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A find equal to Grace Garden?

I just tried Hunan Taste, a new (opened last week) restaurant in Catonsville in the same strip center as H Mart. Large traditional Hunan menu and, except for us, all Chinese clientele the night we were there. There is a two-page sheet of Americanized Chinese food — sweet and sour, General Tso's, etc. — but all of the rest is the real deal, including ox. I was with unadventurous eaters (my wife and two of our children) so I was the only one who ordered off of the traditional menu, but my dish was as authentic as Grace Gardens (albeit Hunan rather than Cantonese).

More of a restaurant and less homey and friendly than Grace Garden, but it is in a much less sketchy neighborhood. I'll go back next week with friends who'll order off the traditional menu, and we'll see. Right now I'm pretty excited.

Hope to hear some other opinions soon.

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    1. re: hon

      It was a stir fried vegetable dish (can't recall the name) with several vegetables and whole cloves of garlic. Surprisingly it had a few bits of chicken in it, which were not listed in the brief menu description.

      1. re: DSattler

        What have you had at Grace Garden?

        1. re: hon

          At Grace Garden I've had tofu stuffed with shrimp, which was superb, and a couple of others that were also great, but I can't recall what they were. Jellyfish, maybe?

    2. I was at H-Mart this afternoon, and went in to HT to glance at the menu. Unfortunately, they don't have a carry out menu, but they definitely had stuff that I can't recall seeing other places. I can't remember most of them, but what sticks in my mind is a dish with goose intestines.

      The menu beyond the goose dishes seemed well worth a try. It's definitely on my list.

      1. Have you ever had anything from the "secret menu" at Hunan Legend? If so, how does Hunan Taste compare? I figure that a comparison of two nominally Hunan places might be easier to calibrate than Hunan Taste's presumably Hunan style against Grace Garden's "Szechaun by way of Hong Kong" strong suit.

        I've never felt unsafe at Grace Garden, so I'm not sure what the "sketchy neighborhood" comment is about. Both Grace Garden and Hunan Taste are in strip malls with their own parking, so I see that aspect as a wash if you are comparing GG to HT. I doubt anybody's going to get mugged in the fifty feet from car to door at either place.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Warthog

          I tried posting this last night after my dinner at Hunan Taste, but the new interface appears to have eaten it. This version will be a bit briefer - I don't feel like retyping it all.

          DECOR: Upscale, contemporary "shades of gray and black" with contemporary repro Chinese style chairs and accent pieces, all in dark wood. They seem to be shooting for an atmosphere where one would not feel out of place in a suit. Definitely NOT the "Mom and Pop storefront" look. Compliments to the decorator, as the effect is sleek and stylish without being sterile.

          MENU: Unapologetically Chinese Chinese, with nary a nod to Chinese American or those who want a hamburger instead. Unusual items included the goose intestine dishes mentioned by a prior poster; preserved pork, chicken and duck; dried snails; sliced <something> lung, served cold; pork, duck and hen blood; pork tripe; etc. Plenty of stuff to weird out one's unadventurous or squeamish friends, but the rest of the menu seems very broad, interesting, and "authentic".
          There were lots of "for sharing size" soups. One odd quirk - while many of the seafood dishes were "market price", which one expects, so were almost all the vegetable dishes. Without a price to cue off of, it wasn't clear if the vegetable dishes were meant to be entree size, side dishes, or "for sharing". I saw a couple of "sharing" soups and whole fish go by to other tables, and it all looked and smelled wonderful.

          The menu is extensive, with the numbering scheme for the dishes going well over 100, but there seemed to be many dishes, if not whole pages, that appeared identical in everything (description, price, and even {I think} the Chinese character description) except for the item number. I'm not sure if there is some difference that's not apparent, or if this was a mix-up at the printer's shop.

          FOOD: I had hot and sour soup, and twice cooked spicy pork with garlic tips. The Hot and sour was quite nice, with the unusual aspect being that I've usually seen hot and sour as featuring vinegar and black pepper as the source of the title flavors. In this one, it was vinegar and two types of sliced chili. Different, but good. The pork was pork belly, rather than the re-stir-fried red cooked pork one often sees. They don't back off on the heat - I was doing my Niagara Falls with runny nose bit, to the extent that one of the two guys in charge inquired whether I was OK. Ample portions, too.

          GENERAL: They seem to be geared toward authentic Chinese, and toward the Chinese style of sharing many dishes, rather than each person getting their own, all of which is very promising. There was a sign on the door saying "test opening", and many items on the menu were temporarily covered, so things might get tweaked and fine tuned as they figure out what works and what doesn't.

          Price point - $15.46 total before tip for soup, entree, rice, tea - no appetizers or dessert, no fortune cookies. I didn't expect any fortune cookies, given the "We're going to be authentic and serious!" (in a good way) vibe. Definitely worth repeat visits.

          1. re: Warthog

            Explanatory note to the "Niagara Falls and runny nose" reference in my prior post above. Some spicy food sets off torrents of sweat on my forehead, and drain my sinuses. Toward the end of the meal, the sweat and my reddening face can get to the point that it's been mistaken as a sign of dire physical distress by those who don't know me. After my original review didn't take, I didn't want to retype it all, so I cut and pasted from an email to a friend (who would understand the reference), and I neglected to edit it for posting here. Sorry for the confusion.

            1. re: Warthog

              I used to hit a great wings place during college before DJ'ing a college radio show. I'd get the BYFO sauce on the wings and on the side (BYFO = Burn Your Face Off). I'd dip the fries in the sauce (something I still do) and by mid-meal I'd be sweating in a similar way. One time another patron came in while I was eating at the bar. He was there to pickup. He looked at me and said "Looks like you're running a marathon over there". I could only nod.

            2. re: Warthog

              How did the food compare with the food on the "secret menu" at Hunan Legend?

              1. re: baltoellen

                I would say that the quality level, "Value for the buck" and skill of preparation is equivalent to Grace Garden and the Hunan Legend "secret" menu, considering each in the context of their respective stylistic strengths.

                Hunan Taste's menu is more extensive than either GG or HL, even with the duplications and taped over items on the current menu, and it includes ingredients and/or dishes that I've not seen elsewhere. Other than the "Chinese American" insert, though, Hunan Taste may be more problematic when dining with friends or relatives who do not wish to go beyond the familiar.

                I would not go so far as to say that one should stop going to either Grace Garden or Hunan Legend (other than perhaps to save drive time if one lives near Baltimore), but I think that Hunan Taste is in the same tier.

                From a geographic standpoint, this is a VERY nice addition to the Baltimore Chinese food wasteland. I think Asian Court on Route 40 and the one just outside the beltway on York Road (Szechuan House?) have much more reason to be nervous than either Grace Garden or Hunan Legend, from a proximity standpoint, because of their relative quality, and based on the degree of appeal to those looking for "real" Chinese food.

