Gretna: 1801 Stumpf Blvd. (at Wright)
Among the most regretted restaurant closings triggered by Hurricane Katrina, the China Blossom was during its twenty years a credible nominee for Best Chinese Restaurant in New Orleans. Particularly in its cooking of first-class local fish and shellfish, it was not merely good at batting out the old standards, but inventive in a way that few Chinese restaurant are these days.
The China Blossom came to be after Trey Yuen closed its branch in the Jax Brewery. Then and now, Chinese food was a hard sell in the French Quarter. (It must be noted that Trey Yuen was part of the very first French Quarter Festival, and even though it has to cross the lake to be there, considers its return every year since as an important legacy.)
Much of the staff of the Jax Trey Yuen reconvened when Chef Paul Fung and his wife decided to open their own place. They took over a slot in a small, ordinary strip mall at the corner of two minor arteries in Gretna. They could not duplicate the grandeur of Trey Yuen’s North Shore restaurants, but they did decorate the interior in a sleek, modern way. In place of the golden dragons and red walls of the typical Chinese restaurant, China Blossom put the emphasis on flowers. Its pair of dining rooms was as comfortable as it was pretty.
Those familiar with Trey Yuen’s style of cooking would recognize the menu and flavors at China Blossom. Almost immediately, however, Chef Paul began working his own touches into the food. These were good enough that more than a few people claimed China Blossom was even better than Trey Yuen. I wouldn’t go that far, but the notion was reasonable.
China Blossom’s great specialty was seafood. It bought fresh product carefully and treated it well. Speckled trout, soft-shell crab, and the oyster concoctions were particularly memorable. They peaked when paired with China Blossom’s take on tong-cho sauce. That magical stuff combined sweetness and pepper in a unique new flavor. Miraculously, it made everything taste great. Not just seafood, but the crispy fried duck, chicken, pork and (one suspects) even fried cardboard.
Those who left the exciting safety of the seafood and tong-cho dishes would find much else of goodness. The sizzling spicy steak, brought forth on a bed of crisp onions with a convincingly spicy sauce, was incredible. Spicy flaming chicken, despite the elaborate show, had a terrific flavor. Grilled shrimp with garlic was what you can imagine you’d get if you asked a Chinese cook to make barbecue shrimp. Great dish.
China Blossom’s service was knowledgeable and friendly. Prices were a touch above the going rates for neighborhood Chinese restaurants (particularly on the West Bank), but even so it was a bargain compared with comparable dishes in Creole or French restaurants.
Chef Paul Fung passed away much too young in the early 2000s. His wife kept the restaurant going, and Chef Scott Thomas–who had worked elbow-to-elbow with Paul–kept the standards high. But Katrina did a lot of damage to the restaurant. And most of the employees scattered to other lands. China Blossom would never reopen.