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Chow Lunch at Hong Kong Palace

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geling May 5, 2007 01:12 PM

Nine Chowhounds met for lunch on Thursday at Hong Kong Palace, a Sichuan Restaurant just off of Rte. 7 in the same shopping center as Shoppers Food Warehouse, but in a small strip mall off to the side, where there is a Chevy Chase Bank.

Sichuan food at a place called Hong Kong Palace? It used to be an actual Cantonese restaurant but was purchased by someone from Sichuan, thank goodness, because it is now possible to get good Sichuan food in No. Va. The sign in Chinese says Chengdu House, I wonder if they just didn't feel like changing the sign in English? In any case the food is delicious and very hot. Under the leadership of Steve Siegel we ordered several dishes, I hope I can remember all of them. The dishes, in no particular order, were the cumin lamb, a cold cucumber dish, fried flounder, chicken with garlic sauce (also called yuxiang sauce), Mapo Doufu, Chengdu dumplings, Chengdu noodles and a cold cucmber dish. They were all very good, only one dish while good, the cold chicken touched by hot oil, was a bit too oily (more drowned than touched). We also had fried rice with shrimp and smoked pork (very intersting smoky flavor), twice cooked pork, a a seasonal green/vegetable that I think is called something like ma cai in English, and dan dan noodles. A dish that no one had seen any where else was the fried corn. Individual corn kernels in a batter and fried. Slightly sweet it is almost like a dessert. Only order one dish though, it is a huge amount of corn. The service was fast and very friendly. When we asked about the seasonal green, the waitress went in to the kitchen and brought out a stalk of the leafy green to show us what it would look like in the Asian grocery store. An excellent experience.

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  1. n
    nissenpa RE: geling May 5, 2007 01:23 PM

    Thanks for the review. I'm going to have to check it out.

    1. h
      Hal Laurent RE: geling May 5, 2007 01:30 PM

      I take it this is in Virginia?

      1. g
        geling RE: geling May 5, 2007 03:47 PM

        Hal, yes Virginia, near Seven Corners, from Rte 7 turn into entrance to shopping area across from Sears, on the right is a short strip mall, with a bank and a small post office, it is there. Ruth

        6 Replies
        1. re: geling
          h
          Hal Laurent RE: geling May 5, 2007 06:14 PM

          Try to remember that there are people here from all over the Baltimore-Washington area. Saying "Rte 7 near the Shoppers Food Warehouse" isn't terribly helpful to anyone that doesn't already know about the place you're talking about.

          1. re: Hal Laurent
            g
            geling RE: Hal Laurent May 6, 2007 04:35 AM

            Sorry about the vague directions. I am unclear what the address is, and that is a somewhat confusing place. Anyone else have clearer directions?

            1. re: geling
              j
              Jamie D RE: geling May 6, 2007 03:33 PM

              north side of Route 7 just east of Seven Corners intersection, look for the old abandoned Uno's, which one day will be the new Dogfish Head pub outpost. or put another way, if you're heading out Route 7 away from Old Town, it's on the right, past the intersection of 7 and Patrick Henry drive, just before Seven Corners.
              I tried the fish with vegetables in a peppery broth for lunch today. another excellent dish, plenty spicy and quite garlicky. not many vegetables, a few leeks and some celery, but who really cares, you're there for the outstanding broth.
              When Dogfish Head finally moves in (no sign of progress BTW) this spot will be a killer 1-2 punch.

              1. re: Jamie D
                n
                nissenpa RE: Jamie D May 6, 2007 04:49 PM

                When did Uno's vacate? I was in that area just the other week and didn't even notice.

                1. re: nissenpa
                  j
                  Jamie D RE: nissenpa May 7, 2007 06:26 AM

                  it's been months now. from a distance you can't tell.

            2. re: Hal Laurent
              Lydia R RE: Hal Laurent May 8, 2007 08:05 PM

              HKP's PREVIOUS owner's website is still live with pretty detailed directions:
              http://hongkongpalacerestaurant.com/m...

              Please note this website hasn't been updated since the switch to Sichuan cuisine.

              Sorry I missed this lunch - sounds like another great Steve-led meal.

          2. Bob W RE: geling May 5, 2007 06:40 PM

            thanks for writing up this excellent feast. one other dish i can think of that we had was some kind of sauteed whole green peppers (smaller than our bell peppers, but not hot). i thought this was a great dish. i could have eaten that whole plate of peppers. fortunately i don't suffer from the W family pepper curse.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Bob W
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              MikeR RE: Bob W May 6, 2007 03:33 AM

              Yes that one was called Tiger Skin peppers, probably named in English for the light grill marks on the peppers. Ruth also mentioned "Cumin Lamb" in her report. That's how it's listed on the menu now. If you look up earlier reports of this restaurant, you'll see Ziran Lamb (and Rib) mentioned. Same thing. Apparently "ziran" means "cumin."

