October 7, 2010 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Shangri-la empire expands

Varied menu is spicy fit for Farmington Hills

When the Chinese restaurant called Gourmet Garden closed its doors, leaving a handsomely appointed dining room in Farmington Hills, the landlord knew just what to do.

He called Cholada Chan, proprietor of two successful restaurants, Shangri-la in West Bloomfield Township and Midtown Shangri-la in Detroit, and offered the space.

Chan really hadn’t any intention of taking on another project, but after thinking it over for a few weeks, she agreed and Shangri-la Garden became the third restaurant in her mini-empire.

They are not clones, however. Each of the three has its own personality. The original, which opened in 1996 in West Bloomfield, offers an extensive, authentic Chinese menu, including rolling dim sum carts and elaborate live seafood dishes, in a setting that features a striking domed ceiling made of stained glass.

Midtown Shangri-la, open just one year in the cafe-like space that formerly housed Twingo’s, caters to Wayne State University students with inexpensive Chinese lunch boxes as well as dim sum and other Chinese dishes.

The newest Shangri-la offers the most diverse menu selection, including sushi and both Chinese and Thai dishes. The sophisticated setting is done up in soft colors with wood and glass dividers and pots of bamboo that break up the space into a series of dining areas. It seems to have been made-to-order for the Shangri-la style. Very little refurbishing was needed when Chan took over in March.

The sushi bar has its own spacious corner, offering an extensive list of makimono (rolls), including several vegetarian selections, and nigiri (hand pressed). But never on Sunday, the sushi chef’s day off.

An array of seating arrangements in the dining areas includes a number of lazy-susan-centered round tables seating six, as well as smaller tables, all covered with crisp white paper over linen, where the colorful Chinese and Thai dishes are served with all the niceties of an upscale restaurant.

Notable selections from the Thai side of the menu include four curry dishes, each made with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, tofu or seafood, ranging from an especially delicious panang curry, bright strips of red and green pepper, lime leaves and an intriguing coconut based sauce, to the hot masaman curry with potatoes, onions and crushed peanuts.

Equally well-prepared rice and noodle dishes and stir-fries such as eggplant in black bean sauce and two spicy varieties, one spotlighting garlic and black pepper and the other fresh ginger and straw mushrooms, are other good choices on the Thai menu. But never on Monday, the Thai chef’s day off.

Although Shangri-la has always been noted for dim sum, it is not offered in Farmington Hills. However, the Chinese menu is extensive, and it quickly illustrates why the Shangri-la restaurants are so successful.

They manage to appeal to two different audiences — those who prefer authentic dishes, such Shanghai-style minced pork balls and deep-fried pork chop with spicy salt, that haven’t been Americanized, while giving just enough attention to those who stick to the comfort zone of almond chicken, pepper steak, and shrimp with lobster sauce.

Both constituencies get their due at Shangri-la.

Abraham67@comcast.net

(313) 222-1475

More Molly Abraham