The Great Light North
Now’s definitely not the time to get all calorie-conscious. ’Tis the season to be jolly, and by “jolly,” we mean “fat” and/or “pleasantly plump.”
The first of the year is when to start worrying — officially — about waistlines and, indirectly, heart disease, liver failure, and creaky limbs. So until then, eat, drink, and be merry. And then eat some more. But when that calendar turns “January 1, 2008,” and at the very moment when that page flips and — magically! — all of the year’s previous gastronomical sins (or, actually, the guilt they caused) vanish, visit Skillman Wok.
Located in a strip mall at the intersection of Western Center Boulevard and Beach Street in North Fort Worth, Skillman Wok is perhaps the opposite of “romantic.” Sandwiched between a Mexican chain restaurant and a party store, the small Asian eatery is about five times as long as it is wide, and it doesn’t have many places to sit — not counting the floor, there are only about five or six, fast-food-ish booths by the entrance and front window. The majority of the space belongs to the huge, open-air kitchen, probably because a majority of Skillman Wok’s business is delivery.
Though no Sardine’s Italiano Ristorante and with only a handful of traditional Chinese prints on the walls, Skillman Wok is an excellent stop or place to call for a quick, hearty, and healthy bite for lunch or dinner. More than any other Asian restaurant, and most non-Asian eateries, Skillman Wok brags on its health-consciousness. The front of the pink paper menu boasts “Low-calorie cooking … 98 percent MSG-free,” and inside, next to every dish that’s neither an app nor house special, is the number of corresponding calories. Most of them fall between 350 and 250, though there are some in the low 200s and two in the high 100s (the vegetable mu shu, with four pancakes runs 179 cals, and the snow peas Mandarin-style, 171).
Even some of the more decadent offerings, including a couple of house specials, proved filling but not gut-busting. That ol’ standby, Kung Pao Chicken (379 calories), was heavy on the celery and water chestnuts but light on the peanuts and diced chicken. Still, the bird that did appear was big, juicy, tender, and fresh — pulled right from the bone — and ably soaked up the sweet, slightly spicy brown sauce. The veggies were cooked perfectly, boasting the appropriate consistency of crunchy and spongy (but not soggy). The accompanying white rice jumped onto the chopsticks in soft, palatable clumps, as good Chinese white rice should. Another light entrée, the vegetable lo mein, might be the best in town. Ordered spicy, Skillman Wok’s version of the traditional Chinese noodle dish had just the right zesty-but-not-overpowering kick — the red-pepper seeds sparkled demurely in the rich brown sauce. The veggies were fresh and, again, perfectly cooked, but the best part was the noodles: thick and doughy but firm — and plentiful. True, Skillman Wok might not be the best place for a first — or 50th date — but for Chinese-lovin’ foodies all over North Texas, the restaurant’s lo mein demands a visit.
Off the weight-watcher’s menu, the house special Szechuan-style shrimp and chicken compared to some of the best in town, and at a mere $7.95 was a steal. Huge, freshly peeled, and toothsome shrimp shared equal billing with that fresh chicken in a watery but deep-brown gravy packed with huge swaths of onion and green pepper, plus nibbles of baby corn and thin, crisp, jagged slices of carrot. Another house special, the Chinatown, featured the same delicious shrimp and chicken, alongside crabmeat, scallops, and beef. The silver-dollar-sized scallops and thick tubes of crabmeat were slightly overcooked and mushy but fresh and, with the shrimp, chicken, and spicy tender beef — and $7.95 price tag — added up to another steal. All lunch orders come with one of Skillman Wok’s delicately fried and loaded egg rolls. The restaurant also is working on a sushi menu and offers lunch specials that go for around $5 and that include fried rice and an egg roll.
Chinatown Special $7.95
Kung pao chicken $6.75
Pu-pu platter (for one) $3.50
Szechuan-style shrimp and chicken $7.95
Vegetable lo mein $5.95