5308 Balcones Dr.
Austin, TX 78731
Welcome to Peony, a fine Chinese restaurant on 5308 Balcones Drive just off the intersection of 2222 and Mopac. Flower enthusiasts will instantly recognize the name as one of the oldest and most exotic of Chinese flowering plants. And Peony itself, like its namesake, is no less exotic and steeped in abundance. This is not your run-of-the-mill garden variety Chinese restaurant. Not by a long shot. And under the capable direction of Lilly Ma, it’s getting even better.
Considering the trend these days towards the limiting of menu items, the menu at Peony looks about the size of a small telephone directory. There are, for example, twenty-two appetizers. And I’ve tried many of them. The Pot Stickers, or pan-fried dumplings (8 to an order) are light and very appealing. Served with soy and chili oil, my favorite part of eating these is the moment when you cut one open and take that first bite. That burst of flavor is just wonderful. So is the rest.
The Teriyaki Chicken is tender and the sauce is the perfect complement. Equally tasty is the Deep Fried Shrimp with Spicy Salt. It has a kind of melt-in-your-mouth texture with a subtle and lovely aftertaste. And the Baked Scallops in Garlic Butter, an unusual appetizer for Chinese American restaurants, is a rewarding dish indeed for the seafood lover. The garlic butter is the perfect accent and the taste just rocks. And make a point to try one of their soups, like the delicious Szechuan Cabbage Pork for two.
And speaking of abundance, I had been looking all over town for a good Egg Foo Young, and finally found a couple: at Hao Hao and at Peony. Their version of the classic Chinese omelet topped with scallops, shrimp, crawfish and crabmeat and a wonderful sauce is a total delight. And another must try is the Cassoulet Chinois. In a hot clay pot is an ethereal mixture of lobster, shrimp, crabmeat and scallops. Terrific brown sauce with this vintage Peony dish.
I also highly recommend the Oriental Mahi Mahi. Imagine pan-fried Mahi Mahi in a light brown sauce with garlic and peppers and accents of ginger, Oh my! The taste sensations here are most compelling. And how’s this for an interesting name: Travails in the Orient. What you get there is duck on a sizzling platter with chopped red bell peppers, mushrooms, and scallions. There are no compromises in this dish. Everything is left out there… and it all works. Want something more basic and familiar? Their Kung Pao Shrimp is nicely balanced with a crisp taste. And the Pork Lo Mein works as well. Not greasy, and the noodles are just south of al dente. And a very nice flavor.
And in addition to all the Chinese fare, there is also a very respectable Sushi Bar.
Peony delivers on level that only a few of the best Chinese restaurants in town can match. It’s not on the beaten path, so make a point to find it this weekend. Peony at 5308 Balcones. Tell ’em Rob sent you.