First impressions: Jockey Wok 'n' Rolls, located in a homely Hoffman Estates strip mall, has perhaps the most unfortunate name for a local Asian restaurant alongside Ukrainian Village's Takie Outit and Lakeview's Ping Pong. Kitschy name aside, it has attracted the northwest suburb's considerable Asian population to this location since 1991.Jockey has an expansive interior (seating for 160), though a touch on the drab side. Clear out the tables, add some strobe lighting and you've got a '70s discotheque. Along the back wall is the buffet station, where the 30-plus item weekday buffet is grand larceny at $6.50. The live fish tank is filled with tilapia awaiting a certain fried/steamed fate.
On the plate: Where do you start with 250-plus items on the menu? Well, this is Chinese cuisine, and China is a large country, so let's break it up into regions: Hong Kong-style dim sum is available any time, though cart service is only on weekends. Anything with Szechuan in the name is likely wok-fried and spicy, such as the string bean with pork. The dubiously named fatty pork is a classic braised pork and spinach dish you might find in Hangzhou province, on the eastern coast of China near Shanghai. Peking duck is from Beijing to the north, and the crab rangoon appetizer -- well, that's an American creation.
Most menu items fit comfortably within the Cheap Eats budget; there are, though, a few seafood items that are well out of that range.
At your service: When it was busy, as it was during Sunday dim sum service, service was slapdash, though reliable in the end. When it was less crowded, the wait staff was cordial, offering their opinions on the vast menu.
Second helpings: Crispy fried chicken is Chinese style, which means the skin is brittle, paper-thin and void of fat -- almost like perfect Thanksgiving turkey skin, near the breast meat. A side of "salt baked" seasoning is there for dipping the moist, chopped chicken. Dim sum is a rudimentary but solid introduction to the cuisine, perfectly acceptable for those hoping to save 30 miles of gas for the drive to Chinatown.
The best offering is the turnip cake -- crisp squares of savory shredded turnip pan-fried with bits of pork. It's magnificent with a dab of chile oil, though it must be eaten within five minutes of serving. Once it cools, a turnip cake tastes exactly like it sounds.
Take a pass: The sticky rice in lotus leaf dim sum had a plain, colorless pork filling. Steamed shrimp rice roll with sweet soy, or "cheung fun," was slightly doughy, instead of silky. The aforementioned Fatty Pork dish, prepared "Tung-Po style" (named after a long-ago Chinese poet who loooooved the dish), was lackluster. It could have used -- dare I say -- thicker and fattier cubes of pork, and the soy sauce it was braised in needed to be more bold and molasses-level sweet, to better penetrate the meat.
Thirst quenchers: The bar has bottles of liquor, no seats and the prerequisite for any Chinese restaurant -- a neon Tsingtao beer sign. Mostly, the bar is used for blending their fruit smoothies. The honeydew smoothie with black pearls (a.k.a. boba, bubble tea, tapioca etc.) tasted -- by gum -- like fresh fruit! The lychee tea is an exotic cooler for a warm day.
Extras: Their weekend dim sum menu has about a dozen additional dishes, though many I asked for were unavailable. Occasionally, a karaoke contest is held here, but chances are it's sung in Chinese.
And a spinoff, Jockey Express, serves quick dim sum at the food court in Mitsuwa Marketplace (100 Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights; 847-956-6699), the Japanese grocer that's a 10-minute drive away.
Price range: Appetizers, $2.50-$5.75; soups, $2-$5.25; entrees, $4.75-$29.95; noodles, $6.25-$12.25; dim sum, $2.25-$6.50; smoothies, $3.50.
Jockey Wok 'n' Rolls
1017 N. Roselle Rd., Hoffman Estates (at Hoffman Plaza)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sun.
Credit cards: M, V
Noise: Conversation friendly, even when bustling.
Joust: Do you like eating with your hands while watching fake knights fight on horseback? Do we have a place for you: Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament (2001 N. Roselle Rd., Schaumburg; 847-843-3900).
Laugh: When you think improv, Schaumburg doesn't immediately come to mind. But Chicago Comedy Company performs a clean, family-friendly show weekly. Located in the Streets of Woodfield shopping center (601 N. Martingale Rd., Suite 171, Schaumburg; call 847-240-0386 for show info).
Keywords: RESTAURANT; REVIEW