              I also recall from an earlier report that once the Szechuan menu became established, they were going to change the name of the restaurant. Apparently they did so on the Chinese sign painted on the window, but not the big neon sign outside (which, originally, said Saigon Palace even though it was always a Chinese restaurant).

              1. re: MikeR
                g
                geling RE: MikeR May 6, 2007 04:33 AM

                There is a small neon sign that reads in Chinese from top to bottom. That is the sign that says "Chengdu House". I think the point Steve makes about the liquor license is a good one.

                1. re: MikeR
                  Bob W RE: MikeR May 6, 2007 01:13 PM

                  Thanks Mike -- China Star has (or had) a similar pepper dish that is also very good.

              2. s
                Steve RE: geling May 5, 2007 09:22 PM

                I think there were ten of us, but thank you so much for a spot-on report. Since I've had many of the dishes before, I was really thrilled with a couple of the new ones. Tiger Skin Peppers, which you surmised were cooked in black vinegar, were a great delight, and the chicken in garlic sauce also had that nice tang to it. It was a gorgoeus plate of food with wood ear mushrooms and cucumber. I'm definitely hitting this again, and it would be a good order for a non-Chowhound as well.

                The other 'new' dish was the Yang Zhou Fried Rice, and I really appreciated the flavor. Tasted like a Hunan smoked meat dish.

                I'm not sure exactly how to categorize this wonderful meal except to say I don't find the cooking to be like China Star or Joe's Noodle House, two other Sichuan places, but more like Peter Chang when he was cooking at China Gourmet. The meal was that good.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Steve
                  johnb RE: Steve May 8, 2007 05:17 PM

                  Maybe it actually was Peter Chang's cooking. As I reported here about a week ago, in a very obscure thread, PC is rumored to have returned to Va. Probably very few saw it, so here it is again; PETER CHANG IS RUMORED TO HAVE RETURNED TO VIRGINIA. I don't know if it's true, but he certainly is no longer at Tasty China in Marietta where he was previously. If I learn anything more I'll report.

                  1. re: johnb
                    Dennis S RE: johnb May 8, 2007 07:57 PM

                    Well I'm in SW NC, and going into GA over the next few days. It'll be hard to hit Marietta but I'll try.

                    The food overall at the lunch was very good and exciting. Outside of the noodle dishes and the cumin lamb, I'll leave the rest to the other posts (those that I do mention are WOW!!!).

                    Two things:

                    1) When someone like Chang goes somewhere, isn't it the thought that the place will be still good to great for at least a good while after he leaves?

                    2) (and I brought this up at the lunch) I think that many place DO cook authentic food to those that warrant the goods. Americanized chineses, for instance, can serve great non-menu items if they know you, you know them and their cuisine, etc.

                    A corrollary to #2 is that there is an untold number of places ready to do this that we don't hit and report on. Do hound hit these places and not report b/c they're not worthy or do we hit on an El Charro, a Pepito's, a Joe's Noodle House, and then glom on to them? Just wondering, as the many requests for authentic latino fare certainly don't seem to outnumber the count of storefronts and trucks in the area.

                    1. re: Dennis S
                      w
                      wayne keyser RE: Dennis S May 8, 2007 09:36 PM

                      Chang's greatest legacy is that he brought the spotlight to "authentic Sichuan" just as it became available (at least, as far as I know), and made the trend explode. There were one or two places with "Chinese menus" you had to ask for (and had to make them believe your request), but now it's here to stay.

                      As for Chang leaving a restaurant better than he found it - I certainly have found that TemptAsian still has plenty to recommend it (beats the you-know-what out of 'Panda Express' and the like), and people still flock to China Star.

                    2. re: johnb
                      p
                      PollyG RE: johnb May 8, 2007 08:45 PM

                      It was definitely not Peter Chang's cooking. Everything was good, interesting, and well executed, but not the layers of flavors (particularly cumin and cilantro) that are his hallmarks.

                      It's a winner on its own merits.

                      1. re: johnb
                        m
                        MikeR RE: johnb May 9, 2007 08:15 AM

                        I did see that message and was standing by for further news. Then I saw something recently (probably from a link here) that he was cooking at a restaurant in Atlanta. Though as quickly as he moves around, he could have been gone by the time that Atlanta article hit the press.