                I think that it's still to early to make firm proclamation, but Hunan Taste has the potential to become the "go to" place for Baltimore fans of Chinese food.

              2. re: Warthog

                "goose intestine dishes mentioned by a prior poster; preserved pork, chicken and duck; dried snails; sliced <something> lung, served cold; pork, duck and hen blood; pork tripe; etc."

                I've been wanting to try goose intestine for a long time now, but I certainly didn't see it on the menu last week. Nor did I see *dried* snails. Man, they NEVER give me the food I want to eat!

            3. I stopped by on my way home from work the other night (after hitting Hmart) to look at the menu, they have a limited carryout menu now thats mainly Chinese American. I told them I wanted to look at the regular menu, grabbed one from the counter and they said, "thats the real chinese menu." I said, "thats what I am looking for." It looks like they have 2 different menus. The real menu looked interesting, they did have alot of stuff, mostly in the seafood section taped over. I would go back to check out the food, the menu was alot more extensive then the Hunan Legend menu. For some reason, the one thing I remember off the menu was "sauteed sponge gourd".

              1 Reply
              1. re: hon

                I went back for a second visit, and it now appears that rather than the main menu being the "Chinese American" and the "secret menu" insert being the "Chinese for Chinese", this place has the "real" Chinese food on the main menu, but they now have a one-page laminated insert of "familiar" Chinese restaurant stand-bys.

                I also did verify that the many "market price" vegetable dishes are nominal entree or "sharing" size, not smaller side-dish portions. As with the rest of the menu, the vegetable section has some very interesting-sounding items, either due to the ingredients being unusual, or the preparation going beyond the typical. For example, there was one reference to Tea Tree Fungus In Casserole With Pork" or something like that. Is that dried tree ear fungus reconstituted by soaking in tea? Or a fungus that grows on the tea bush (tree)? In any case, it sounds interesting.

              2. So this is completely different from the Hunan Taste in Reisterstown? Im having a hard time finding anything online. Probably because its so new. Anybody have an address for it?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Insidious Rex

                  Hunan Taste
                  718 N. Rolling Road
                  Catonsville, MD 21228

                2. we tried it friday night and officially declare this place a destination restaurant. First the place is nice inside. The waiters were young and enthusiastic. They do not have a liquor license so bring your own. There is a large liquor store across the street. The menu is very large and you will find little resemblance to anything you typically would see at at chinese restaurant. The Hunan Taste version of hot and sour soup was excellent, much thinner than normal with a great but different flavor and no egg in it.. The Hunan ribs were ribs cut very thin against the bone so that there is a ring of meat around a small circle of bone. in a spicey sauce. very good. We had the twice cooked pork with garlic and it was very tastey. The peking duck is roasted duck rendered of its fat. no pancakes or green onions. delicous. The house sauteed noodle had some shrimp, beef and chicken in it and very little resemblence to lo mein or pan fried noodles. again very tastey. Entire dinner for 5 was $57. plus tip plus the cost of 6 pak of beer. can't wait to go back. biggest problem is the daunting menu and what to try. Similar in quality to Grace Garden as well as the unusual factor but nicer decor and setting.

                  1. For pictures, see my blog entry: http://tizinu.wordpress.com/2009/11/1...

                    Baltimore City still lacks decent Chinese food. (Sorry, Zhong Shan, you still need a lot of work.) But it seems like Catonsville has a solution to this dirth of real, authentic, I can take my mom to this place and she won’t hate it, Chinese. It’s called Hunan Taste and it’s next to our favorite Sunday hangout place– the HMart in Catonsville.

                    The restaurant is in a strip mall, but it’s possibly the best located strip mall location for an authentic Chinese food experience. With hundreds of hungry Chinese families going to the HMart on a daily basis, it is working by word of mouth through the Chinese community as a place to get real Hunan cuisine– “dry” cooked with fresh chili peppers and garlic being the essence of the dish. It’s also got a wide range of dishes for large parties: there are the American dishes of General Tso’s to the REALLY authentic dishes that my grandma makes because it’s hard to find, like the goose intestines, hot pot, or fermented soybeans with chilis. (Think stinky tofu, but not tofu.) And it’s definitely trying to get those large parties in, with a fabulous wooden carving in the entry, a secluded back room with karaoke, and a polished but definitely Chinese decor that blends Last Emperor with the Red Maple– posh, clean, but hinting of the Old World. Jonathan Gold would hate this place, but my mom and I loved sitting there, calmly eating our dishes and trying to not get too excited. Our food was great, fantastic, and dare I say it… damn good authentic Hunan cuisine.

                    We ordered the following:

                    Chicken Bumkin appetizer, which was chopped chicken with bone in, dry sauteed with black beans, hot chili peppers, garlic, and green onions. There was no sauce to this dish, just tons of flavor from the fragrant ingredients. I highly recommend this.
                    Chicken Bumkin

                    Chicken Bumkin

                    Twice Cooked Pork Belly - with large leaks, red chili peppers, and red cooked pork, this was exceptional, although I lamented the pork belly wasn’t cooked long enough to make the fat melt like butter in your mouth. Still, dry sauteed, with so much flavor I can’t really complain. It was perfect in its own way.
                    2X Pork

                    Twice Cooked Pork

                    Sauteed Frog Hunan style – sauteed with button mushrooms, red chili peppers, green onions and garlic, this was probably one of my favorites. The frog was perfectly cooked, but more importantly, the mushrooms were too– firm, without any sogginess, and extremely well paired with the frog as the textures were so similar and yet the flavors so different that it make a silky party in your mouth.
                    Frog... Ribbit

                    Frog... Ribbit

                    Braised Cabbage Soup – who knew there was a vegetable called “wahwah?” My mom and I didn’t… but apparently, it’s baby Chinese cabbage, and it’s was served in a white broth that had scallions, country ham (think Virginia salt ham), little medicinal tree seeds (I can’t remember the English word for it) and (wait for it…) A WHOLE THOUSAND YEAR OLD EGG!!!!!! Not cut up in tiny pieces, but served quartered, to give a slightly bitter, umami flavor to the delicate soup. I nearly shit a kitten eating this– it was so delicious, so perfect, and so unexpected.
                    Braised Cabbage Soup

                    Braised Cabbage Soup

                    The service was polite and the management friendly, in particular the owners, a couple who franchised out the Jasmine bubble tea chains that are found in the malls in the area. They, like myself, were tired of running to Rockville, Flushing, LA to find food for themselves and decided to open this restaurant so that they could have a place to eat near their home. A restaurant catered to feed its own, to show off real Chinese food, and to provide it in a relaxing setting.

