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Thai food too sweet, and I'm worried about Chinese

I just finished a Chinese meal at Oriental Gourmet which is usually quite authentic. Tonight it was way too sweet. Thai Noy in Westover shopping center was almost good last week when we went there, but again, TOO SWEET. This is something I'm really noticing lately. I guess that's why I love Thai Square. I wish I knew of an equally good Chinese restaurant. I hate the creeping sweetness thing. Asian restaurants... please don't do this. It's so wrong. Don't cater to the American sweet tooth in this way.

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  1. China Star (Sichuan in Fairfax) is the equal of Thai Square. Go for the lamb in sizzling wok, eggplant in garlic sauce, and the dried tofu with shredded pork.

    Personally, I've found that when Thai places start easing up on the heat, that's when the balance goes all wrong. I went to the big Thai Festival in Silver Spring, and the food was across the board hotter than what you find in the restaurants.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Steve

      What's the big Thai Festival in Silver Spring?

    2. It's not just Americans who have a sweet tooth; Chinese food in Shanghai is also well known to tend to be a lot sweeter than Chinese food elsewhere. Even Sichuan food in Shanghai can be 'sweet'. That's not to say, however, that Oriental Gourmet is run by, or caters to, Shanghainese, but it could be.

      2 Replies
      1. re: James G

        Hi James. It's great to see you still posting on this board from far away.

        Thanks for bringing this up. I know a lot of people equate sweet Thai food with Americanization of tastes. The one time I was in Thailand, in Bangkok and Chiang Mai--and eating mostly with Thais in restaurants that did not cater to westernized palates--I found the food to be relatively sweet. I once asked a Thai friend about it, and he told me that many Thais like their food sweet. Many times, the tray of condiments holds a bowl of sugar along with dried peppers, peppers in vinegar, and nam pla. That's for the Thais who think the food isn't sweet enough.

        1. re: bacchante

          From what I understand they also eat less than we do, and they are more prone to sharing multiple dishes. So a little of that very sweet food goes a long way. Some dishes are simply not meant to be eaten alone.

      2. Not far from Thai Square (also one of my favorites) is Full Kee in Bailey's Crossroads (could be called Falls Church under some directories). It is at the intersection of rtes. 7 and Columbia Pike, in the same parking lot as Best Buy, Panera and Trader Joe's. The food is authentic Cantonese, which stresses freshness rather than heavy sauces.

        1 Reply
        1. re: birdwatcher

          I've been wanting to try Full Kee for quite a while. Thanks for the reminder. Usually I like Oriental Gourmet very much--perhaps last night it was not quite as good as usual.

        2. If you want excellent Cantonese, also check out Hong Kong Palace, on Route 7 near Seven Corners, in the same shopping center/parking lot as the Shoppers Food Warehouse. They have some amazing food there and while they have the "standard" chinese dishes the emphasis is on Hong Kong/Cantonese style, which is excellent.

          Also love Full Kee!

          14 Replies
          1. re: TerriS

            Anyone going to a chinese restaurant/noodle shop in Falls Church should be aware that most of these joints are vietnamese chinese, not authentic chinese. Places such as Full Kee, Mark's Duck House, Hong Kong Palace, Fortune, etc., do have some vietnamese influences. Probably the most authentic would be Lucky 3.

            1. re: Chownut

              Are you saying, then, that Full Kee in DC is Vietnamese-influenced?

              1. re: Steve

                That Full Kee in DC is authentic chinese. The one in Bailey's has vietnamese influences.

                1. re: Chownut

                  And what is the difference? I have been to both many times, and though I believe the preparation is more consistent in DC, all my favorites have the same ingredients and recipe. When the DC kitchen was shut down for renovation, I'd say that the Virginia Full Kee was equal in consistency to how DC prepared the food.

                  1. re: Chownut

                    Main difference may be spices used. A viet-chinese joint may use fish sauce, that usually absent from real cantonese. Also, viet dishes may emphasize sweetness and spice more, as traditional cantonese cooking has little, if any, spiciness.

