If you think you know the China Shack, think again.
Meagan Soloff, the one-woman creative force behind St. John’s only Chinese food restaurant, is mixing things up after more than three years in the business.
“As we go into our fourth year, we are changing things up to make our menu more accessible for singles,” Soloff said. “We’re not getting rid of anything on our menu, but right now we’re kind of geared toward family-style portions. So, we’re listening to our customers and offering dinner combinations that are similar to our lunch combination menu.”
China Shack’s new dinner menu will include a variety of “Hot Wok” specials which are similar to the combinations available during lunch hours, but in larger portions. The “Hot Wok” dinner combinations will also come with a choice of soup or egg rolls.
Quality Remains Same
What is not changing is the quality of food, Soloff explained.
“Everything we do is done by hand to order — nothing sits around,” she said. “We have all fresh produce and the highest quality meats which are all hand-trimmed so there is no gristle or fat. We cook everything fresh every day.”
While many dishes at China Shack are passed through oil in the traditional Chinese cooking technique, most dishes can be prepared steamed for healthier alternatives.
The kitchen at China Shack is scrubbed clean weekly and one thing Soloff won’t compromise is her standards.
“I believe in one way to do things — the right way,” said the chef, owner, accountant and creative force behind China Shack. “We make everything from scratch. Not one thing is pre-made here, from the chili oil to the peanut sauce to our egg rolls — everything is made in-house.”
Price is Right
Although Soloff has heard through the coconut telegraph her prices are pretty steep, the portions are considerable for the prices — which are more than fair.
“We are the only restaurant where you can feed a family of five for under $100,” she said. “We don’t up-sell people either. If we think you’re ordering too much food, we’ll tell you.”
“We listen to our customers and want to give them the proper quantity they are looking for,” Soloff continued. “We’ll even recommend they order something different if everything they’re ordering is along the same tastes.”
The portions of food served at China Shack are not an accident.
Loving the Leftovers
“One of the best things about Chinese food is left overs,” said Soloff. “I love having some food for the next day and that was part of what I was thinking when we opened. But, I’ve heard that people want smaller portions, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Prices for the new “Hot Wok” combination options run bet-ween $12.50 and $15, for vegetable to shrimp dishes. Nothing on the menu is more than $20, and there is also a $9.50 pupu platter on the menu.
“The pupu platter includes crab rangoon, egg rolls, beef teriyaki and our spicy Chinese-style hot wings, which are incredible,” said Soloff. “We’re hoping the new dishes will be big hits. When I opened I knew our wings would be famous.”
A central philosophy of Soloff’s, which translates into her restaurant, is balance.
Balance and Harmony
“The basic theory behind all Chinese philosophy is balance and harmony,” said Soloff. “That’s why we have soy with sugar and vinegar with sugar — there is always a balance. For example, we have sugar mixed with our chili oil in our Mongolian sauce, which is a very popular item on our menu.”
A personal theory that Soloff adheres to is treating her staff with the upmost respect.
“I have the most loyal staff because part of my philosophy is to treat everyone with respect and honesty and courtesy,” she said. “I accommodate my girls and they always come back. We are 100 percent a family here.”
While most of the employees are female, there was a man in the mix for a while.
“We are lacking our man of the house, Michael Gibney,” said Soloff. “He went off to college this year and we really miss him. He’s doing great though — I helped him settle in up there and I’m so proud of him.”
Soloff, who lived on St. John for eight and a half years before opening China Shack, saw a niche that was not being filled with the island’s dining choices.
“Everyone loves Chinese food,” said Soloff. “There just seemed to be a need for it here. I thought it would be mostly for locals, but also for visitors who don’t want to eat out every single night of their vacation.”
Deliveries to Bordeaux
One doesn’t even have to leave their home to enjoy the tasty treats at China Shack, as the restaurant offers delivery all the way out to Bordeaux. There is a minimum order for deliveries, and a fee to cover gas and vehicle expenses, but to be able to call up and have fried rice delivered right to one’s door is well worth it.
“It’s like inviting someone over to dinner, except they just bring the food and leave,” said Soloff.
The China Shack chefs also cook their food quickly.
“We’re the only fast restaurant around,” said Soloff. “We can handle high volume and you don’t have to wait forever to get your food. You can just pop in and walk out with your order.”
Best Chinese in V.I.
The popularity of China Shack is growing. The restaurant was voted best Chinese food in the Virgin Islands and has been increasingly serving residents from other islands, Soloff explained.
“People from St. Thomas come here for our food, even though there are five Chinese restaurants on St. Thomas,” she said. “That is the highest compliment we could get.”
So, if you haven’t been by the China Shack for a while, stop in and check out all the new changes and old favorites.
China Shack, serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, is located on the second floor of The Marketplace, next to Innovative and behind Surf da Web. Call 715-4998 for deliveries.