                    I can’t help but want to scream “Run, Don’t Walk to This Restaurant!!!” because it’s going to be impossible to get a table there in a few weeks. You know, when Thanksgiving rolls around and it’s packed with the people not working at the mediocre Chinese restaurants in the area.

                    Hunan Taste
                    718 N. Rolling Road
                    Catonsville, MD 21228

                    Dishes – $12-20, average

                    Service: Polite and expedient.

                    PS– they also have sinks outside the bathroom to wash your hands in before eating. Very asian. :)

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: tizinu

                      Tizinu wrote: "Chicken Bumkin appetizer, which was chopped chicken with bone in, dry sauteed with black beans, hot chili peppers, garlic, and green onions. There was no sauce to this dish, just tons of flavor from the fragrant ingredients. I highly recommend this.
                      Chicken Bumkin"

                      This is odd - that description does not at all match what I got when I ordered Bumpkin Chicken as an appetizer. What I got was small, bite-sized chunks of what appeared to be steamed or boiled chicken, swimming in what appeared to be chili oil, but yet oddly didn't seem to have much spicy heat at all. The chicken was very pale and almost flavorless.

                      The dish that you describe sounds good! I'd almost suspect that either I or you got the wrong dish, but that leads me wondering which one is the Bumpkin Chicken, and what the other dish is.

                      1. re: Warthog

                        This describes what our post-Thanksgiving group had as well. although I didn't really think the chicken flavorless, but mild. And, I agree that Tizinu's description sounded much better than what we had. (I did get *stuck* with the chicken leftovers, and must admit that they were much better for dinner slightly reheated.)

                        1. re: baltoellen

                          I looked at the photo on tizinu's blog and it appears to be a totally different dish than what we had.

                          1. re: JonParker

                            This almost looks like a "Hunan-style Chicken" dish? I agree that it is a totally different dish than what we got when we ordered "Country Bumpkin" chicken for an appetizer.

                          2. re: baltoellen

                            Perhaps "flavorless" is too harsh, but I found that whatever flavor there was got overshadowed by my concentration on avoiding swallowing sharp pieces of chicken bone shrapnel. In other words, whatever flavor it had was not registering much, because I found the shattered bone fragments so distracting. I know there is always some amount of shattering when cutting chicken in this way. Even my old fave Ras Doobie had the issue to some extent in his jerk chicken. But the night I had it, whoever was doing the chicken-chunk cutting was just not performing the task cleanly, and there were many more fragments than one expects even with that sort of preparation. Maybe the cleaver was dull, or the chef's arm was tired, but whatever it was, the result required very careful eating.

                            I, too, want to try whatever they served Tizinu! The picture almost reminds me of a dish that I had in L.A., that seemed to be equal quantities of bite-sized chicken chunks and dried red peppers dry-fried together with a bit of Szechuan peppercorns. G.G. and China Star in NoVA both have dishes on their menus that are similar, but neither has matched my memory of that L.A. rendition of the dish, which I've had a few times on different trips out West. Other than the fact that the L.A. version and the China Star and G.G. variants all having a light breading on the chicken, the photo Tizinu links to could be a variant on that same dish. If so, the addition of the black beans and scallions could add some nice additional layers to their version.

                            Since it sounds like the Chowhound outing team and I got the same dish, I assume that there was perhaps some sort of miscommunication between the server and the kitchen on Tizinu's visit. If anybody figures out which dish on the menu it is, please post! I seem to recall an item on the menu that was something like diced chicken with chilis, and I wonder if that might be it.

                      2. I am writing this in a food coma.

                        Four of us went to Hunan Taste tonight, and were very impressed. The reviews here are totally on the mark regarding everything from decor to food. The menu is overwhelming, and it took us forever to decide on what to order. Anyway, before I forget, here's a brief rundown:

                        I need to say up front that we had a goose intestines with radish dish. It was delicious, in a sort of not too hot spicy way, with a slight bitter kick from the dried radish. The texture was chewy (as you might expect) but also crunchy.

                        Also had the hot & sour soup, and I don't think I can add anything else to the description here. It was fantastic, and unlike any of version I've ever had.

                        We also had some "Chinese leek" and dried tofu dish. It, too, was on the spicy side. Very good.

                        A surprise to all of us was something called Indian lettuce. We had one person in the group who understood written Chinese, and he thought it was was chrysanthemum stems, but it turned out to be some sort of stir fried lettuce. I thought it particularly interesting for lettuce, with a slight smoky flavor. Also, it was cooked perfectly, with just a bit of crunch.

                        The one not great dish with lamb in a hot pot. It tasted overly gamey and just wasn't all that interesting.

                        For the quality of the food (not the mention the decor and service) we were amazed that our check came to a little over $60 including tip. While this place is far, far, far from replacing Grace Garden for me, I look forward to many return visits to explore the menu in depth.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: baltoellen

                          Thank you for placing yourself at risk for the team.

                          1. re: baltoellen

                            sounds great, will definately check it out!

                          2. This round - Marinated Cucumber Appetizer, Indian Lettuce, and Tea Tree Mushroom with Pork in casserole

                            Marinated cucumber - peeled and seeded chunks of cucumber it a very light and subtle marinade, served cold. Refreshing, very nicely done. In retrospect, though, I would have loved to have a dish of the little pickles flecked with dried red pepper and chili oil that Hunan Legend sometimes provides when one first sits down. This dish was good, but the spice and crunch of the H.L. pickles would have been a more perfect balance with the other dishes I had. Still, one can't penalize this dish for not being the other dish.

                            Indian lettuce - some sort of green that didn't look like any lettuce I'm familiar with, light sauce (maybe chicken stock, garlic, and perhaps some sesame oil to give it that smoky hint?) Again, very nice dish, executed well. As somebody else has noted, it was cooked perfectly, hitting just right balance between wilting and residual crunchiness.

                            Tea Tree Mushroom with Pork - If you love mushrooms, get this dish. I'm hesitant to rave about it as much as I'm about to after only one try - maybe it just really hit me out of all proportion. Maybe I was just jonesing for mushrooms, but didn't know it. Maybe I just got really, really lucky. That said, WOW!

                            In this dish, one finds some unfamiliar form of mushrooms, a little bit of diced green onion, a little bit of sliced chili, small dice of pork belly (you don't really notice the pork flavor - it merely enhances the mushroom) all percolating away in a mini-wok casserole on a sterno stand. I'm not sure if there's actually a sauce, or if the liquid that is present is merely the intermingled juices of the various ingredients released by the heat. Whatever it is, you'll want every last drop.

