Gourmet Chinese cuisine spiced just as you like it

August 9, 2018

I love to ferret out hidden dining gems here in the nooks & crannies of Rehoboth, Dewey and Lewes. Though it's been there for a long time, the lack of any substantial signage keeps Confucius Gourmet Chinese restaurant just a bit under the radar. And owner Shawn Xiong is fine with that. "If they like my food, they will come," he insists. "I want them to come for my food, not because there's a light on my sign." I've been trying for years to get him as a guest on my radio show. No luck. He simply shakes his head, retreats to his kitchen and sends out a fiery, pepper-laden dish for my dining pleasure. OK, Shawn, you win.

He tells me that there are about 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, and that most people associate that food with the same boring dishes. But from his vantage point behind the steaming woks at Confucius on Wilmington Ave. (immediately behind 208 Social and across from Salt Air), there's a lot more than just sweet-and-sour this and egg-foo that. "I try to provide a wider selection of interesting dishes," he says.

Both Shawn and his wife Danielle were born in Hunan Province, China. They have a profound respect for meticulous preparation and quality ingredients. "We don't serve anything we wouldn't eat ourselves," Shawn tells me. "Our recipes are for those who want to go a step further in their enjoyment of Chinese food." And this quiet, unassuming guy is no stranger to high achievement! He was accepted into college at 14, and was teaching university-level English at the tender age of 18. In 1986 he traveled to the United States to further his studies, and never left.

The statuesque Danielle was a bronze medalist in the 100-meter dash (ranked #3 in all of China at 13 years old!), and also taught college athletics. She smiles as she towers over Shawn: "I married him for his brain." And the apple doesn't fall far: Their son Jason excels both in school and in baseball, and plays the violin and the saxophone.

For those who like their food on the fiery side, blends like Sambal Oelek and ground chilies add heat without changing the taste. The floral notes of Shuyouhuajiao hover in the background while pickled peppers with soybeans and Sriracha convey garlic and onion. Each dish is crafted with a spice that complements everything from tofu to sea bass to crispy pork. Danielle regularly returns to China to purchase teas and dried peppers.

Shawn insists that each dish be perfect before the heat is added. "It has to be tasty before it's spicy! We make everything to order, so we can be flexible: vegan, vegetarian, without MSG, and of course, as hot – or not – as our guests desire."

In other words, this ain't yo'momma's Chinese joint down the block. If you like your dinner fresh and made-to-order, you will love Shawn and Danielle's Confucius. Double-check their hours or make a reservation at 302-227-3848.

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