Restaurant review: Helen Asian Kitchen

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

When it's windy and cold outside, I sometimes like to warm myself up by visiting a strip club ... turned Chinese restaurant. I'm referring to an overperforming establishment nestled between a Waffle House and a Motel 8 called Helen (no apostrophe) Asian Kitchen, nee' The Gold Fox.

Still equipped with a full bar and visually dominated by wall-to-wall mirrors, Helen has dangled strategically diverting, if non-sequitur, red Chinese lantern-style ornaments from its drop ceiling. Instead of obstreperous MCs and pole "artists," now it's just a TV tuned to CNN and the warm and friendly Helen herself. Oh yeah, and inexpensive, many cuts-above Chinese food that shoots out surprisingly rapidly - and can be home-delivered!

The simple but satisfying Chicken Wings ($4.50) can initiate the heating-up process if you request them spicy style. Then the delightfully crispy (unsauced) things will arrive with their not-too-greasy, salty and peppery crusts ignited by chopped and sauteed jalapenos. Nice.

To dig even deeper into old man winter beating - let alone full blown blizzard defeating - try the comforting Beef Noodle Soup ($8). It's a mammoth and fragrant bowl whose steaming abundance of wheat noodles is enhanced by hulking chunks of tender and stewy meat, snipped scallions and flecks of red chili flakes. What makes it stand out - along with its cartilaginous mini-boulders of soothing beef - is its liquid hug of warming broth. That rich and placating base sports complex flavors from the commingling of its aforementioned ingredients along with a dose of Chinese five spice plus a whiff of fish sauce.

Standing out even further is the Xiaolong Bun ($7.50), i.e. unfortunately uncommon-in-Columbus dim sum-y Chinese-style soup dumplings. Appropriately resembling little knit caps and arriving in a bamboo steamer basket (lined with Napa cabbage), they're handmade space heater packages that hide their steaming soup on the inside. This means care must be taken when nibbling open these pliant dumplings - else you'll be wearing their delicious pork broth on your brand new Christmas sweater. Entrapped with that lovely broth are tender, ground pork/scallion/shrimp meatballs; try 'em with a contrapuntal splash of the dark soy dipping sauce provided.

Helen Asian Kitchen

1070 E. Dublin-Granville Rd., North Side