                            The net effect of the dish is like a distilled essence of mushroom. If you were to be able to look up "mushroom" in the flavor dictionary, this is the taste you'd find. And along with the flavor, there is some very interesting textural and "mouth feel" things going on - soft, crunchy, "melt-in-your-mouth" all intermingling in every bite.

                            As I said, I want to try it again, just to see if it really was that good - we're talking mega-mushroom orgasmatron, folks. It doesn't seem possible that any dish, no matter how well prepared or how much I may have been "in the mood" for it, would taste that good. Halfway through the meal, I was plotting ways to kidnap the chef. Just amazing.

                            Score for the evening - I'd probably not order the marinated cucumber again. Not a bad dish, just not as interesting as I would like. Indian lettuce would be a definite re-order any time I was looking for an interesting dish in the sauteed greens category. Very nicely executed. Tea Tree Mushroom with Pork - every time I go back to Hunan Taste, it's going to be a temptation to re-order this dish and explore no further. Or perhaps the debate will be what to order in addition to the Tea Tree Mushrooms, akin to the way some folks can't bear to visit Grace Garden and not get the Fish Noodles, or the cold Triple Treasure dish, or whatever one's "OMG!" favorite is there.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Warthog


                              grade garden and perhaps this

                              both in the baltimore msa and not dc's
                              who woulda thought??????????????? lol to the 100th power

                            2. Not sure why the CH Police deleted my long post. I'll try and repost it from memory. In the meantime, I scanned the menu.

                              As two jpegs:

                              As PDF (probably not printable):

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: bmorecupcake

                                Amazing looking menu. Taakes the adventurousness of Sichuan Pavillion and goes much farther. I wonder if "Bullwhack" is what Super H mart lables as "beef pizzle"? I hope they are open Thanksgiving as we have no plans other than to eat some Chinese food!

                                1. re: bmorecupcake

                                  You should upload those to Urbanspoon.

                                  They have brand-new, expensive, multi-page menus now. I like this smaller paper version better.

                                  1. I went there for lunch today after stopping across the street for a can of Kirin. The restaurant is Grace Garden grown up, as far as decor goes...very pretty, with a man in a tie directing folks to tables. Just about everyone in there was Asian but me! I sat down and was told I was looking at the Americanized menu, so I quickly switched to the bigger, thicker one...191 items on it! Since double cooked pork is my go-to to see if a restaurant is up to par, I ordered it. The waitress brought me out a complimentary dish of edamame and unsalted, shelled peanuts. ( is there a special significance to the peanuts? I've never seen that before).The pork came out 5 minutes later and I must say, I have NEVER had better. Thin and thick slices of belly, with scallion, red chili, jalapeno, ginger....and maybe a hint of lemongrass...and many large, sweet cloves of garlic. It was fabulous! Very little sauce which also made it different. i didn't even open the rice pot...and almost could finish the whole thing...have a few spoons left over from dinner! During the meal, at least 3 different waitstaff came over to see if I needed anything....excellent service. The waitress who brought me the dish made sure the plate was placed just so, so that the Chinese character at the top of the plate was facing me.
                                    I can't wait to go back....want to try the tea tree with mushroom mentioned above...that's if I can ever get away from that pork!
                                    Also, here's a tip. If you're planning on hitting HMart...do so AFTER Hunan Taste. You won't spend near as much since you will be stuffed!!!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: crosby_p

                                      "is there a special significance to the peanuts? I've never seen that before"

                                      I don't know if there's any special significance, but that's a very common -- bordering on ubiquitous -- pre-meal table snack in China... in the region I always visit, anyway.

                                    2. Having just had a spectacular meal here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6687... I would argue that comparing it to Grace Garden is a disservice. I am not of a type to want to try to reduce wines, meals, restaurants etc to a single rank. This is one truly outstanding restaurant and Grace Garden in another. But the overall experiences are so different. Hunan Taste is lighter and far less spicy, with a range of flavors that is quite different than the more Sichuan oriented GG. I am not expert in Hunan cuisine, but Hunan taste is a totally different flavor palate than GG and I will ahve both in my rotation. GG is more robust and boldly flavored, without the delicasy of HT. Add Sichuan Pavillion into the mix and you ahve three amazing and amazingly different places to eat!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: deangold

                                        I fully agree. From the decor to the style of service to the food, Grace Garden and Hunan Taste are two wonderful but distinct experiences. Rather than try to rank them, I suggest we all patronize both to the extent we can (and tell others!), so that we can keep this quality level of Chinese food available in the area. Perhaps the success of places like GG, HT, and Hunan Legend's "secret menu" will lead other Chinese places in the area to conclude that maybe there is a market for authentic Chinese food after all.

                                        Remember, the chef at Grace Garden worked for many years at another establishment in the area, and finally chose to go off on his own and open Grace Garden as a way to show people the wonders of Chinese food when it's not altered to suit the perceptions of Americans' tastes. Who knows? Maybe there are other chefs of equal skills in area kitchens trying to convince their bosses to let them do what they are capable of. I'm sure that as Grace Garden, Hunan Taste, Hunan Legend and others prosper with "real" Chinese, the word will get around.

                                        1. re: Warthog

                                          I agree that GG and HT are two very different experiences, and letting places shine on their own terms is generally a good thing....however it's often useful to use a well-known place as a touchstone for making comparisons. For example, when comparing pizza, is it not helpful to know if the pie is more of an Iggie's type or more of a Pizza John's pie? And, in this thread, wasn't a poster asked to compare HT to the "secret menu" at Hunan Legend? Wasn't the steamed fish at HT compared to a steamed fish found at another Chinese restaurant somehwere? In addition, I think that the original post can be read to describe the quality of the "find" and not necessarily comparing the two on food, dining experience.

                                          I didn't write any of this as a way to say "got cha" but more of a realization that comparion is a way a lot of us make sense of a new place.

                                          Anyway, am heading to HT for my second visit today. I will report back. And, probably with comparisons. And, yes, I definitely agree on spreading the word, to make sure that exceptional places stay open, and to encourage more to open their doors in the area.

