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EASTERN WINDS DELIGHTS THE SENSES

After an enjoyable tour of the first annual Railroad Festival at Ogden's Union Depot last weekend, my family was surprised with my announcement that we would be dining on Chinese food for our late afternoon supper. I think they expected a hearty steak, inspired perhaps by the Herculean engines on display. After all, what could be more American than the picture of a huge engine pulling a milelong train across the wide expanse of America's Western landscape dotted with mooing cattle and whooping cowboys?

But the history of the railroad wasn't all steam engines and lassos. It took thousands of laborers, often in great peril and pain, to complete the transcontinental railroad and open the West. Ironically, many were Chinese, thrust into a foreign terrain with little hope of sharing the rewards that would come to the railroad barons.The personable service and the relaxing atmosphere of the Eastern Winds allowed us to reflect on the accomplishments of all those who contributed to the building of the railroad. Because of the colorful and flavorful cuisine, our history had a more celebratory than pensive tone.

The interior is lined with windows that provide an airy feeling. The selected oriental artwork and the Chinese lanterns overhead are unobtrusive. In addition to the booths that line the walls, a large circular table for family dining sits in the center of the open dining area. During our stay, it was in constant use by families and other guests enjoying the family style dishes with the convenience of the Lazy Susan.

The Eastern Winds' Mandarin and Cantonese menu is extensive, offering more than 150 dishes, including several family dinners, priced either $6.95 or $8.95 per person. Other prices were a little less than comparable restaurants in the Salt Lake area. The dishes we sampled were generous and each served piping hot.

We started with a platter of a half dozen pot stickers ($3.50). The pork filling was tasty and the dough skins just thin enough. Two of the soups were also satisfying, though the house special seafood soup ($3.95 for two but enough to feed four) was a little on the bland side. The egg drop and tiny cubes of bean curd along with the piece of shrimp, scallop, imitation crab and peas lent a pleasing texture nonetheless. The won ton soup had considerably more character and flavor.

Other appetizers and soups include two egg rolls ($1.80), paper wrapped chicken ($2.25), char su pork ($3.95), hot and sour soup, egg flower soup, (each 95 cents), as well as corn and chicken cream soup, West Lake minced beef soup ($2.95 for two), as well as a BoBo combination platter ($6.95), which comes with sa-te beef and an assortment of other appetizers.

The Cantonese-style soft or pan- fried noodles were especially good. They were not greasy nor overly seasoned and, as in the case of the other entrees we sampled, the vegetables were crisp and crunchy - just done enough. An evening special, fresh asparagus in a lively light Hoi sin (and we guessed a touch of chili paste) sauce, stir-fried with tender chunks of beef, chicken and shrimp, was also successful.

The Jewelry Vegetables ($4.95) was, as the name implies, a sparkly serving of emerald green pea pods, nut brown mushrooms and white water chestnuts. The sauce was a slightly sweet (perhaps a hint of condensed milk) and thick cornstarch gravy. Again the vegetables were crunchy and tasty.

A more complex dish was the Happy Family ($7.50), ordered with the ride home in mind as well as the appetizing ingredients - scallops, shrimp, beef, chicken, snow peas, mushrooms, carrots, baby corn cobs, and bamboo shoots. It is combined tableside on a hot platter, adding both a sizzle and aroma to the already colorful display.

Our only disappointment was the mushu pork ($5.25). Like the other dishes, the serving was ample. But the rice pancakes came already rolled around the filling of pork, cabbage and other ingredients, and with an abundance of Hoi sin sauce. We missed the fun of making our own; at least the problem of not enough pancakes was resolved by the industriousness of the kitchen.

Some of the other Eastern Winds house specialties include shrimp and sizzling rice platter; sauteed beef, scallop and broccoli; spicy kung pao blend (each $7.25); a special hot pot; sweet and pungent shrimp (Szechuan style); black pepper beef with onion in a love nest (each $7.50) to name a few.

While some Ogdenites complain about the shortage of good restaurants in their home town, I was glad that two had made the recommendation to try the Eastern Winds. It has the basic ingredients in place to offer customers an enjoyable evening, seasoned with a touch of history.

Rating: ***1/2

Eastern Winds, 3740 Washington Blvd., Ogden. 627-2793. Open seven days a week. Hours Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sunday, open from 4:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card. Take out available.