3615 U.S. 41 North, Naples; 434-6336
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. lunch, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. dinner, daily
Cuisine: Chinese (Mandarin, Szechuan, Hunan)
Prices: Items on the lunch menu range from $6.95 to $8.95 depending on choice of dish and meat, and come with choice of fried rice or boiled rice and a choice of an appetizer, egg roll, crab rangoon or fried chicken wings. Dinner specials, including soup and appetizer and choice of entree, are $13.95; other entrees range from $8.95 to $20.95
Atmosphere: Medium-sized casual restaurant with comfortable booths and tables. Perfect for a casual or business lunch or a casual dinner out.
3615 Ninth Street North, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Chinese food usually tastes great. But often, shortly after eating you’ll find yourself in a grease-induced food coma.
That wasn’t the case with Golden Leaf in Naples. Many of the dishes we tried were much lighter than typical Chinese fare, including a chicken and vegetable pasta made with rice noodles instead of the traditional lo mein and a chicken curry. Golden Leaf’s owners, Tam and Nancy Doan, are Vietnamese, but they’ve owned Chinese restaurants for more than 20 years.
Even the heavier dishes, such as sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken, combatted their heft with less grease and fresh vegetables.
On my first trip, my friend and I started our lunch with Vietnamese summer rolls ($4.95), filled with rice noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts and shrimp and wrapped in a thin, clear rice paper. The summer rolls were big, about 6 inches long, and were served cold with a hoisin-peanut dipping sauce. They had generous amounts of shrimp in them, and were a much healthier appetizer option than fried rolls.
For lunch, my friend ordered the Peking sesame chicken from the lunch menu ($8.95), and it came with soup and an appetizer — she chose wonton soup and crab rangoon. The wonton soup was just as it should be, with a few pork-filled dumplings and chopped green onions, meat and other vegetables in the broth.
The soup arrived first, and the two crab rangoon were included with the entree — flower-shaped fried dumplings with a decadently creamy filling.
The sauce on the fried chicken was sweet and savory, with flavors of soy and sesame oil, and along with the appetizer it came with fresh broccoli and white rice. My friend had just recently had sesame chicken from another Chinese restaurant, and commented that this sauce was less greasy. She liked it so much it made her want to eat the broccoli, since there was enough for dipping, even though it’s not her favorite vegetable.
For my entree, I chose vermicelli (rice noodles) with chicken and vegetables ($9.95), a twist on the common chicken lo mein. It was a generous portion — more than I could finish at lunch — and included thin slices of white chicken, carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, snow peas and egg.
The sauce was light, with flavors of sesame, ginger, garlic and a hint of vinegar. My only complaint was that the chicken and veggies weren’t well mixed with the noodles, so I accidentally ate most of the noodles during the first half of my meal.
On my second trip, my friend and I decided to have the boiled Chinese dumplings ($6.25). Six, large dumplings arrived at our table, along with a few pieces of broccoli and a soy dipping sauce. They were filled with pork and tasted like the dumplings in wonton soup. They’d also be delicious fried, which is an option, but we were trying to limit the number of fried items we ordered.
For lunch, this time both of us ordered from the lunch menu. We decided if we go again, we wouldn’t need to order an appetizer, since the lunch menu includes a soup and a choice of appetizer, which is more than enough food.
My friend chose General Tso’s chicken with wonton soup and crab rangoon ($8.95). The wonton soup was equally good as the first trip, as was the crab rangoon. The sauce on the fried chicken was sweet and tangy, but not very spicy, although the menu cautioned that it could be hot. It was mixed with fresh vegetables, including red and green bell peppers, snow peas, celery and onion.
Her only complaint was there was a lot of onion and some of the pieces were slightly undercooked.
I decided to try chicken curry from the lunch menu, with egg drop soup and an egg roll ($7.95). Egg drop soup is an acquired taste, as it has a gelatinous consistency that some people don’t like. Their version was just as it should be, thick, with pieces of visible egg white and fresh, sliced green onions on top.
I was curious about the curry, as I’ve eaten many Indian and Thai curries but have never had Chinese curry. The dish that came out had a thin, yellow curry sauce that, again, wasn’t very spicy despite the spice warning on the menu. It was savory and full of flavors — garlic, onion, curry and ginger. The sauce coated thin slices of chicken and a generous amount of fresh vegetables, including red and green bell pepper, carrots, snow peas and white onions. It came with white rice, and is definitely my new favorite Chinese restaurant item.
On both trips we had the same waitress, who was friendly and attentive, refilling our drink glasses repeatedly both times without being asked. Our only service mishap was a small drink mix-up. My friend asked for a Diet Coke and the waitress said she wasn’t sure they had any, and my friend gave a backup option. The backup came out, but later we noticed another guest drinking Diet Coke. It wasn’t enough of a problem for my friend to ask for a switch, but was a mix-up.
Overall, the food was much fresher and less greasy than other Chinese restaurants we have tried, and we all decided we’d happily return. Lunch prices were very reasonable, all under $8.95. Dinner prices might seem a bit higher than take-out Chinese, with most entrees costing more than
$10 and more than a handful higher than $15. But you’re getting good, quality food for the price.