                                          1. re: baltoellen

                                            About 6 of us got together today for lunch at HT. Our dishes:

                                            Clam soup with white gourd
                                            Country bumpkin chicken
                                            "lung slices" (really, "triple treasure" - tongue, tendon)
                                            whole steamed fish (some type of rockfish)
                                            sauteed snails
                                            snow pea tips with garlic
                                            tea tree mushrooms and pork in casserole
                                            steamed pork ribs in rice powder

                                            Overall, this was an excellent lunch, and certainly the best Chinese food I've had outside of Rockville or Grace Garden I've had in the DC/MD area. Each of us had different favorites, which says something about the overall quality of the dishes we were served. The clam soup was terrific -- definitely a different flavor than any western soups, essentially a variation of the Chinese ginger/rice wine/clam soup with winter melon added. The "lung slices" is a variation of the "3 treasures" dish also served at Grace Garden with tongue and tendon, though they are missing the tripe, and was very tasty. The steamed whole fish was very tasty, especially the sauce, which was an especially unctous mixture of soy/sesame oil/juices from the fish that was divine mixed with rice. The ribs in rice powder was well seasoned throughout the rice, and perhaps my favorite dish, reminding me of dishes I've had in Taiwan, though this opinion wasn't shared by everyone. The tea tree mushrooms were very good, having the appearance and texture of the edible dried flowers you find in asian soups, and a deep broth, though perhaps not the orgasmic experience that Warthog describes above. The snow pea sprouts in garlic were well done. The sauteed snails were the favorite dish of multiple people, with garlic, peppers, and strong flavors. Perhaps the only somewhat disappointing dish (though there was certainly nothing wrong with it) was the "country bumpkin" chicken, which IMO didn't have much flavor.

                                            Kelly and I were here also for lunch two days ago, where we had an interesting "sweet wine and meatball soup", a surprisingly delicate, semi-sweet soup with "meatballs" that had no meat at all, but were delicate, etheral gnocci from rice. IMO, this was a better dessert than opening soup. Double cooked pork (belly) was excellent, with strong flavors of garlic, ginger, green onions, and peppers. Spicy fish fillets were good, though the mapotofu was a little underflavored.

                                            Overall, I think this place definitely has the best Chinese food I've had within 20 minutes of Baltimore City, with authentic flavors and dishes. IMO, it doesn't quite have the attention to detail and little touches that elevate dishes to the status of something truly amazing like Grace Garden. For example, the "triple treasures" here was tasty and well-marinated, but the same dish at Grace Garden adds textural contrast with crunchy peanuts and green onion slivers which also remove all traces of any strong "organ" flavors that might happen to still linger, making that dish at GG a truly amazing one, even if the tongue and tendon between the two were the same. I agree that we should celebrate this restaurant and what it represents, and will make this restaurant part of my regular rotation, but I think that comparisons for similar dishes between restaurants helps inform people who are reading to understand our experiences.

                                            1. re: daveinmd

                                              "The tea tree mushrooms were very good, having the appearance and texture of the edible dried flowers you find in asian soups, and a deep broth, though perhaps not the orgasmic experience that Warthog describes above."

                                              Sadly, the second time I had that dish, it was really good, but nowhere near the intensity or complexity of flavor of the first time I had it. Maybe they have more than one chef, or maybe I just got really lucky that first time. Hard to say.

                                              I also agree on the Bumpkin Chicken - not much flavor, and way too much time spent trying to avoid the chicken bone shrapnel. I don't mind "bone in" dishes. The Hunan-style ribs, for example, are bite-sized chunks of meat on the bone, but because the bones are not shattered, it's easy to eat the meat off and discretely discard the single chunk of bone. In the Bumpkin Chicken, however, the more fragile chicken bones are often shattered during the process of chopping the chicken into bite-sized chunks, and the dish ends up being more trouble to eat than it's worth, in my opinion. Glad I tried it once, won't order it again.

                                      2. Six of us had a post-Thanksgiving lunch at Hunan Taste today. We have all spent a good deal of time at Grace Garden, and actually ordered dishes similar to the ones of their menu (although not on purpose, but maybe subconsciously?) as well as some items that have been reviewed here, and one or two new ones.

                                        We started with clam soup with winter melon soup, which got the meal off to a great start. Light ginger infused broth with a few clams and slivers of winter melon. Simplicity as its best.

                                        Then, in no particular order, we had the following:

                                        A triple treasures type dish, which is actually listed on the appetizer menu as ox lung. (We learned this from our intrepid Mandarin speaker in the group.) It had pretty much the same proportions of tongue, tripe, and tendon as the Grace Garden version, and similarly spiced, however, what it was missing--and this would become a theme throughout our meal--was the layers of texture found in the GG version.

                                        From the app menu, we also ordered the Chicken Bumpkin. As described in this thread, it's cold bone in chicken, which was very moist and had good chicken flavor, but not incredibly exciting.

                                        Going on recommendations here, we ordered the tea tree mushroom with pork. Some in the group loved this one, and it did have a great, earthly, mushroomy mushroom flavor. I though it was interesting enough, but it was not the one I reached for for seconds.

                                        An immediate hit with the group was an Hunan style snail dish. This one was really bold and spicy with very, very chewy snails. It was very easy to imagine spicy the flavor palette being used effectively for chicken, shrimp, pork, tofu, etc.

                                        We also had a pork belly dish with rice powder. It came out in a round mold shape, and it looked like something into which you'd dip tortilla chips or crackers. It was on the sweet side, and the rice powder was well cooked, and soft. One in the group liked the texture of that rice powder, but I preferred it on the crunchier side to add a bit of texture.

                                        The whole fish (which was described as looking like a rockfish but not a rockfish) was very well executed with light flesh and flavorful sauce of ginger and garlic and some chilies.

                                        For our green veg, we had snow pea tips. Nothing earth shattering, but a good green cooked well.

                                        Speaking for the group, we all agreed that the food was very, very good, and it would take just a bit of creativity--a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, or scallions, etc. --to make many of these dishes great.

                                        We all want to return to continue exploring the menu. And, I'm sure that some the post-Thanksgiving lunch party will chime in and give their opinions, and correct me if I'm wrong or omitted anything....

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                          I was also a part of the post Thanksgiving lunch yesterday, and enjoyed just about everything but the chicken...probably just me, but each bite required removing some tiny bits of bone from the mouth....something I wasn't fond of. The fish was delicious, but again, the bone thing...The flavor of the fish was fabulous, and it was alive when we walked into the restaurant according to our server, about as fresh as you can get. My favorite among the dishes we had was the tea tree mushrooms and pork in casserole. It was a very flavorful dish, and something quite different than anything I've had before. Also loved the snail dish and the soup. It was a great meal, especially as even with a good tip, it was only 20 dollars per person! My favorite though, is still the double cooked pork with garlic that I had the week before. I will definitely be back, hopefully with the same group of folks...it was great fun!

                                          1. re: crosby_p

                                            And a fourth review from the same meal. Best dish for me was, as Ellen mentioned, the snails. This had lively flavors that made me crave more.

                                            Second was the fish -- in fact, this place does fresh fish very well. Ask what's fresh and order that and chances are you won't be disappointed. The soup was also very good. The rice powder pork was just too sweet for my taste -- it wasn't bad, but I didn't crave seconds. Tea tree mushrooms were quite good if you like mushrooms (and I do) but I didn't see anything spectacular about the dish.