                    3. c
                      ciaohound RE: geling May 7, 2007 11:15 AM

                      This place is terrific, from the food to the service. I'm systematically working my way through the menu, made easier by being within walking distance. (Yes, one long held dream becomes reality.) For now, can't get enough of the dumpling dishes, the beef and noodle soup, any of the cumin dishes and so far all the pork dishes. This place is a real keeper. Let's hope it stays around longer than some off the shooting stars that have crossed over the NOVA skyline in the past year or two.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ciaohound
                        Bob W RE: ciaohound May 7, 2007 11:27 AM

                        Let's hope that Chef Chang's non-involvement with this place is a good omen for stability. HKP is five minutes from my office.

                        Meanwhile, Atlantans are waxing rhapsodic over our old friend's cooking: http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gy...

                      2. pleen RE: geling May 7, 2007 01:51 PM

                        Thanks so much for the report! For those that have been to other Sichuan places, how does it compare to The Great Wall Szechuan restaurant in DC (on 14th st) or Sichuan Village in Chantilly, VA?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: pleen
                          s
                          Steve RE: pleen May 7, 2007 07:00 PM

                          I didn't care much for Sichuan Village in my one visit; a Chowhound lunch there found the offerings to be monotonous. I would say HKP is more creative.

                          1. re: Steve
                            w
                            wayne keyser RE: Steve May 7, 2007 09:05 PM

                            In my view, Sichuan Village was a "breath of fresh air" (if you can say that about 'numbing' food) because it is definitely in the "authentic Sichuan" category and I found the staff very friendly - but Hong Kong Palace seems to be "authentic" (check), "varied" (check), and "friendly" (DOUBLE check!).

                            It should be noted that I found the "numbing level" at HKP milder than that at China Star or Sichuan Village, but certainly well within the range of understandable style variations among excellent chefs.

                            1. re: wayne keyser
                              s
                              Steve RE: wayne keyser May 8, 2007 04:13 PM

                              They have toned down the level of the heat at HKP. The ma po tofu used to be blazing hot, now it is only hot. I took my kids two nights ago and they complained it wasn't numbing. If you prefer, ask for them to put the Sichuan peppercorns on top, like they used to.

                          2. re: pleen
                            Lowbar RE: pleen May 8, 2007 01:36 PM

                            I'm not sure that I have been to HKP since its reinvention...when I went they had a wide variety of tasty casseroles but I don't recall much in the way of legit sichuan offerings. Sichuan Village is still a favorite of mine, but seems to be a little hit or miss. I try to avoid it at times when the kitchen needs to focus on replenishing the nasty buffet.

                          3. e
                            elnora RE: geling May 8, 2007 06:46 AM

                            if you are a fan of twice cooked pork, you gotta try it here. they use the pork belly, and its sort of dry, not like that glutinous stuff you see sometimes. i went after reading a rapturous review on chowhound a couple months ago, and i can still remember how fabulous the "spicy tengy" dumplings were, and i also had the spicy fish and tofu stew-- very delicious. but my favorite remains the twice cooked pork.

                            1. x
                              xwind RE: geling May 9, 2007 08:00 AM

                              One word, three syllables: HORRIBLE. Yeah, that best describes Hong Kong Palace. Isn't the place suppose to be Sichuan? Where was the hot stuff?!! From my first and last visit to the place: mapo doufu and kung pao chicken were all watered down and oily, Chengdu dumplings were hard to swallow, and fish just tasted weird. Don't waste your time going here. I give the place two paws down, yes paws...its so bad I had to put it in a new category of rating. Bring back the HONG KONG FOOD!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: xwind
                                g
                                geling RE: xwind May 9, 2007 01:59 PM

                                I am surprised it wasn't hot enough for you. The dish of mapo doufu we had the other day was very good, although it did not have the Sichuan perppercorns sprinkled on top as it should. Perhaps it was a bad day. Ruth

                                1. re: xwind
                                  s
                                  Steve RE: xwind May 9, 2007 02:41 PM

                                  Where do you prefer to get your Sichuan fix?

                                  1. re: Steve
                                    x
                                    xwind RE: Steve May 10, 2007 08:21 AM

                                    China Star in Fairfax had some decent Sichuan dishes. Other than that, there hasn't been too many sichuan places around here that impress much.

                                2. pleen RE: geling May 16, 2007 11:07 AM

                                  Finally had a chance to try Hong Kong Palace yesterday night and boy, was it delicious! The five-spicy tofu from the appetizer menu ROCKED! Everything we ordered (with exception of the cold cucumber appetizer) was delicious! IMHO, it is definitely NOT your regular run-of-the-mill gloopy chinese restaurant! I'm eating leftovers now (tiger-skin peppers, which are even better and spicier today!) and I will be back to try lots of other things on the menu! Thanks to all the Chowhounds who recommended this place!

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