Sunday marks a rare intersecting of the lunar and Gregorian calendars: Chinese New Year meets Valentine's Day. If you already celebrate Chinese New Year, you simply have one day to celebrate two things. For those of us who have already survived New Year's Eve and have the anecdotes to prove it, we're looking for a token of our devotion to the valentine we're lucky enough to have. I propose we take this Haley's Comet-like opportunity to improve upon a love affair we all share that dates to the gold rush: the love affair with Chinese food. Here's the cold, hard truth: General Tso didn't really send us chicken. Chop suey, roughly translated, means "leftovers." You'd have as much luck finding sweet and sour pork in Hong Kong as you would a radio affiliate that carried Rush Limbaugh. The oracle behind fortune cookies doesn't reside in a holy alter built by Shaolin priests in the Cantonese wilderness but in the imagination of a long-dead San Francisco restaurateur. The relationship between Western civilization and Chinese food continues thanks only to the ceaselessly giving nature of those who stir a wok. Max Chow, owner/chef of Chow's Chinese Restaurant, was born in Hong Kong. He entered the University of Oklahoma in 1976, seeking a degree in electrical engineering. Max followed in the footsteps of his older brother Lionel, who came in the late 1960s. Both worked their way through school at local restaurants. "There weren't many Chinese restaurants back then," he said. "Pretty much anyone who opened at that time was very successful." Chow's, 3033 N May, opened in 1982, serving the same Westernized food made popular in San Francisco and New York City — barely a shadow of the food from back home. "I'd never seen a fortune cookie in my life," Max said. About the same time Max started school, Vietnamese refugees began to arrive in Oklahoma City. By the end of the 1980s, the foundation for what is now a burgeoning Asian community was built. In 1992, Max and his wife, Sindy, also a chef, decided to begin featuring authentic Chinese food. When asked what he'd recommend to someone interested in trying something from the mother country, Max couldn't point to one dish. "I'd really have to talk to them," he said. "Try to find out what ingredients, you know." Max explained that the tradition he and his wife follow is about controlling heat to best draw aroma from the freshest possible ingredients. The Chows are less interested in showcasing their dishes and flavors than learning what the diner enjoys, matching that with what they have and using the ancient cooking techniques to connect diner to chef. They do have a menu, much of which is in Chinese with both Vietnamese and English translations, but it's only a starting point. "We really just want to make food that the individual will like," he said. Asked if he could make chicken-fried steak for the less adventurous, Max said, "Sure, I could probably make it." Of course he could. Max is a family man, who raised a family with a family restaurant. His daughter Matty said she grew up, with her two sisters, in the office in the top of the A-frame. "I had my piano up there. I had my violin up there," she said. "And when people brought their kids to the restaurant, I was running a baby-sitting service." Matty, 24, pulled a reversal on her parents, who both came to this country for their education. She got her master's degree in Hong Kong thanks to a program at Oklahoma City University. "When I was living over there, I really missed my mom's cooking," she said. Matty said she also suffers when her parents take periodic vacations back home that last up to a couple of months. "I've tried to cook their food, but it's just not the same." This is why the restaurant closes when the Chows are gone. "You think buffalo wings are good?" Matty said. "You have to try my mom's wings." "Wings are the favorite part of the chicken for the Chinese," Sindy said. So, this Valentine's Day or sometime during the next couple of weeks when the Lunar New Year will be celebrated, learn about the one you love by putting aside your selfish desires and opening up yourself to a more profound connection with Chinese food. I'm not saying General Tso has to retire, but I'm sure he could use a little R and R. Find, rate and review more Oklahoma City restaurants on Wimgo.com
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4:30 to 11 p.m. Monday
Closed on Tuesday
4:30 to 11 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday
noon to 11 p.m. Sunday