                                            The title of this thread is somewhat misleading. It's not in the same league as GG -- not even close in my opinion. But it's a good place with a menu that's worth exploration, and well above most of what passes for Chinese in this area.

                                        2. Two of us visited Hunan taste on Wed evening. The menu is almost overwhelming but we only ordered two items. The tea mushroom with pork was good but not as a main entree. The pork, only present as flavouring, I found the dish a little plain. I would recommend trying this as a side hot pot rather than a main dish. The spicy fish fillets were very good all though not that spicy. As warned small bones were present which I did not mind.

                                          I look forward to returning to explore the menu, however my dining partner who had to battle holiday traffic from Lauel to meet me, did not rate the restaurant a destination place such as Grace Garden. On a recent visit to G.G. we had the sechaun fish which had much more intense and complex flavours than the H.T. spicy fish. The G.G. fish came on a bed of leeks in a hot spicy sauce and was topped with a generous heaping of crunchy garlic.

                                          18 Replies
                                          1. re: jfish

                                            There are two tea tree mushroom with pork dishes: #5 under soup which we had which was the one dish that was just OK, and a casserole #11 in the casserole section.

                                            1. re: deangold

                                              We had the casserole. A very large serving of the mushrooms with a little, mostly fat, pork belly in a mushroomy liquid served in a heated bowl. The only flovor I picked out was mushroom, which was good but not what I would want as a major part of the meal.

                                              1. re: jfish

                                                I had a very nice lunch there today, I will toss in my recommendation for the "Shrimp with Bitter Melon" appetizer. I love Bitter Melon when it is done right, and it is here.

                                                This is clearly a place that takes customer service seriously - everyone was quite welcoming.

                                                I think it requires a minimum of 4 visitors, though. As a solo luncher today I was overwhelmed with choices and would have liked to taste more.

                                                In any case, I left very, very happy.

                                                1. re: jfish

                                                  I've been going to GG now for about 2 years and have gotten to know the family there pretty well. I've had a birthday party at GG. I've had GG cater parties. I'm loyal to Grace Garden. I've now been twice to Hunan Taste, because it is 20 minutes closer to my house than Grace Garden. I really think HT has a lot of potential like many of the posters say. I had a bone-in spicy duck/green bean dish at HT that was truly exceptional. They have an exciting and diverse menu, an upscale atmosphere, and an eagerness to please. Because of the atmosphere, HT may appeal to some people who find the location and atmosphere of GG lacking. The food is also quite different. I haven't yet had anything that I think is of the caliber of the best dishes at Grace Garden. Having a group to GG is truly an otherworldly experience from a culinary standpoint. Chef Li and his wife, their eagnerness to please, and the hominess of the experience are unlike almost anywhere I have ever been before. It is nice to have HT around, and when I want to go to a Chinese restaurant where I can get a broad variety of very traditional dishes without listening to Christian radio, I suppose I can go to Hunan Taste. That said, Grace Garden is really exceptional. From the home grown vegetables to the Taiwanese Fish to the various tofu dishes to the fried eggplant to the soups--- Grace Garden is still in another league, though it's good to have competition.

                                                  1. re: baltymoron

                                                    Just to reiterate a point made elsewhere, these two restaurants specialize in two entirely different traditions within the eight Chinese cuisines. HT specializes in Hunanese cuisine, while GG specializes in Sichuanese cuisine, as well as certain Chef's specialities that seem to be HK in origin. Both are magnificent and deserve our patronage.

                                                    1. re: elgringoviejo

                                                      Well said. I need to be in a different mood to go to one or the other. I typically am more in the mood for Sichuan as it is my favorite. But for Sichuan, I ahve several good choices as well as GG. For Hunanese, I think that HT is the best I have had sine they hey days of Henry's Hunan in SF. I do want to go back to both. Wish they were closer!

                                                      1. re: deangold

                                                        So Henry Chung's Hunan Restaurant is no longer around? I can't say it's all that surprising...I haven't been there since the mid 1980's. I learned a lot of what I know about Chinese cooking from Henry Chung's cookbook.

                                                        1. re: Hal Laurent

                                                          I don;t know. the last time we were in SF we tried to find it and the building it used to be in looked like a new restaurant was going in. Of course it could have been a full remodel which i am sure it would have needed by then. it needed one when we used to go in the late 80's!

                                                      2. re: elgringoviejo

                                                        I really disagree with this, even though I have never been to HT. I think it's wrong to characterize GG as Sichuan. Yes, like many Chinese restaurants, they do have some Sichuan dishes, but IIRC they have some dishes of incredible delicacy which have nothing to do with Sichuan cooking. The homemade fish noodles, the fried fish, from which the meat is removed, cubed, and tossed with vegetables and placed back in the 'basket' of fish (you eat the bones and all). There are two or three stuffed purses, the stuffed duck special, the special wonton soup. I am no expert for sure, but I think the cooking is simply giving a nod to Sichuan cuisine, not completely embodying it.

                                                        Although I have not been to HT, I'm not sure what on the menu, as described here, is Hunan cooking. I don't know if anyone on this board, including myself, would know.

                                                        Before I ate at Peking Palace in Germantown, I did some research. I can tell you that the menu there conformed exactly to what my research told me. I'm not convinced that this is the case with Hunan Taste. If they have a really huge menu, then I 'm wondering where the smoked meats are? And what about the pickled vegetables? I think these are two hallmarks of Hunan Cuisine. Not that every restaurant has to serve them.... Or maybe nobody is ordering them.....

                                                        Anyway, I'm sure there's somebody out there that knows more about this than I do. But my one visit to GG would not lead me to believe it is a Sichuan restaurant and I'm not sure that Hunan Taste has a Hunan menu. Of course, the important thing is that it sounds like an excellent restaurant.

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          well, there are a lot of "preserved" things on the menu, who knows what that means. Pickled? Smoked?

                                                          1. re: aubzamzam

                                                            Good to know. I'm told that Hunan cooks are big into presereved dishes. In some case it could be smoked, in other cases pickled. Also, they tend to really pile on the fresh hot chiles and use a lot of sour in their cooking. It is not a delicate cuisine.

                                                            If anyone is planning on going back any time soon, I would encourage you to look at the preserved dishes and see how they measure up.

                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                              Hey we did our best, 2 of us ordering 5 dishes. If we had dared order a 6th, it was going to be preserved vegetables

                                                              1. re: deangold

                                                                Now I just have to make it my business to find business in Catonsville....

                                                              2. re: Steve

                                                                I also think we are falling into the trap here of talking about Hunanese cooking or even Sichuan cooking as a monolithic thing.

                                                                As an example, Italian cooking is very regional. Tuscan cooking is often talked about as if it was one type of cooking. Tuscan cooking is very different in Montalcino, the Maremma, Florence, Lucca etc.

