Our Gourmet: American, Chinese in harmony at Bonsai’sNovember 08. 2017 1:03AM
Bonsai’s2264 Candia Road, Manchester; 622-8788; www.bonsaisrestaaurant.com
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9:30 p.m.
Cuisine: Chinese AND American.
Pricing: Appetizers, $4.99-$11.99 (pu pu $19.99); salads, $5.99-10.99; soups, $2.99 to $6.99; entrees, $7.49-$25.99 (Chinese), $9.49-$25.99 (American).
Scores for Bonsai’s
Imagine you’re out one night with a couple of friends. One wants drinks. Another feels like Chinese. You’re not with the Fussbudget, nor your regular (vegan) Dining Companion, so you’re safe from any disgusted looks because you’re craving prime rib.
We’re confident there’s only one place anywhere where all of those preferences can be accommodated, and it’s right in Manchester, out at the Massabesic Traffic Circle. Bonsai’s is a little roadhouse that moved into the former Spatt’s, keeping many traditional American dishes from Spatt’s menu — including Spatt’s renowned prime rib — and added a complete Chinese menu on top. It’s counterintuitive, it’s outlandish — and it seems to work.
Rather nondescript outside, inside there’s a bar area up a couple stairs to the left and a dining room to the right. The dining room was empty and starkly lit during our visit, with the bar side — with tables, high-tops, booths and bar seating— crowded, with a happy-hour feel. Our Gourmet and two dining companions (DC1 and DC2) pushed together two high-tops, ordered drinks, perused the menu and ordered. OG ordered his prime rib, DC1 opted for Chinese food and DC2 chose a smaller rib cut.
Our high-top was already crowded when our waitress brought our “American” salads. Each was large and crisp, but as DC2 described them they were “pedestrian.” Iceberg lettuce was topped with shredded carrot, uniformly sliced cucumber, two tomato wedges and rings of red onion. Identical in content and presentation, we suspect they’d been prepped well before we came along. DC2 was disappointed Bonsai’s didn’t offer a balsamic vinaigrette and made do, while OG went with blue cheese, served in a plastic cup and almost devoid of blue cheese chunks, though properly tangy.
We were surprised at our waitress’ surprise when OG took advantage of both menus, ordering wonton soup ($3.99) from the Chinese side and the Bonnie’s Cut (16-ounce) prime rib ($24.99). Besides the garden salad, OG’s meal came with two sides, and had we thought things out, we would have tried to mix things up even more, requesting fried rice instead of a baked potato and Dry Stir Fried String Beans ($8.99) instead of summer squash. Because, where else? Why not?
When the soup arrived, our eyes widened at its apparent size. It looked like a cauldron at first glance. We soon realized it was a an appetizer-sized serving, nestled atop a candlelit cylinder. The soup itself was good: rich, dark, chickeny broth was filled with tender chicken, sliced green onions and button mushrooms and crisp julienned snow peas, all complementing four dainty pork-filled wontons. This soup was different than that served at some places and better than that served at many.
Both OG and DC2 wanted our prime rib medium rare, but our server said it was likely the kitchen only had medium and beyond this night. We told her to tell the kitchen to try its best and were pleasantly surprised when we were served beef decidedly more rare than even medium. DC2 had chosen the 12-ounce Special Cut ($19.99), which he declared tender and delicious. He reported his baked potato, wrapped in tinfoil, was “excellent.” Not a summer squash fan, he sent that back, disappointed Bonsai’s didn’t have a backup veggie available.
OG can’t report on the squash, either, nor on the potato. A confession: the prospect of prime rib makes us primal. When we hanker for prime rib, we want prime rib. Period. The bigger the better. Flintstones brontosaurus-sized, if possible.
Our “Bonnie’s Cut” (16 ounces, its name a holdover from Bonsai’s days as Spatt’s and its 1930s gangster theme), came two inches thick, deboned and moderately marbled, with just a cup of au jus as adornment and sides separate. The beef was rarer than medium-rare but not so rare as to be grotesque. As we’d hoped, our beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, well seasoned with salt, but could have used a bunch more black pepper. We would have been happier with an even larger cut but are happy Bonsai’s kitchen has held true to the old joint’s prime-rib past.
Besides full orders of Chinese dishes, Bonsai’s offers combination specials. DC1 ordered the General Tso’s Chicken combo ($10.99), a healthy helping of breaded, fried, spicily sauced chicken, a mound of pork fried rice and a half dozen crab rangoons. Each component was as standard and serviceable as that served at a thousand places in America: good but nothing special. What might set things apart here are the portion sizes. DC1 only managed half his dinner and we had to coax him to eat a fortune cookie.
With a couple drinks each, our meal for three totaled just over $100, a pretty fair price for pretty good food, at possibly the only place in the world where you can order clam chowder ($5.99/cup) and kung po chicken ($9.49) and be happy with both.