Hong Kong-style pan-fried crispy noodles with shrimp at Mah-Jong Chinese Kitchen in Plano

Hong Kong-style pan-fried crispy noodles with shrimp at Mah-Jong Chinese Kitchen in Plano

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

The first four times I dined at Mah-Jong Chinese Kitchen, I made a grave miscalculation: I failed to order a dish called "All in Fried Rice."

Its menu description read "Beef, Shrimp, Chicken, BBQ Pork, Snow Pea and Topped with Fried Egg." It was the fried egg part that stopped me. Not that I don't love a fried egg; I do. But to me a great Chinese fried rice involves scrambled egg, and I assumed that if there was fried egg on top, there wouldn't be scrambled egg within.

I did order, one evening, the seared duck-breast fried rice, which could so easily have flopped. Duck breast cooked past medium-rare can get gamy and tough, for instance. Duck has a way of dictating its own terms.

Mah-Jong's stylish dining room 

Mah-Jong's stylish dining room 

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

In the hands of Hong Kong-born chef-owner Fannie Law, the dish was bodacious: pitch-perfect fried rice studded generously with tender, moist, small slices of duck with wonderful flavor, plus shiitake mushrooms, cilantro and, yes, soft bits of scrambled egg (not overcooked, as it so often is). All in the right proportions. I couldn't wrench myself away from it.

A happy state of affairs, to be sure, as I was also loving my surroundings. Tucked out of sight between Starbucks and Sur La Table in a generic West Plano strip mall, the 14-month-old place has no small measure of charm: soft spot-lighting on the tables (where mah-jongg tiles serve as chopstick rests), contemporary Asian art on the walls, polished wood floors. A jazz-meets-bossa nova soundtrack plays softly. The service is warm, relaxed, thoughtful and professional. If there were a full bar serving Mai Tais with paper umbrellas, I'd probably move in. (At least there are beer and wine.)

The steamed dim sum trio, an appetizer at Mah-Jong Chinese Cuisine, with shu mai (upper left), xio long bao (center), har gow with black truffle (right) and ginger-vinegar sauce. The Plano restaurant has a mah-jongg tile motif. 

The steamed dim sum trio, an appetizer at Mah-Jong Chinese Cuisine, with shu mai (upper left), xio long bao (center), har gow with black truffle (right) and ginger-vinegar sauce. The Plano restaurant has a mah-jongg tile motif. 

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

The place has a surprising back story, starting with the fact that general manager Anson Chan has a 30-plus year history as a Dallas restaurateur. Baby boomers may remember Yoli's Seafood and Grill, which Chan and his then-wife Yolande ("Yoli") owned together on North Skillman. Later they opened a second Yoli's, then Plano Cafe, followed by Ocean Grill. In 2004, the Chans and business partner Michael Chan (the two are not related) purchased Hong Kong Royale in Richardson, changing the name to Kirin Court. Law managed Kirin Court for many years, says Anson; besides running its dining room, she designed many of its dishes.

At some point, Anson and his wife split up -- remaining close friends, he says, as well as business partners. In 2013 he sold his shares in Kirin Court to Michael. Anson has no ownership in Mah-Jong; he's just managing to help his friend Law.

Mah-Jong's chef-owner Fannie Law was formerly general manager at Kirin Court, where she created much of the menu.

Mah-Jong's chef-owner Fannie Law was formerly general manager at Kirin Court, where she created much of the menu.

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

The chef's plates nod toward modern Cantonese but array themselves comfortably around tradition, which plays well with the neighborhood's well-heeled patrons. At its heart is serious Chinese cooking, a point that likely  isn't lost on Mah-Jong's Mandarin and Chinese-speaking diners. (Chan was born in Hong Kong, too; he and all the waitstaff speak Mandarin and Cantonese in addition to English.)

