A New Dimension Of Chinese Cuisine: Authentic and Intriguing Dishes In Upper Montclair

November 2007

If the words “Chinese food” conjure up visions of ordering takeout from a cramped storefront to eat in haste around your kitchen table, we suggest you take a deep breath and enter the welcoming world of T. S. Ma. Here, in Upper Montclair, topnotch Chinese fare is served in an intimate and inviting setting of subdued lighting, soothing earth tones and framed Chinese artifacts. Thomas Ma and his brother, Steve, assembled a menu that features many traditional, wonderfully prepared noodle, rice, seafood and meat favorites. But if you want to venture more adventurously into the world of authentic Chinese fare, don’t leave without trying some of his house specials. Our first appetizer, the unusual Crispy Crabmeat Cheese Dumplings, $6.95, was a first for me. Break apart these light, deepfried little purses and inside you’ll find a creamy crabmeat filling full of flavor. Next, on the advice of Mr. Ma, we segued to a more traditional appetizer. “Taste the difference in my shrimp roll,” he urged, and we certainly did. This fat and tasty treat, priced at a mere $1.75, is full of fresh vegetables and little shrimp tightly packed inside a flaky crust. With its emphasis on absolutely fresh vegetables, T. S. Ma’s menu is a goldmine for vegetarians. Our Vegetarian Chow Fun, $9.95 for a generous serving, was just one of dozens of vegetarian dishes to choose from. A darkhorse winner, the chow fun, also available with meat or shrimp, featured smooth and silky wide rice noodles lightly tossed with an assortment of fresh vegetables. “Authentic” is another word Thomas Ma takes seriously, and our first “House Specials” selection, the delightful Shanghai Meat Balls, $13.95, a chef’s signature dish, introduced us to moist and featherlight meatballs (called “lion heads” in China) that are slowcooked for four hours, allowing the meatballs to absorb the savory brown sauce. Served with transparent cellophane (mung bean) noodles and sautéed bok choy, this is an unusual and colorful dish. Our Shrimp with Ginger and Scallions, a Cantonese favorite, priced at $16.95, paired tender shrimp with the wakeup zing of fresh ginger—a perfect and delicious match. Duck gets the royal treatment here with the $16.95 House Special Duck, boneless crispy duck medallions topping broccoli, carrots, green pepper and an unusual vegetable that turned out to be jicama—south of the border meets China. Soups at T. S. Ma are made fresh every day, and some of them, such as the $10.95 Asian Noodle Soup, are a rewarding meal in themselves on a cool autumn evening. All dishes are transfatfree and prepared in canola oil, resulting in 50 percent less saturated fat. The portions are generous, the prices are extremely reasonable, the atmosphere is lowkey and relaxing, and the food is just terrific at T. S. Ma.