The Capri Plaza sign doesn't include a listing for Silver Chopsticks, but don't let that deter you. Just head for a big green awning at the back corner on the east side of this U-shaped shopping center. The awning hangs low, protecting the restaurant from the heat of the setting sun, and advertises Sichuan/Mandarin cuisine.
Duck under or step around the end of the canvas and look for the door leading into a predominately pink room. Might it still carry vestiges of a former existence? Perhaps, since delicate striped wallpaper and lace curtains are not the decor found in most Chinese restaurants.
Four gray booths line one wall, three smaller tables are on the opposite side, and three more tables (seating six) fill the center of the wooden parquet-floored room. Across the back of the restaurant is a serving counter, in all likelihood manned by Bill Yin, owner/maitred'/waiter/busboy.
Yin handled everything himself at lunchtime, but he got some help from another waiter at dinner. The same menu is served throughout the day, but there are two luncheon combination plates served Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. One option at $3.50 and another at $4.25 include soup of the day, egg roll, fried or steamed rice and cookies, along with a choice of one entree.
Favorite of the appetizers tasted was the tan-tan mein, soft noodles tossed with chicken and sesame paste in a spicy sauce. It was served surrounded by julienned cucumber and sprinkled with bean sprouts, sliced green onion and chopped peanuts.
Yin smiled when we ordered the siu mai, so I asked if it was a good choice. "Oh yes, the best. No fat," he assured me. He was right. The combination appetizer plate, called assorted pleasure, includes fried shrimp, spareribs, egg rolls, fried won tons and foil-wrapped chicken.
Of the entrees, we recommend the house special: Pungent shrimp, fried in a light batter and then sauteed in the chef's special sauce. The seafood came ringed with bright green broccoli florets, cooked just tender-crisp.
Right on Target
Another winner was the diced chicken in tangerine sauce. This, as well as any of the hot and spicy offerings, may be altered according to taste. We took Yin's advice and had it prepared medium hot. Again he was on target.
The Chinese food aficionado in our party asked whether broccoli might be added to the shrimp with pea pods. It was done without hesitation or charge. The finished dish also included straw mushrooms, bamboo shoots and carrots, and it was tossed in a mild garlic-flavored sauce.
Two preset family dinners, a Sichuan at $8.50 per person and a Mandarin at $9.95 per person, are offered to parties of two or more. Entree substitutions are permitted, but price differences will be adjusted. There's also an early-special dinner combination served Monday through Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m.
No monosodium glutamate is used at the restaurant, and as another example of their willingness to accommodate customer wants and needs, any of the dishes may be custom-made upon request with no salt or oil, or cooked so they are low in sodium, fat and sugar.
There were a few shortcomings at Silver Chopsticks. Not recommended is the barbecue pork appetizer. It had good flavor but was much too dry. Sichuan cabbage and pork soup looked appetizing with its clear broth and brightly colored vegetables, but it lacked flavor.
Hot tea is included as part of the meal, and soft drinks are available. Beer or wine are not served, but you're welcome to supply your own without any corkage fee. The waiter got a kick out of the plastic wine glasses we brought along on one occasion, left over from a picnic lunch earlier in the day.
There are no desserts on the menu, but complimentary fresh orange wedges and fortune cookies provided a refreshing and sweet end to the meal. The same was true for the check, which we found very moderate on each visit.
Silver Chopsticks, 19538 Ventura Blvd., Capri Plaza, Tarzana, (818) 344-6112. Open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of four or more. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. A la carte prices from $3.25 to $8.95; family dinners $8.50 and $9.95 per person.