                2. re: Chownut

                  Chownut is right in saying most of the places are owned by ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. However, that does not mean their food is any different than any other Cantonese restaurant. My wife and I are from Hong Kong and we are hard pressed to find anything different in their cooking from any Cantonese joint in NYC, SF, LA, or even HK.

                  1. re: dpan

                    Thanks, this is very good to know.

                    And thanks to TerriS for reminding me of Hong Kong Palace. Last night, we had a very good duck soup, salt-baked chicken, and fried oysters the size of a VW. I would say equivalent to Lucky 3 and definitely better than Fortune the last couple of times we ate there. Although if Fortune has live shrimp, they are worth every penny.

                    There is a place in a strip mall on rte 50 near Annandale Rd. called Miu Kee. Has anybody been? I haven't been in several years but seem to recall enjoying what we had there. The menu at that time was similar to Full Kee's

                    1. re: bacchante

                      I've been to Miu Kee many times in the past. Their offerings are about the same as Mark's, but they are much smaller and have a less extensive menu. Miu Kee goes on record for me has the place where I've ordered the most expensive entree in my life for a regular dinner. I ordered the live Geoduck and they cooked it two ways. Later on, come to find that the Geoduck cost me about $85.

                      1. re: bacchante

                        My one trip to Miu Kee was a success. I think it's a good place to keep in mind. Much better than Vinh Kee a bit west on Rte. 50.

                      2. re: dpan

                        Not that different, but not as good either. I've never eaten in a restaurant in this area that compares to the food that I've eaten in NYC, LA, or HK. The taste and presentation is much better at those locations. In this area, there's less attention to detail, presentation, and perfection since there's ample clientele (including a lot of nonasians), less competition, and a desire for these restaurants to offer more than they specialize in (ie. many pan asian restaurants, chinese joints offering both viet and thai with some doing sushi also). It just gets too watered down.

                        1. re: Chownut

                          Agreed on the consistency and presentation. But then again, presentation is never high up on the list for me as I prefer more home style cooking. But it is hit or miss depending on what night you go and whether the head chef is cooking at the time. Same goes for dim sum. As for NYC Cantonese, it's been downhill for awhile. My last NYC Chinatown dim sum was disappointing. Same for the roast meats which my family occasionaly bring down from NYC. I can get better at Mark's. Best Cantonese in North American I would vote for Toronto, or Vancouver.

                          1. re: Chownut

                            I like home style cooking also, like casseroles, but the dishes that I supplement them with around here is what makes the difference. Service is different also, with fresh plates and hot towels offered in NYC.

                            When in NYC, I don't do dim sum that much. Maybe once in awhile at Golden Unicorn or Jin Fong. What I do do is noodle shops like East Corner Wonton or NY Noodletown. Dirt cheap excellent grub.

                            Also, the chinese bakeries in NYC are heads and shoulders above anything down here.
                            For the most part, roast meats need to be eaten ASAP. Not as good after a long delivery time down here. I'd put Mark's cantonese roast duck against any duck up in NYC, but NYC's duck is probably cheaper by 50%. Mark's has great Roast Pig also, but once again, inflated prices.

                            1. re: Chownut

                              I love Cantonese-style dimsum with the carts, etc., and am willing to drive a long way to get it. A nice change and near my home is Oriental Gourmet in Lee-Harrison which has Taiwanese dimsum on the weekend. Gosh, just thinking about their fantastic dumplings (including the ones that have broth inside which burst in your mouth) and pickled veggies makes me hungry. They also have a Chinese menu and there are many Chinese families there on the weekend. From the Chinese menu, I love their pork and hot pepper dish.

                              I guess the Chinese restaurants we have around here are capable of being excellent, but usually they are mundane.

