Moon Wok in University Park offers traditional Chinese cuisine

srocco@bradenton.comMay 21, 2014 

UNIVERSITY PARK ­-- Never mind that there's a Pei Wei around the corner. Yong Huang, owner of Moon Wok Chinese Restaurant, says his food will taste entirely different.

Huang is striving to break the deep-fried stigma that Chinese food must be slathered in sauce to bring the punch.

"We're traditional, they're not," Huang, 26, said of the chain competition across the way.

Sure, you can get all the crispy, crunchy favorites -- General Tso's chicken, egg rolls, fried rice -- at Moon Wok, but the true brilliance of this restaurant's chow lies in its traditional recipes.

Shredded pork with pickle.

Snails in black bean sauce.

Salt and pepper squid.

Huang is trying to change the way Americans see his country's cuisine one authentic dish at a time.

And that starts with an offbeat interior.

Scratch the red booths and corny decorations found in most Asian eateries. Here you have tastefully painted walls awash in greens, beiges and burgundies. Booths and chairs are upholstered in bright, stylish print. Dimmed lights offer the perfect setting to enjoy a bowl of egg drop soup and a glass of wine at the bar at night.

"We have come back with modern decorations so our guests have a different feeling," said general manager Steve Cheung, who came to the United States from China in the 1970s. "It's soft and comfortable."

The 2,800-square foot sit-down restaurant, which opened last Wednesday at 8194 Tourist Center Drive, also offers live seafood -- another rarity among area

Chinese restaurants.

A fish tank in the restaurant's 110-seat dining room will contain live fish, such as sea bass and flounder, as well as shrimp, crab and lobster. Customers will be able to pick their seafood and then choose between steamed or pan-fried preparation styles. All of the seafood comes locally from Tampa or St. Petersburg.

Asians "like fresh seafood. They don't like frozen products," Cheung said.

Huang and his parents, Ding and Tina, aren't new to the restaurant scene. Together, they also own Mei Mei Garden on Market Street in Lakewood Ranch and his parents own Gold Dynasty on North Tamiami Trail, business filings show.

The Huangs were eager to open a University Park location in hopes of getting in on the booming business that surrounds University Parkway.

"This is the best location in the tri-county area to run a restaurant." Cheung said.

Elliot Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said the clientele that shop along University Parkway has responded well to the influx of restaurants in the area.

"The University Park corridor...is the retail mecca of this area and if you really dig into the revenues of restaurants and other retail establishments, they have some of the highest gross revenues in their chain," he said. "The higher demographic clientele are more inclined to want to sit down and eat."

Moon Wok will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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