                                                                Similarly HKP is different from Joe's is different from Sichuan Pavillion {but by less{ than from the Sichuan at GG.

                                                              3. re: aubzamzam

                                                                I believe that in the main the preserved vegetables are pickled or pressed and dried, while the meats tend to be smoked.

                                                              4. re: Steve

                                                                Grace Garden is not a purely Sichuan restaurant. Its chef trained in Honk Kong banquet style cooking with a Sichuan master. Most of the best dishes I have had in three visits {twice two people eating for 4, once 10 people} have been either directly Sichuan or Schiuan "refined". Very little was of a style of the great Hong Kong palaces in LA or San Francisco which is all I can base my judgements on.

                                                                As far as my researches in Hunan cuisine, which are far less extensive than Sichuan, I saw a cross section of what I have read to be classic Hunan dishes.

                                                                Just as there are distinctions between styles in Chinese cooking, there is also a lot of variation in a given style. There is also the fact that there is a large gap int he commercial history of local Chinese cooking due to the years of no capitalism. So there are the current traditions in the current, more pro private enterprise environments and then there is the cooking preserved from the pre revolution days. Which should we look to as our model? When the only place you could go to get a sichuan meal that was not cooked at hime was a palce in Hong Kong or Taiwan, these dishes surely took on local influences. Now in their places of origin they have been updated to fit the lens of the modern diner. Which should be considered authentic? Or neither?

                                                                And Steve, this provocative discussion is far less tasty than a meal at HT. Or GG!

                                                                In any case, as was said above, these are distinctly different styled restaurants. Just as I don't compare Honey Pig and Od Gad Gib when I head down to Annandale at Midnight to stuff my face with Korean but rather decinde on what I feel like eating and drinking and let my mood make the choice, so too is the choice here.

                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                  The chef at GG serves excellent Hong Kong-style dishes in addition to his Sichuanese ones. Sorry if my previous post glossed over the HK aspect, GG's chef prepares excellent HK dishes as well as Sichuanese.

                                                              5. re: baltymoron

                                                                I agree that, from my one visit, Grace Garden is a very special place. The delicacy and refinement of some of the dishes is just as impressive as the intensity of others. It's a well-named restaurant.

                                                        2. After several visits, I'm coming to the conclusion that there's a bit of chance involved at Hunan Taste. I'm not sure if there are two lead chefs, or one chef with a staff that has not yet been fully trained, or a lead chef with one set of recipes that he uses himself, and another simpler version ("idiot proof", perhaps?) that he gives his staff to use.

                                                          I've had two dishes where the rendition I received was markedly different from that commended by another on the board. In these case, I only had each dish once, but found myself scratching my head over the apparent difference between what I had and what others were reporting.
                                                          Bumpkin Chicken - I and others have posted about a version of this dish that is clearly distinct from, and inferior to, that which Tizinu had, enjoyed, and photographed.
                                                          Mao's Pork Belly casserole - highly praised by others, I found it good, but not THAT good.

                                                          I might have written both of those off as anomalies, but I've now had similar instances of repeats on two dishes, where one rendition was good, and definitely better than the Baltimore competition (not counting Grace Garden in the Baltimore pool), but nowhere near the sublime version I had the other time. Those two dishes were the Tea Tree Mushroom with Pork and the the Dry-Fried String Beans with Pork.

                                                          The last instance is the "ox lung slices" appetizer. I had this on a prior visit and it was wonderful. Not exactly the same as the Grace Garden version, but similarly complex, subtle and full of layers of flavor and texture. I couldn't understand what other posters were marking it down for when comparing it to the similar dish at Grace Garden. Then I had the dish again, and that time, I got exactly what other posters have described - tolerable, tasty, but fairly one-dimensional in both flavor and texture.

                                                          In this case, I'm pretty certain that while this is the same nominal dish, it was not even the same recipe from the one visit to the next, which makes me wonder if there are also two completely different Bumpkin Chicken recipes, rather than a server-kitchen mix-up. The divergence between the "Wow" ox-lung slice dish and the "OK" version was just as marked as that between the two versions of Bumpkin Chicken that have been mentioned elsewhere on this thread.

                                                          In short, I've become convinced that there's somebody in that kitchen who I'd put on a par with Chef Li from Grace Garden and the talented but transitory Chef Zhang from China Star, Temptasian, and whatever other places in NoVA he served before heading off to Atlanta. The problem is that it appears that the really good chef at Hunan Taste is either not always there, or is not involved in the preparation of every dish. Unfortunately, one doesn't know when the really good chef is on duty, or which dishes will get farmed off to the helpers if that's the scenario.

                                                          I'm reminded of an Indian place in Indiana that had a lunch buffet with two chefs who were polar opposites in their approach to the same dishes. One guy was all about subtle variations in flavors and spicing, while the other's technique was bold, brash, anything but subtle (though very delicious), and positively incendiary in "heat" levels. I recall getting a call from a friend who knew I was in the area saying "Get over to Tandoor for lunch - Flamethrower Joe is up to bat!"

                                                          I'm coming to the conclusion that Hunan Taste has a similar situation. I doubt one will get a bad meal there - even the lesser of the chefs is pretty good. But it seems to be a bit of a gamble as to whether one will get the treat of enjoying the talents of whoever it is in that kitchen who is the really talented one. There's enough difference in both style and even the underlying recipes that I can no longer go with the theory that it's the same guy occasionally having a dish or two go out that's not up to his best.

                                                          Not sure if that helps, but I thought I'd toss my theory out there for others to consider, or even for the management of H.T. to confirm or deny. Maybe that's one advantage that Grace Garden has, being small enough that you know that whatever comes out has been either prepared by chef Li himself, or at very least, directly overseen by him.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Warthog

                                                            Awhile ago there was an area Chinese restaurant practice of hiring a great chef to cook for a few months to establish a reputation and train the staff...an opener chef.

                                                            1. re: Warthog

                                                              Warthog, when I ate there, we talked with the manager and owner, and there are actually a group of chefs from China cooking there. They are all from Hunan from my understanding, and the manager is from Maryland. His family runs Ding How in Baltimore and he used to manage a Chinese place in Mays Chapel.

                                                            2. I want to hear about Hunan Taste, so keep the topic there and not the nuances of some other restaurant that shall not be named, I honestly dont care.

                                                              That being said, I went with a friend to Hunan Taste yesterday and it was downright excellent. We had cabbage and pork soup -- a very light broth, a small amount of ground pork and a lot of bright, fresh cabbage. It was light but well seasoned.. perfect for a chilly day as it was. Definitely didn't realize how large it was going to be -- one order would handily serve 2-4 people.

