Last week, before the implementation of social distancing guidelines and before the strictures placed on restaurants to limit occupancy to 50 percent so as to allow a proper distance between customers, I visited a restaurant in Winter Park called Shining Spice.
As you might infer from the name, it is a Chinese restaurant, and I deliberately chose it for that reason. Because the virus that is now disrupting our lives originated in a province in China, Chinese restaurants in the United States and elsewhere were experiencing unfounded bias. I wanted to show some support and to demonstrate that not everyone has a prejudice against an entire people without blame.
Plus, I was hungry for some Chinese food.
Shining Spice occupies a freestanding building near the intersection of Aloma Avenue and Semoran Boulevard that was previously a Japanese steakhouse called Kumo. In one of the two dining areas, large ventilation hoods are still installed over tables, but the hibachi grills are gone.
I was seated in what might be considered the barroom or lounge, which has multicolored neon lighting and a wavy coffered ceiling – all very unstereotypical Chinese decor. Tables are covered with white vinyl coverings and settings feature placemats with a bamboo-like design.
I was approached by a young man wearing a t-shirt that was a size or two too large for him and looked more like a nightshirt. But despite his unkempt appearance, he was welcoming and eager to serve.
Because the menu is large and not very descriptive, I asked him for some guidance. He said his favorite dish was the Stir-fried Chicken with Red Chili, which he said was double cooked: deep-fried first and then wokked. Didn’t sound all that exciting but I trusted him.
But first I chose an appetizer of Chinese Mackerel Dumplings, which were just what they sound like, dumplings filled with shredded fish. When he brought them, the waiter apologized for the long wait saying that they are made to order. They tasted like it. The dumpling dough was thick and had a nice chew, the fish wasn’t overwhelming, and the chili dipping sauce added a nice note.
The chicken dish was served on a huge platter, an overwhelming portion. But I discovered that some of it was schnibbles and not nuggets of chicken. But the breading was so well spiced and so crisply fried that even the schnibbles were delicious. Mixed in with the chicken were peanuts and cross-sections of red chili peppers that looked ominously spicy. But even though there was some heat they weren’t tongue numbing, and they, too, were crispy, and I chopsticked them into my mouth as though they were popcorn kernels.
I’m glad I took the server’s recommendation, though I wish his appearance was more professional. But overall it was a pleasant experience, and I enjoyed my visit.
Shining Spice is at 3096 Aloma Ave., Winter Park. Ordinarily it is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Monday, but check for current hours. The phone number is 407-919-6688.