Christmas is just around the corner, and everyone who's seen 'A Christmas Story' knows that Christmas means Chinese food. So, in the spirit of the season, I present my guideline to how to go out for a great Chinese dinner, on Christmas or any other day!
Step One: Find a good Chinese restaurant. This is an important step. There's no point in saying to everyone, "Hey! Let's go out to dinner!" and taking them all to Panda Express. You need to find a place that does really good Chinese food; this might involve one or more "scouting meals", just to find a place that suits. Look for the following good signs that the Chinese restaurant is authentic.
a) They have soy sauce at the table, in jars. The only reason a good Chinese restaurant has soy sauce in little packets is for their to-go customers.
b) The cook and/or owner (it's always a good sign if the owner is actually working in the restaurant) is actually Chinese.
c) Many of the customers are actually Chinese.
d) Members of the owner's family are helping out (waiting tables, cooking, et cetera.) Really good cooking tends to be a labor of love, and nothing says love like child labor.
e) The portions are nice and big. A good Chinese restaurant generally serves a single portion that acts as about a meal-and-a-half...you should have enough leftovers for either a snack later, or to feel really stuffed as you leave the restaurant. (This is why you take other people with you. See Step Two.)
f) They're open Christmas Day. See introduction.
Step Two: Select your group of people. Ideally, the total number of people in your group should be divisible by three, just to make the portions work out well, but you're really more concerned with good conversation and fun people to hang out with, so don't be afraid to invite an extra person or two. You can always add on egg rolls or lo mein. If you don't have at least two friends you can go out for Chinese food with, go join a community theater group.
Step Three: Bring everyone to the restaurant. Do not order individually. This is vitally important. For one thing, you'll all wind up with way too much food. For another, the best part of eating Chinese is trying different dishes. Order two entrees for every three people, and try to vary the entrees as much as possible. If you have something you know is popular (having a favorite Chinese restaurant obviously means skipping Step One), go ahead and order multiples, but try to mix it up at least some. Passing around the entrees, piling your plate with different dishes, and telling people, "Mmm, you have to try this" is all part of the tradition. In the event of uncertainty, don't be afraid to order a bit extra...Chinese food makes great leftovers (although you'll need to cook fresh rice. Nothing tastes worse than reheated rice. It's like eating paste.)
Alternate Option: Order out, and have the food at home while watching a movie. (The only trick is to find a movie that will satisfy everyone concerned. No horror--you never know who might have a weak stomach. 'The Princess Bride' is never a bad choice for a large, mixed gathering, as only soulless demon-people dislike that film.)
So there you have it--the perfect guide to a fun night out. (In the Twin Cities, by the way, I recommend both 'Anna Chung's', in Eagan, and 'Seafood Palace', in Minneapolis. Both great family-owned restaurants that serve nice, big portions of great Chinese food. Try Anna's sesame chicken, it's the best in the world!)