China (River?) Island
8022 Hosbrook Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45236
Mon-Thurs: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Fri: 11:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Sat: 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m
Sun: 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Appetizers: $1 – $6
Combos: $7 – $8
Entree: $7 – $11
Mall food has always scared me a bit. I have a general fear of all cafeterias, really.
Luckily, malls always tend to attract businesses around them. Particularly around Kenwood Mall there’s a lot to pick from, even across the highway – which is where we went. On a whim, and thanks to a shake of the Urbanspoon App, we decided to stop by the China Island back there since it’s close to the highway and easy to get in and out of.
China Island, located in a strip mall right off the main road, is pretty much your run-of-the-mill standard American-Chinese take-out restaurant. It has the same floor, chairs, wallpaper, decorations, TV, zodiac sheet and countertop as 95% of all the others. However, it’s not without a few surprises.
When we walked in we were greeted by the owner and quickly seated, despite the lunch rush. We couldn’t decide on what to order, so we got some appetizers. Adam insisted that he must have the crab rangoon, so I also sprung for an egg roll.
The egg roll had chicken in it, which I was not used to, and as a result had a different flavor than a common pork egg roll. Aside from the chicken flavor, the taste of the pepper inside was strong (in a good way) and overall it had a more savory quality to it than a normal egg roll which I liked.
The crab rangoon are served in a group of five fried fluffy pockets of cream cheesy crab. Adam liked them, and I guess I did too, except that the cream cheese flavor is the strongest when you bite into them, with only a hint of crab flavor. This was a good flavor but, since they are “crab rangoon”, I kind of expected and wanted a stronger crab flavor. I’m not complaining though since they were still good.
My eyes glazed over a bit as I looked over the short menu. It was mostly the usual – Lo Mien, General Tso’s, Sesame Chicken, Beef with Broccoli… Until I spotted something weird under the “Chef’s Special” section off to the side.
… Mapo Tofu? Really? Actual Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant?
Adam also noticed under the beef section an unexplained dish called Sha Cha Beef. We were excited at discovering these, so we went ahead and ordered them both. He got the Mapo Tofu and I went with the Sha Cha Beef. Everything we ordered came out pretty quickly, including our main dishes.
Mapo Doufu (Or Ma Po Tofu to some) is a dish from the Sichuan province that consists of a lot of cubed tofu in a spicy chili based sauce, and usually has a small bit of pork in it, although sometimes other meats are thrown in. The sauce is usually somewhere between bright red and a dark, brown-red. We’ve had a lot of Mapo Doufu.
So how did China Island’s Mapo Tofu stand up? Well, it was good, but it was also a bit weird. It was not near as spicy as we expected, and the flavor was very toned down, which resulted in the tofu being a bit bland. It had shrimp in it as well, which we not only weren’t expecting but which made it have an unusual and weird seafoody flavor.
My Sha Cha Beef also had a consistent seafood flavor which I didn’t expect but should have. It as well is a bit of a diversion from the traditional dish, the result of which was just an okay dish. Sha Cha is the sauce the beef is cooked in, which usually consists of soybean oil, garlic, onion, chilis, fish and shrimp. In addition to the sauce, the beef was also accompanied by broccoli, carrots, snap peas and mushrooms. Essentially, it was a fancied and fishied up Beef with Vegetables (and, as usual, vegetables not native in China.)
When we got the receipt I noticed that it said “China River Island” at the top. But I thought it was just China Island? Checking the outside would confirm that. Maybe they changed their minds?
So it wasn’t the most authentic experience, but we weren’t expecting that anyway. If you’re in the area and want a quick, decent meal – it’s an option. The few authentic items on the menu are quite unexpected, and not totally authentic, but still alright.
We’ve got more pictures on our China Island Gallery over on our Facebook Page. You can check them out, leave comments and like us while you’re there!
Be a part of the conversation! Ever been to China Island? What did you think? Were we spot on in the review? What is your favorite restaurant near Kenwood Mall? Tell us in the comments below!
Verdict: If You Are By Kenwood Mall and Need Chinese…
China (River?) Island is an easy-to-access American-Chinese restaurant off I-71 on the opposite side of the mall. Their menu is a bit shorter than usual but they have all the major common items, plus a handful of actual Chinese dishes, and some non-Chinese dishes (like Pad Thai…?!)
Our appetizers, which were American-Chinese, were good and slightly different from the norm. We decided to choose two of their traditional Chinese dishes as our entrees, which turned out to be toned down to cater to non-Chinese tastes. The result? Our entrees were just okay. I’d consider stopping in again, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.