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Venue Review: Spring Rolls

Scratch preparation elevates an ambitious menu
Spring Rolls
By "Greg Cox"
Triangle.com

Don't let the name - or the location in fashionable North Hills - fool you. Spring Rolls is not the latest trendy newcomer to jump on the bandwagon of restaurants specializing in street food-inspired cuisine.

Sure, the restaurant offers a handful of variations on the spring roll theme: Imperial rolls, for one, which feature minced pork, taro root and noodles encased in rustically thick, shatter-crisp wrappers, and Saigon spring rolls, whose colorful filling of shrimp, basil leaves, lettuce and noodles peek tantalizingly through soft, translucent rice flour skins. But these represent just a fraction of an extensive and varied offering.

Not that you won't be tempted to try. You'll quickly recognize the names of many dishes - names like sweet and sour pork, kung pao chicken and Mongolian beef. Just as you're thinking you can file the restaurant under the Chinese-American heading, though, you'll spot those Saigon spring rolls. And grilled salmon with fresh mushrooms, and Yeung Chow fried rice, and - OK, so there's also the occasional venture across cultural borders, and a nod to authentic Cantonese cuisine, and even some contemporary Asian fusion in the mix.

Canadian connection

But wait, there's more. Turn the menu over, and you'll discover a broad selection of noodle dishes, from ho fun to Shanghai-style udon. And what's this? A whole separate menu of vegetarian fare, with nearly three dozen listings ranging from sautéed bok choy to General Tso's soy gluten?

Even dishes with familiar names are apt to surprise. Cantonese chow mein, for one, is a savory kaleidoscope of crispy egg noodles, meats (beef, chicken, shrimp, barbecued pork and, if the chef has had time to make it, house-made Chinese sausage) and vegetables (bok choy, red peppers, snow peas, water chestnuts, mushrooms) that is to the common Chinese-American version as HDTV is to '60s-era black and white.

Turns out the chow mein isn't Chinese-American after all, but Canadian-Chinese. And therein lies the key to unlocking many of the menu's mysteries. Brother-and-sister owners Eddie and Susan Tu hail from Toronto, where they owned a restaurant specializing in authentic Cantonese cuisine. According to Eddie Tu, even Westernized fare is more authentic in Canada than in the States, thanks to a large and well-established Chinese population.

More authentic or not, the food at Spring Rolls is decidedly better than the Chinese-American norm. In large measure, that's because Alex Tran - a chef with nearly three decades of experience who followed the Tus from Toronto - clearly values fresh ingredients and scratch preparation.

The snow peas and peppers in the chow mein are still bright and crunchy, as are the thin slices of jalapeño that add sparkle to the chef's contemporary rendition of salt and chile pepper prawns. Same goes for the scallions that punctuate a plate of ho fun noodles and lean, tender beef in an umami-rich sauce. Julienne mangoes, ripe but still firm, are paired with jicama and cucumbers and topped with a sprinkle of crushed peanuts for a salad that's as simple as it is refreshing.

Fresh and light

For his Thai-inspired rum coong soup, the chef starts with fresh tomatoes to make a tomato broth, then transforms it into a vibrant, spice-fragrant elixir reminiscent of tom yum. Even crab Rangoon, that pedestrian staple of Chinese-American menus, is elevated by exceptionally light, crisp wrappers pinched by hand around a filling that actually tastes of crabmeat.

Given such an ambitiously varied menu, even a chef with Tran's experience is bound to go amiss on occasion. All the key components are present in his pad thai, but devotees of the dish are apt to find its flavor too restrained. Other miscues - forgetting to dress an otherwise fine Chinese chicken salad, for instance, or Saigon spring rolls so loosely wrapped that they fall apart when you pick them up - are likely signs of a hurried or distracted kitchen.

Still, to borrow a metaphor from our neighbors to the north, most of the kitchen's shots on goal land in the back of the net. The dining room decor scores, too, with a combination of clean lines and warm, rich colors that, like the menu, is at once comforting and contemporary. Friendly but inconsistent service stops Spring Rolls short of a hat-trick. But all in all, I'd say it's a solid score for the Canadian team, eh?

Reviews & Comments
CRITICS REVIEWS
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November 19, 2010 - Triangle.com - Greg Cox

Don't let the name - or the location in fashionable North Hills - fool you. Spring Rolls is not the latest trendy newcomer to jump on the bandwagon of restaurants specializing in street food-inspired cuisine.

