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Culture Clash

A familiar midtown restaurant site is still an international house.

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It has been nearly two decades since the A-frame building at 3260 Broadway was an International House of Pancakes. (California-based IHOP hasn't built a new restaurant using that architectural design since the early 1980s.) Meanwhile, the building has attracted an international array of tenants. Two years ago, it was home to the Twin Dragon Chinese Restaurant, which served both Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.

Last year it got both a personality change and a mild interior makeover when Shawn Ngo turned the joint into Taste of Thai. Ngo removed the TV set mounted in the dining room, which meant that the lunch crowd could no longer watch As The World Turns with their tom yum soup. The Twin Dragon had built up a steady lunch business with an inexpensive buffet, so Ngo kept the steam tables (and most of the Chinese-American recipes) and offered a buffet of his own. It was cheap but not very good.

At some point before the end of 2005, Taste of Thai went bye-bye, and the big sign in front of the building was changed to Sun's Chinese Restaurant and Sushi Bar. But even though that sign remains, Sun's has already gone down, and the place has a new name and a new owner. Oh, and no more sushi.

New proprietress Ann Fu has renamed the joint Sheng Chinese Restaurant. There's no buffet, but the lunch specials (which include fried rice, soup and a choice of egg roll or crab rangoon) cost less than $5.

The dining room has been spiffed up, and the now useless blond-wood "sushi bar" is used as a waiter's station. Even though the place was practically empty, I really enjoyed my generous mound of kung pao chicken. The server was an energetic guy in a knit hat, jeans and dusty work boots; he looked like a hunky construction worker. "Actually, I'm a student at Penn Valley Community College," he told me.

A couple of diners came in, apparently looking for a lunch buffet, and left when they saw there wasn't one. They went off, I suppose, to Oriental Feast, the all-you-can-eat extravaganza a few blocks south, at 1000 West 39th Street. That former steakhouse space has been home to a couple of buffet operations, but Oriental Feast is, by far, the most appealing venue. The once dowdy dining room is now spotlessly clean, and the steam tables are heaped with familiar choices — General Tso's chicken, lo mein, and curry chicken — alongside weird options such as scrambled eggs with tomatoes, ginger crawfish, and "potato chicken," which translates to something like "really greasy French fries."

But let's be honest. Anything would taste good fried and covered with sweet-and-sour sauce. Even an A-frame building. A familiar midtown restaurant site is still an international house.

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