of experience in Chinese cookery, including working in the kitchen at Joy Luck Buffet, where the trio originally met. Together, the team decided to debut their own take on Chinese cooking in St. Louis.
“Right now there are a lot of Chinese buffets and restaurants with Americanized Chinese food. Here, we do real Chinese food,” Ma says. “We want to change the way Americans think of it.”
According to Lin, the menu highlights traditional fare from his native Liaoning Province. With Cate Zone, he hopes to offer the local population of international students a taste of home. The kitchen sources ingredients from area Asian markets to create the menu of scratch-made meals. The largely savory offerings come in big enough portions for sharing, providing a perfect way to try a few different items while dining family-style.
The approximately 800-square-foot space got a complete revamp to bring its capacity to around 38 seats. The dining room features New York-subway themed wallpaper and photographs to evoke a youthful, modern feel for its primarily college-aged patrons. Adventurous diners who wander in, however, will find a trove of tasteful eats to enjoy. Where the menu is lacking in descriptions, a bounty of flavors make up for what’s lost in translation.
Introductory highlights, according to Lin, include a light and bright salad made up of artfully plated shredded cucumbers topped with carrots, cabbage, wood-ear mushroom, clear noodles, cilantro and a special sesame-tinged dressing. In the evenings, guests can choose from a list of grilled skewers seasoned liberally with cumin, hot pepper and sesame seeds – choose from lamb, beef tendon and brisket, chicken gizzards and more.
Another recommendation is northeastern China-style sweet-and-sour pork, which features thin strips of crispy breaded and fried pork coated in a sticky sauce garnished with ginger and green onion. Cumin-calamari fried rice comes studded with peas, carrots and scrambled egg. Additional selections include Szechuan spicy shrimp, twice-cooked pork and homemade wonton soup.
For a personalized experience, opt for malatang, or hot-pot style bowls that are made to order. Choose from 15 different ingredients including vegetables, sliced beef, tofu and fish balls from a fresh-food bar. For something sweet, Lin recommends honey crisp sweet potatoes – a deep-fried dessert topped with a brimming crown of spun sugar.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe is currently open Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm and 5 to 9pm as well as Saturday through Sunday from 11am to 9pm.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe, 8148 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.738.9923