The Place: Ws China Bistro, 17585 Harvard Ave. Suite A., Irvine, CA 92614, (949) 757-1588; http://www.wschinabistro.com.
The Hours: Saturday & Sunday 12 p.m.-6 p.m.; Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; Thursday 4 p.m.-9 p.m.
The Deal: $3-$6 appetizers. $8 entrees. $4 beer. $4 wine. $5
mixed drinks. On Thursdays, $3 drink specials (Alabama Slammer, Sex on the Beach, Patron Cafe XO, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi 151).
The Scene: Come on a Thursday night when their Zen Hour lasts till closing and everyone knows it. Actually, customers who come in don't even seem to bother opening the regular menu. And why should they when the most popular items (Orange Chicken, General Ws Chicken and Broccoli Beef) are up for grabs at the $8 happy hour price?
While you'll see few actual Chinese faces at this downtown-fashionable, nightclub-y Chinese restaurant with a faux ribbed rock waterfall, there's a good representation of what makes up the Irvine population. You'll see nuclear families hunched over plates eating chow mein and rice with chopsticks and UCI college kids on dates making goo-goo eyes at each other over saucy kung pao chicken and fat deep fried egg rolls.
The Sauce: The list of draft brews is scant; Blue Moon, Sapporo, Fat Tire and whatever Sam Adams is producing that season. Wines are by CK Mondavi and run through the gamut of standard varietals from Cabernet Sauvignon to White Zin. The rest of the libations are rounded out by a interesting mix of sake, Skyy Vodka in four different flavors including ginger, vodka specials (Sweet Tea Vodka, White Pomegranate Vodka, Mango Vodka, Berry Vodka), rum (Malibu Melon Rum, Kraken Black Spiced Rum), and bourbon (Jim Beam Black Cherry Bourbon). And of course, there are martinis, $6 to $7 each, with names like "Pink Berry" and a "Chocolate Covered Cherrytini". Pictured is the Sex on The Beach, stuck with an orange wedge, as fun as it sounds and looks.
The Food: Go for the appetizers, and the Crackling Calamari, first and foremost. The squid strips are done as thin as fries, battered to a light crunch, dusted with a white pepper blend that amounts to a decent attempt at "spicy salt". It's served with a ketchup-y sweet and sour sauce you can summarily ignore on sight.
Next, get the ahi poke, which is, no doubt, the best-looking restaurant dish in a three mile radius. You've probably seen a similar stack of avocado and tuna topped with crispy fried noodles on Las Vegas billboards and posters beckoning you to spend what little money you haven't already lost on food. Formed in a cylinder, it tastes exactly as it should, fresh and silky even if the scallions overpower the raw fish just a little.
Skip the Mooshu Tacos, tempting as it may sound. Underneath the gossamer crepe skin that tears too easily the moment you touch it, there's shredded napa cabbage, a weak pico de gallo, and worst of all, damp shredded beef that will remind you of something out of a Del Taco drive-thru.
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The redeeming quality of the dish, though, is that it fills you up. Also, it comes with three sauces that are supposed to breathe some life, which the hoisin and the hot mustard mostly do. But the most indispensable contribution the dish makes to the rest of your meal? The thimble of chili garlic paste (available in plastic jars at any good Asian supermarket).
This hard-working, but less-popular sibling of Sriracha is just as essential for saving many a lackluster dish. The Steamed Chicken Dumplings, thickly wrapped things almost not worthy for me to mention, will become tasty when you slather it with that sauce.
The Verdict: Thristy for a buzz on a Thursday night? Are you also craving Chinese food to balance the booze? Ws has the most convenient hours and decent pricing to fill the need.
The Grade: B+.