Cutely presented in three mini bamboo steamer baskets, a dim-sum trio makes a fine starter; it includes a xiao long bao (Shanghai-style soup dumpling) filled with delicious broth and pork; har gow (shrimp dumpling) adorned with shaved black truffle; and a luscious pork-and-shrimp shu mai. There are likable chicken lettuce wraps, beautifully fried, panko-clad prawns with a lightly sweet chile dipping sauce, and -- probably my favorite of the appetizers I sampled -- steamed Sichuan-style chicken dumplings in a garlicky sauce with the right kicks of vinegar and chile.

If there were a full bar with Mai Tais with paper umbrellas, I'd probably move in.

The most inventive (if not always the most successful) main courses are found under chef's recommendations on the front of the menu. Crispy duck breast presented Beijing-style -- with Mandarin pancakes, scallion, cucumber and hoisin -- sounded so promising, and the rosy slices of breast were cooked spot-on medium rare, but the duck just didn't sing with its workaday accouterments. A Sichuan-style osso buco -- also a brilliant idea -- came in a lovely, lightly spicy Yu Xiang garlic sauce, but the veal shank needed more time to braise to tenderness.

Slow-braised pork shank Hong Kong-style with gua bao (steamed buns) 

Slow-braised pork shank Hong Kong-style with gua bao (steamed buns) 

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

But a pork shank slow-braised Hong-Kong-style in a sumptuous sauce was gorgeously spiced and luxuriously fork-tender, surrounded by delicately sauced baby bok choy and served with gua bao, steamed buns, for filling with pork. That's a killer dish.

Do not ignore the rest of the menu. That's where you'll find other treats, such as clay-pot-simmered jumbo prawns and plump scallops in a black bean sauce layered richly with flavor.

Seared duck breast fried rice 

Seared duck breast fried rice 

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

At menu's end, the selection of noodles and rice dishes looks like an afterthought. Don't be fooled: These are some of Mah-Jong's best offerings.

One day at lunchtime, I ordered Hong Kong pan-fried crispy noodles, which turned out to be be two crisply fried noodle baskets filled with carefully cooked shrimp, emerald-green broccoli florets, sliced carrot and snow peas -- a dish so visually striking that a stylish young woman at the next table (who had been speaking Chinese with her server) asked if she could take a photo of it. "My kids will want to see that," she said. "It looks like two bird's nests!"

Much less attractive but even more delicious were Singapore-style vermicelli-type rice noodles tumbled lightly in yellow curry and tangled with onion, scallion, small shrimp, barbecue pork and scrambled egg. There was no reason for it to be so insanely good.

As I picked up the last few skinny bits of noodle with my chopsticks, a melancholy feeling washed over me -- something that rarely happens on my last visit to a place I'm reviewing. I did not want this to be my last visit.

But wait -- I had a great excuse to return: the All in Fried Rice! How could a fried-rice fanatic, someone who grew up in a family that referred to pork fried rice as "PFR," review a joint and not try the fried-egg-toppedAll in Fried Rice?

I needn't have hesitated. When Law says all-in, she means all-in. Mingled in that bowl of fabulous over-easy-egg-topped PFR with shrimp, chicken, snow peas and scallions was, you guessed it: scrambled egg.

I'm moving in.

Mah-Jong Chinese Kitchen

Mah-Jong Chinese Kitchen (3 stars)

Price: $$-$$$ (Dinner appetizers, soups and salads $5 to $14; main courses $11 to $29. Lunch starters and salads $5 to $14; main dishes with soup, eggroll and rice $10 to $13; noodle and rice dishes $10 to $13. Desserts $8.)

Service: Professional, multilingual, good-natured, knowledgable about the menu

Ambience: An attractive, small dining room with some style

Noise level: Quiet enough for easy conversation

Location: Mah-Jong Chinese Kitchen, 4025 Preston Road (between Lorimar Drive and Spring Creek Parkway), Plano; 972-403-0163

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer, sake and and a cursory wine list

RATINGS LEGEND

5 stars: Extraordinary

4 stars: Excellent

3 stars: Very good

2 stars: Good

1 star: Fair

No stars: Poor

PRICE KEY

Average dinner per person

$ -- $14 and under

$$ -- $15 to $30

$$$ -- $31 to $50

$$$$ -- More than $50

What's Happening on GuideLive