                        2. re: TerriS

                          Hong Kong Palace, Miu Kee, or Full Kee? Dinner on Xmas day 2006, I like spicy szechwan..my wife is more cantonese, traditional. Also like hot/sour soup and looking for fresh, hot (temperature) and comfortable.

                        3. Here are some other Chinese possibilities to check out:

                          In VA, Charlie Chaings on Pickett just off Van Dorn. This is different from other CC's. They have a real Chinese menu (ask for it) with the good stuff. Also Sichuan Village on Rt 50 just east of Sully Road. They also have a large range of good Sichuan, but again you must ask for it (tho I think in SV they have it all in the same menu). Both places have buffets. Avoid. Also Jade Garden (I think) at the NE corner of Rt. 50 and Gallows just outside the Beltway--upscale.

                          In DC, Full Kee--same owner and style as the one at Bailey's; some say it's better. Also a place called Great Wall on 14th right next to Veridian Rest. Hole in the wall but a few good dishes.

                          In MD, if you want to trek out there, there are several. At a minimum, Joe's Noodle House (Sichuan) on Rockville Pike and Bob's Noodle in Rockville proper (Taiwanese). North of Rockville on Hungerford there is Sichuan Canteen (Sichuan with a QinChing [sp??] bent). Much further north, in Germantown, on Wisteria, is Hunan Palace I think it's called. Near China Canteen is a dumpling place called Mama's Dumplings informally--I forget its real name--maybe somebody else remembers. There is also a place at the far west end of Shady Grove/Key West Ave near Darnstown Road (in the same cluster as the Children's Hospital Clinic) called Mama Wok which is undiscovered but good.

                          Make it absolutely clear you want the real stuff; of all the above, maybe Joe's Noodle is the only one that makes no concessions to the western palatte.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: johnb

                            The "mama's dumplings" place in Rockville is called China Bistro. It's in the same shopping plaza as Pho 75.

                            Tony Lin's, also in Rockville in the Montrose Crossing shopping center, has a translated Chinese menu that you have to ask for, and it's very good.

                            1. re: johnb

                              I'll vouch for Charley Chiang's. It's sichuan food is respectable. You sometimes have to work really hard to convince them to give you the Chinese menu. If you go at lunch, you'll also have to wait a fairly long time for your meal, as the kitchen is working on the buffet. It's worth the wait.

                              1. re: johnb

                                I'd like to second Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th and Church in DC.

                                They have a "ma-la menu". Try the ma-po tofu with pork, and the eggplant with garlic sauce. Insist on spiciness. Also the ma-la chicken: ask for it with skin and bone; it takes an hour for them to prepare (call ahead: 202-797-8888).

                                Avoid the noodles and wontons, and most of the non-ma-la options.

                                The manager mentioned to me that they'd do hot pot for 6+ people if you gave 24 hour notice.

                              2. I think this is an unfair criticism based on myth and generalizations. I've never tasted fish sauce in any of my dishes at Full Kee, and I even bring along friends that order the gringo dishes. Mark's Duck House...I've only been to it for Dim Sum, which can be great at times. I do not recommend ordering off Mark's menu.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: microwave15

                                  I agree with you. In the case of Full Kee, Chownut may be confusing ownership (and possibly menu translations in Vietnamese) with the actual product, which has no Vietnamese influence.

                                2. It's not just "informally" known as Mama's dumplings. That's the real name in Chinese: mama shuijiao.

                                  1. HK Palace is no longer a HK/Cantonese restaurant. Sitting in the restaurant last night, the name of the place and the huge photograph of HK harbor really bothered me since the menu listed Chengdu this and Chengdu that. I finally asked about the disconnect between the Cantonense name and decor and the Szechuan menu. The owner said that the restaurant had changed hands about a month ago. He couldn't afford to change the sign at the time of the opening, but he has since ordered a new sign. The place will be called Szechuan Cafe.

                                    Great meal there last night! In fact, the best Chinese food we've had since visiting China two years ago. Everyone expects heat in Szechuan dishes, but this cooking was filled with flavor, too.