(Full review)
USER REVIEWS
Jan 18, 2013 - andjava
Great dining experience

I highly recommend Spring Roll. Great food, large portions and very good service. The atmosphere is very nice.

Mar 15, 2011 - Brenda2011
wonderful Asian dining experience.

I suggest Spring Rolls for people in the mood for a wonderful Asian dining experience. For Chinese and Thai food, there's no one better than Spring Rolls in North Hills. Their vegan menu is rare to find and delivers great dishes! They have an extensive Chinese and Thai menu, and all the entrees are enormous in portions. I highly recommended eating at Spring Rolls!

Feb 18, 2011 - Nsmith11
Awesome Vegan Entree's

There are many restaurants in Raleigh but Spring Rolls has a great vegetarian menu. Perfect place for enjoy wines with friends at the bar. I had one of the best General Tao’s Soy Gluten and sautéed string beans. Fresh food, impressive and quick service were the highlights of the restaurant. Their weekly drink specials are awesome too.

Feb 15, 2011 - Rach_M
Delightful Atmosphere

Spring Rolls has a delightful atmosphere and wonderful drink specials during the week. Delicious well portioned food and friendly service are the best qualities of this place. Great spot for dinner with your friends and family.

Jan 10, 2011 - WSherry
Fantastic Dining!

Spring Rolls is my favorite restaurants in the North Hills area for Thai and Chinese dining. Amazing food, great presentation, perfect quantity and very friendly service, which makes it the go to place for dining with friends.

Jan 04, 2011 - kryerson
Terrible Management Attitude

I purchased a dining certificate for this restaurant in late Sept . 2010. After printing it off the computer, I misplaced it. Found it again Jan 3 2011 only to realize there was an expiration date I hadn't seen, Dec 30 th .
I called and spoke with the Manager, Eddy who told me in no uncertain terms they would not honor my prepaid certificate. He said " If we did that for you we would have to do that for everyone" And why not. I gave them money in advance to dine , I think the least they could have done was overlook 4 DAYS. I don't know what will be inthis location next but needless to say , I will never dine here

Dec 22, 2010 - Sharry
Quality Food

It was a great Dining at Spring rolls. The famous Pad Thai with Chicken was delicious. Good Quality food with excellent service.

Nov 19, 2010 - thx4nuttin
Truly disappointing

I would not go back if someone paid me. Not only was the food overpriced for what you got but we waited over an hour for our meal from the time it was ordered. We could have spent a third of the cost and gotten better food from our local "fast food" chinese restaurant near our home. The chicken in my husband's General Tao's was so dried out and hard he could barely cut it with his fork (they didn't provide knives with our cutlery). I asked for my meal to be extra spicy but it came with no spice at all when the menu touted it as being spicy. Great idea on the restaurant in a prime spot but SERIOUSLY lacking in the follow thru. Definitely will NOT be going back.

Oct 25, 2010 - Mike22
wonderful place

I went to Spring Rolls Restaurant Saturday night with my friends. The service was excellent - our waitress was really friendly and helpful. Even though the wine bar was not yet stocked fully, our waitress told us about the total Wine list. She really wanted us to feel at home, which made our meal even better. The food was extraordinary, I tried szechuan steak with fried rice and watermelon smoothie. I say give it a try. Wonderful place for asian food in raleigh.

Oct 17, 2010 - bcain
Really delicious

Now that Spring Rolls has been open for a little while and has had time to work out some kinks, the food is REALLY delicious.

We had the spring roll appetizers (4 for $6) and they were fresh and crispy and came with a tasty orange sauce. Could have made a meal off of those. I got Crispy Sesame Chicken and the person I was with got Mongolian Beef. We couldn't decide which was better - both were amazing.

I can't wait to go back and try other things on the menu -- they have a lot of Thai-inspired food, too. As far as the Asian-fusion cuisine goes, I think it's just as good if not better than the many times I've been to PF Changs, and way better than Pei Wei (and I like both of those places). And *much* tastier than strip mall Chinese places (all white meat chicken, for one thing).

Service was good. The waiter was knowledgeable and the food came out quickly. This place is going to become one of my regular spots.

Give it a try.

Jul 19, 2010 - swtmelissa
disappointing

While the look of the place is quite nice, the food was a bit disappointing. Not bad exactly, just not particularly good. Definitely overpriced for the quality of the food. Waitstaff was pleasant. I won't be back.

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