Amherst Chinese serves some of the best Chinese food in the five-college area. While this may be an oblique compliment-the Valley is not known for topnotch Chinese food-Amherst Chinese does rise above most of its sparse competition by anchoring its offerings with unusually fresh, organic Chinese vegetables. Many of these come from the family's own farm and are unavailable anywhere else around.
Upon entering, you're greeted with a list of vegetable-centric daily specials scrawled across a dry-erase board, generally representing the latest spoils of the Amherst garden. Such spoils, which might include excellent water spinach or mustard greens, tend to be your best choices; they come stir-fried and paired with chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, or good tofu. At times, the copious quantities of oil and garlic used in stir frying can tend to overwhelm the local produce- preparations are sometimes not as delicate as they could be. But the dishes' freshness is nonetheless hard to miss. Some noodle dishes are also quite successful; order anything including the word "handmade" or "sliced. " The cooks skillfully balance their use of cornstarch to thicken sauces, as evidenced in an exceedingly well-balanced tofu dish with Chinese mushrooms and baby Chinese greens that recently appeared on the list of specials. The rest of the menu is little more than a standard-issue roll call of typical Chinese-American dishes-spare ribs, wonton soup, sweet and sour pork, and so on. Fried chicken wings fall terribly flat, with almost no salt or flavor. Some surprises do remain, however: in part through merit, and in part through relentless self- promotion, Amherst Chinese has also achieved renown for its bright red fruit juice made from Wu Wei Zi (Schizandra chinensis) berries, a refreshing (if pricey) drink that fuses sweet, sour, and salty tastes and is purported to enhance various body functions, including sexual performance. Fact or fiction? We heartily encourage our readers/amateur sleuths to employ the scientific method to test this theory out for themselves.
However, Amherst Chinese's atmosphere is a major stumbling block. There are high ceilings and bland, whitewashed colors in strange arrangements. The space is just too big, too empty, and too quiet. Perhaps the Wu Wei Zi will liven things up.