Why haven't we come here before?

February 07. 2017 7:12PM

Thousand Crane
1000 Elm St., Manchester; 634-0000; www.thousandcranenh.com

Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Cuisine: Chinese/Japanese.
Pricing: Appetizers, $2-$6.95 (Pu Pu for 2, $13.95); soups, $2-$6.95; entrees, $6.95-$24.95; luncheon specials, $5.95-14.95.

Scores for Thousand Crane
Atmosphere: 16/20
Menu: 17/20
Food: 17/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 17/20
TOTAL: 85/100

Our Gourmet keeps a fairly extensive list of the places we’ve reviewed. It’s a list that goes back years. So we were shocked, thumbing through it recently, that we’d apparently missed a little place that’s in plain sight, right in the middle of downtown Manchester. And a little gem it is, too.

Thousand Crane, nestled in the small strip of stores fronting Elm Street as part of the Brady Sullivan Plaza, offers Chinese and Japanese cuisine and an extensive sushi bar. Unassuming from the front, the entrance opens to the sushi bar on the right and a small service bar on the left, with tables down the middle and two- and four-seat booths along the sides of a narrow dining room.

Lighting is brighter at the sushi bar, near the windows. The dining area is much darker, offering dark wood, black tabletops and maroon banquets and chairs. A strategically mirrored wall makes the room look bigger than it is.

The dining room was unhurried the day we visited, though we expect things are busier during workday lunchtimes or late-nights, with the nearby New Hampshire Art Institute crowd, many of whom are housed right around the corner. Thousand Crane also delivers.

We started with drinks: just a Coke for Our Gourmet (OG). Feeling frisky, the Dining Companion (DC), ventured into the unknown with a mango martini, a sweet, orangey-pink concoction that had her smiling in no time and asking for a second. The FussBudget (FB), gamely along for another ethnic culinary adventure, ordered a kid-type mango drink, delivered as a frothy, mango frappe that he totally enjoyed.

For starters, we got the FB to agree to try some cold sesame noodles ($5.95), and added an order of steamed vegetable dumplings ($5.25) and another of vegetable tempura, both the idea of the DC. The sesame noodles came cold, as advertised, lightly coated with an addicting sesame-peanut sauce. The velvety noodles disappeared in no time (the FB gave them one thumb up and one down, his go-to opinion of late), as did the vegetable dumplings.

Basically a variation on Peking dumplings, these were filled mostly with finely shredded cabbage. A piquant dipping sauce was the real star of this show. Some might find the size of these appetizer servings small, but they were perfectly sized for their price, and, frankly, for a healthy waistline.

The Vegetable Tempura ($8.95) was a much larger order. Bits of cauliflower, broccoli, potato and pepper were dipped in a thick tempura batter and fried. These were tasty but filling. The FB turned his nose up when he bit one containing a veggie he didn’t like, and we ended up with leftovers. Sadly, the batter didn’t hold up well to reheating, becoming mushy and greasy.

OG will admit that when we decided to try out Thousand Crane, a big draw was its fairly extensive “authentic” Chinese menu offering an assortment of exotic dishes not common in Manchester. The prospect of trying Ox Tendon in Chili Sauce ($8.50) was particularly enticing. We were disappointed to be told the tendon wasn’t available the day we visited, but we were offered the option of trying some Pork Soup Dumplings ($7.95) if we could wait 20 minutes or so for them to be prepared. Sure, we said.

Served in the steamer basket in which they were cooked, six delicate dumplings shaped like shumai were served with a tangy dipping sauce tasting of sesame, ginger, soy and garlic. Each dumpling contained a small dollop of seasoned ground pork and about a quarter teaspoon of pork broth (hence, “soup dumpling”). In OG’s opinion, these are worth a trip back by themselves (but we’d hope the ox tendon is available then, too).

For our main course, DC ordered Vegetable Lo Mein ($6.95), mostly in the hopes of enticing the FB with some “spaghetti.” It worked, to a degree, and worked even better with the DC and OG. A dish of mixed vegetables and lo mein noodles, this was nothing fancy. The simple dish was clean-tasting and not too oily, as it can be out of some kitchens, and we ate it all without further help from the FB.

Tendonless but still seeking something spicy, OG talked the DC into trying the Szechuan Spicy Bean Curd ($8.50), a task made difficult by her dislike of most tofu dishes. Thousand Crane’s version of mapo dafu (the dish’s Chinese name) from the Vegetable section of the menu (so, sans ground pork), was an exception.

Plenty of soft, tender tofu cubes came swimming in a light, bright, yet spicy bright red chili sauce, accompanied by a mound of simple white rice. This version was spicy, but not too spicy, and the white rice helped cut the heat. This was another perfectly sized portion for two, and again we had no leftovers.

Thousand Crane is a solid Asian restaurant offering a wide variety at reasonable prices. We don’t know why we hadn’t visited before now, but we’ll be back soon.

Our GourmetManchester

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