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The Beach Gourmet: Cheng Du: A Healthy Chinese Economy

Cheng Du Restaurant in West L.A. is a little different than your average rice and noodle chop-house, inasmuch as they display a more health conscious approach to the preparation of many of their dishes, and some of the menu items include the fat and calorie content.

I recently visited, and took a guest who was a little reluctant to join me, as he is not a great fan of Chinese food and keeps a very close eye on his diet with a view to maintaining a slim and sound structure.

After assuring him if there was nothing that he liked on the menu, he could simply leave, and I would dine alone, he timidly followed me through the large etched glass doors, past the Poseidon Adventure-sized aquarium, and to a spacious and comfy booth.

Cheng Du is bright, mid-sized and rather well decorated for a budget Chinese restaurant. It is also something of a sub-station for L.A.’s finest (patrol cars and motorcycles are frequently part of the street décor outside the restaurant), four of whom were dining when we arrived.

According to information printed on the menu, the owner, after many years in the food industry, became conscious that Chinese food was not generally known for its health quality, so he undertook a program of research and recipe experimentation in order to create tasty dishes that fit into a healthy diet. The results are a selection of traditional and original recipes such as Cha-Cha Beef Steak (filet mignon, stir-fried with spinach in special mandarin sauce, $11.95) with 3.3 grams of saturated fat and 270 calories per person, and scallops in hot sizzling platter (scallops, fresh mushrooms, bamboo shoots, baby corn and carrots sautéed in a mild sauce, $13.25) with .05 grams of saturated fat and 190 calories.

So, after perusing the comprehensive menu for some time, we opted for shrimp with asparagus (shrimp and asparagus sautéed in a light sauce, 10.95), 110 calories and 0.5 grams of saturated fat; Kung Pao tofu with peanuts (deep-fried tofu, peanuts, spring onion and dried red chili peppers in a traditional Kung Pao sauce, $7.25), 340 calories and 2.5 grams of saturated fat; Hot and Sour cabbage (cabbage stir-fried in a hot spicy sauce, $6.45), 210 calories 0 saturated fat; and brown rice.

The service very fast and very efficient, with our dishes arriving in short order.

The first thing to note with these dishes is that the servings are very, very large and the calorie and trans-fat numbers are based upon two to three people sharing each dish, but no need to be concerned, as there is more than enough for two, and plenty for three in each choice.

The shrimp with asparagus was delightful, and my guest appeared pleasantly surprised with the flavor and freshness of the ingredients. The Kung Pao tofu was my favorite by far, with large cubes of tofu ladled with an almost perfect Kung Pao sauce.

The cabbage went very well with both of these dishes, although there was not a remarkable difference between the sauce of this and the Kung Pao.

After enjoying this meal, and having enough to go, our visit to Cheng Du somewhat dispelled the recently publicized belief that Chinese food has to be unhealthy.

With a great many menu items to choose from, it really boils (or stir-fries) down to how much food one consumes. With all the information at hand in the menu, Cheng Du proves that you can enjoy healthy, economical Chinese food while still considering health and diet.

Cheng Du, 11538 W. Pico Blvd., WLA, 310.477.4917

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