The Year of the Rat begins Thursday, and according to Chow, Baby’s extensive knowledge of Chinese astrology (20 minutes each at Wikipedia,, and the U.S. Post Office, where Chow, Baby bought a sheet of pretty red-lantern stamps), this is going to be a very good year.

Being the first sign of the Chinese Zodiac, the Rat signifies new beginnings, a good time to start new ventures and put plans into action. It’s also a very auspicious time for the applied arts. The forecast couldn’t be clearer: We’ll be getting a lot of great new East Asian restaurants this year (come on, Tibetan). Thus Chow, Baby’s duty/excuse last week, the closing week of the Year of the Pig, was written in the stars: to check in on some of its favorite Asian restaurants and set the bar for all these imminent competitors.


Too bad there’s not a Year of the Decapod Crustacean, because Chow, Baby could dine for many moons on the shrimp mousse – ground shrimp grilled on a sugar cane skewer for sweetness – at pretty Pho Bella (4023 E. Belknap St.). This time Chow, Baby tried a new dish, “angel hair patties” ($7.95), which turned out to be do-it-yourself spring rolls – six rice wrappers and a plate of fillings (noodles, cilantro, bean sprouts and other veggies, pork, shrimp mousse). Chow, Baby didn’t get the hang of the fill-and-roll until the third one, which, since Chow, Baby was making them the size of a breakfast burrito, was also the last one. Very filling.

Chow, Baby’s one complaint about Pho Bella: On this visit, the bistro’s normally romantic aura was blotted by blaring Vietnamese rock (not the usual classical guitar noodlings) and by glaring spotlights that revealed every flaw in the painted walls. This is an issue only because Chow, Baby already has a favorite restaurant in the “great shrimp, painfully bright lights” category: right up the street at Phat-Dat (4045 E. Belknap St.). Still, it’s a different-enough experience that Chow, Baby can keep them both. On each of its many happy Phat-Dat visits, Chow, Baby has been the only Anglo in the house, and thus the only diner offered a fork, individual-serving packets of sweet-and-sour sauce, and the option of no shells on the shrimp dishes. Pass haughtily on that last, and don’t try to peel the shrimp yourself; the crunch adds a neat texture to, for one of a dozen examples, lightly battered shrimp stir-fried in butter and green onions (“butter shrimp,” $9.95). But furtive applications of sweet-and-sour sauce really do perk up the delectable battered-and-fried shrimp balls ($7.95).

Chow, Baby closed out its Year of the Pig dining with a visit to King Chinese (907 E. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington), home to some of the best Chinese-barbecue pork in the area. Also the place where Chow, Baby learned the guilt-ridden way not to even glance at the large glass case of hanging-by-their-necks dinner specials. The menu lists almost 200 dishes, including of course stomach, ear, and tongue, but Chow, Baby is happily stuck in a three-combo-plate ($8.95) rut of sublime duck, gummy-worm-like octopus, and that juicy, honey-marinated pork. With the last bite, Chow, Baby bid adieu to the Pig’s delights and is awaiting the coming Rat bounty with open mouth. Arms. Open arms.

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