No MSG? No gluten? No GMO? No fillers, preservatives or artificial flavorings?
It's no problem at Chi-Ku Pan-Asian Kitchen in American Fork.
As this fairly new restaurant claims right on its website, Chi-Ku is setting out to debunk the belief that fast food has to be unhealthy, and boasts that it only uses raw ingredients with every recipe made from scratch.
That all sounds fine and dandy -- but how will all this healthiness play on the palates of Utah County residents? We set out to find the answer to that question this past weekend.
Ever since Chi-Ku opened over the summer, we have been looking for an opportunity to give it a try. After our Saturday evening visit, we are definitely glad we did.
Chi-Ku was really bustling when we stepped inside. There was a decent-sized line, but things moved extremely quick. Before we knew it, we were at the front of the assembly-line style service area, with several chefs anxiously looking at us in anticipation -- as if we would innately know what we wanted at that precise instant. Their looks did have smiles attached to them -- and they were super friendly and glad to explain the process upon learning we were first-timers.
Ordering really isn't too difficult at Chi-Ku -- it just merits a moment or two of pondering to pare down all the great ingredient choices to what you can fit in your bowl.
Everything plays out right in front of you, ingredient wise, as you make your way down the line -- with five main choices along the way, Here's how it breaks down:
First you pick a "Bowl," which is the basic foundation to your meal. There are six choices: jasmine rice, brown rice, rice noodles, salad, pad Thai and Buddha soup.
Then, pick a "Protein." The selections are: Gai Yang grilled chicken, honey soy tofu, Vietnamese meatball, Thai spiced pork belly, Korean chicken wing and bulgogi steak.
Next up, you go for a "Vegetable," with four choices: Thai basil butternut squash, carrots and snap peas, wok-seared green beans, and seasonal vegetables.
It is then you stop at the "Sauce" station, where there are seven tempting selections. They include: soy ginger, Thai chili, Massaman curry, green curry, yellow curry, red curry and teriyaki.
Then comes a "Top It Off" option, where you can add on carrot Daikon slaw, Asian pear slaw, chili paste or peanuts.
For those who simply don't know what to order, there are four standard "Chef Favorites" where everything is pre-determined -- Pad Thai Chicken, Rice Noodle Steak Salad, Brown Rice and Meatballs, and a Teriyaki Chicken Bowl.
Now, our family party of five was not overly adventurous as a group. With several young picky eaters in tow, a few of our bowl creations were a little on the safe side. You know, jasmine rice or rice noodles, with the grilled chicken and teriyaki sauce. Our 8-year-old, Cougar, did break from convention by getting the chicken wings in his bowl. I sampled one of those, along with his rice and teriyaki sauce and it was delicious. The teriyaki sauce had a slight kick to it, but nothing too spicy.
Other bowls had a mixture of ingredients, and everything tasted great, even as it was geared to that individual's personal selections. The bowls all provided a large quantity of food.
Naturally, I found my personal selection to be the best overall. I started with pad Thai noodles, and added bulgogi steak, the butternut squash and green beans (in a half and half selection, and peanuts. I was momentarily stumped at the sauce station -- I didn't want to go too spicy and was contemplating the teriyaki. But on the server's personal suggestion, I instead went with the Massaman curry -- and was definitely thrilled with that choice. I really enjoyed the sweet butternut squash and grilled steak combination.
Essentially, with each person selecting all their own ingredients every step of the way, you can't really go wrong.
Chi-Ku also offers an array of fresh Cold Pressed Juices and organic drinks. We didn't get to try any on this visit, keeping it simple with waters -- but resolved to give them a try on a future visit.
The inside of the restaurant was clean and inviting -- with a seating capacity of 98 in two different dining sections. Most tables were for parties of two or four.
Besides the great taste, and fast and friendly service, one of the great things was to not suffer the typical post-Asian food stupor that often accompanies meals like this -- at least it's common in our house. We're going to chalk that up to the fresh ingredients and lack of MSG and other artificial flavorings that are often so prevalent with this type of food.
That alone is worth many return trips to Chi-Ku.