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A real Chinese new year
Could this be the signal of the return of authentic Chinese cuisine to Savannah?

I have lamented the desperate lack of authentic Chinese food in the area. I don’t need to feel like I’ve walked into a Szechuan roadside diner, but gosh, some traditional cooking styles, seasonings and presentation of a few dishes would go a long way to making me smile.

Obviously, I was skeptical when I learned the former Asian Buffet at Eisenhower Drive and Water’s Avenue had remodeling, adding a bar and beginning table service and renamed itself Asian River. What I found gave me hope.

The same bubbling fountain and faux terracotta soldiers greeted me, but one step through the door reveled something very different.

A large, circular bar with a couple of nice flat panel TVs dominates the center of room, where banks of steam tables once sat hissing. Cozy, spacious booths are tucked around the huge room and bright, welcoming tables under the big front windows are cheery with vases of fresh flowers.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the Asian Buffet.

The menu, as befits any Chinese restaurant, is huge, perhaps even too big. There are seemingly endless options and even a substantial sushi menu.

I passed on the sushi, but friends who have ordered the sushi (offered on an “all–you–can–eat" basis for $19.95) pronounce it very good — and I know they are finicky diners.

But I wanted to check out a chili pepper dish, one with a little red pepper indicating that it’s spicy. This is often an exaggeration. It was entirely true with my steaming bowl of Volcano Beef. Tender slices of beef bobbed in a dark, rich broth laced with chili sauce and black bean sauce. The smell was savory and rich, the first bite warm and satisfying — then the chili kicked in

Yep, score one for chili. Waiter, another water please, and hurry! It’s spicy but not overbearing. The dish was wonderfully balanced in terms of flavor and portion.

My order of fried rice was an equal star. It was freshly made and dotted with tiny bits of chicken and peas. There’s no overdose of salty soy sauce to color the rice — instead it’s presented au naturel, creamy colored, moist and delicious enough to be a main dish.

Owner Andy Ruan says he wants to bring authentic Chinese cooking to the city. I’ll be going back regularly to put his kitchen to the test, and watch this grand experiment to see if picky Savannah diners will give this approach a chance.

Happy hour is 2–7 p.m. daily; hours are lunch to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 10:30 Friday and Saturday.

The restaurant also delivers.

Asian River Restaurant and Bar

1100 Eisenhower Dr./365–6111