                                                              Next we had beef tendon with "caraway"? Im not sure what they meant but it certainly wasnt caraway. The tendon was jelly like, served in a LARGE portion with some cilantro, and definitely some heat to it. I dunno if I could finish even a 3rd of a portion.. definitely another one to be shared.

                                                              Next we had I think it was shrimp in lotus leaf.. they were presented in the bamboo steamer, between 12 and 20 head-on shrimp, well cooked with a pleasant garlicky flavor. There was some difficulty in eating the shrimp, and Im personally not that crazy about them, but my friend did enjoy them, but probably would order something else that would be less hassle.

                                                              The dish I got was the smoked ox tongue stir fry.. and wow this was one of the best things Ive had in a long time. The meat was sliced moderately thin, in a heaping pile along with fresno chiles, celery, ginger, scallions. The meat itself was extremely rich, yet the aforementioned vegetables and aromatics would cut through that richness into something really nicely balanced. Again the meat itself while it said smoked, I would describe it more as charred on a grill flavor, but in a very pleasant way, like a nice fatty steak.

                                                              Oh and I almost forgot we ordered some taro pancakes as well -- freshly fried, extremely crispy and not greasy, and inside was the rich and almost gummy taro.. on the verge of being dessert. Definitely great for that "fried" fix I know you have.

                                                              I admit we chose some relatively "tame" choices, I would definitely go back and explore further. A couple to our left ordered a whole fish that looked amazing, and we saw go by a sizzling platter that smelled like wood -- some item that was served on a wood plank.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Turkeybone

                                                                Grr. Now you made me want to go back to try the tongue (which is in fact tongue, unlike the ox lung which isn't lung at all.) Tongue done right is awesome. Done poorly, it's a rubbery flavorless mess.

                                                                What they meant by "caraway" was "coriander" (the herb, not the seed) as was clearly stated on the Chinese menu in the column for secondary ingredients. On the paper menu... they call it celery.

                                                                The iPhone makes it almost trivial to draw a character and have it translated by Google, though you do have to know the correct stroke order and direction (also true on the Newton.) I use TransMate for this, because I can edit, enlarge, and save or email characters and translations, but there are other tools, including some which don't use Google. Sadly, I didn't translate it *before* we ordered, since my dining companions wanted caraway. Their menu also makes learning the characters for specific ingredients quite easy, because they list the primary and secondary ingredients as well as the name of the dish.

                                                              2. Seven of us feasted at Hunan Taste tonight. While it was my third time there, the rest of the crew were HT virgins.

                                                                We had the clam and winter melon soup (I think it's called clam & white gourd soup on the menu). Again, it was excellent.

                                                                On the recommendations here, we had the Mao pork belly. We found it particularly good, with a rich, five spice-y sauce.

                                                                As I had during the the post-Thanksgiving feast, the fresh whole rockfish was again excellent, and this time served with loads of cilantro.

                                                                On the owner's recommendation, we traded out spicy shredded chicken (or something like that) for the crispy duck. While some thought it very good, there were those who found the skin too crispy. While I didn't find a good meat to bone ratio, the duck I did find was deee-lish.

                                                                In addition, we had a lo mein with shrimp. Very well executed, with thin, flat rice noodles, but not terribly exciting.

                                                                Finally, for our veg, we ordered a lotus with corn dish since they were out of the excellent Indian lettuce. It proved to be a very crisp and light and somewhat sweet compliment to all our other dishes.

                                                                On the personnel front, this was my first time meeting the young, energetic owner, Na, who came over to our table right after we had ordered to make suggestions. She was very excited to see "American people" ordering "authentic" Chinese food. In fact, she seems to be on a mission to introduce those who rarely stray from the General Tso's chicken and beef with broccoli to the "authentic" Chinese stuff, and actually said that people who wanted American-Chinese food can go to the little Chinese place in the same strip mall for their $4 lunch menu. We all found that very endearing.

                                                                And, we will all definitely be back for more.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: baltoellen

                                                                  So nice to see the recession and chains have not suppressed this kind of entrepreneurial energy.

                                                                  1. re: chowsearch

                                                                    And, their prices seem to reflect the fact that we're in--say it with me now---the worst recession since the Great Depression....

                                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                                      I really need to try this place!

                                                                  2. re: baltoellen

                                                                    I was one of the HT vigins (!) mentioned in baltoellens post. I agree with her take on the meal and especially with her description of our encounter with the owner, who couldn't have been more charming or eager to please. My stand out was the Mao pork belly. I also liked the winter melon soup and the fish. I think that this is a great addition to the neighborhood (I am fortunate to live but 5 minutes away). The prices were way reasonable too. I am encouraged that the owner really seemed to listen to our praises and to our suggestions...this place is new and think that it's a really nice CH find that could be really really very nice...go.

                                                                  3. I stopped by last night for the preserved pork (they call it sausage) with smoked bamboo, which was excellent. I also had the pigeon soup ("steamed dish") which wasn't translated on the menu--one of only a couple of secret items. The waiter told me it was some kind of bird, but Happily, I've been playing "Chinese Word Search" on my iPhone and can now recognise the characters for some of the simpler fowl. That was pretty generic bird soup.

                                                                    The pork, however, was chewy and flavorful; the smoked bamboo at first reminded me of sea cucumber, and I had to ask what it was. It was somewhat woody, and very slightly chewy. The dish also included a fair amount of ginger and garlic, as well as some scallions and preserved hot peppers.

                                                                    I do have to say, from what I can tell, this is in fact authentic Hunan cooking--lots of preserved meats and things like pickled hot peppers. The menu is huge--several kinds of frog, turtle, preserved meats, even fresh lily bulb. I don't expect to be eating anywhere else for the remainder of my visit to DC, perhaps even skipping New Big Wong. If it continues to provide gems like the pork, it could be the Lao Sichuan of the South.

                                                                    Hunan Taste
                                                                    718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                                                                    10 Replies
                                                                    1. re: KWagle

                                                                      OK, y'all are making me want to try this place. Thanks for the tip.

                                                                      1. re: KWagle

                                                                        Since I had the preserved pork with smoked bamboo last night, tonight we had the smoked ham with dried radish, which is crunchy. IMO the bamboo is definitely a better choice, but you could order both if you had enough dining companions. They also have it with "dried beans" and it would rock if these turned out to be dried salted black beans.

                                                                        They didn't have the preserved beef, apparently this needs to be ordered in advance, so maybe Thursday.) We had the beef with cilantro instead, which is erroneously translated as caraway (the tripe with "caraway" is also actually with cilantro, as you'll know when you learn to read the Chinese characters or figure out how to get your iPhone to translate them for you.) I found the beef moist in a way I didn't find pleasant--it seemed like brine induced moisture, and I prefer my moisture from fat. But it certainly had cilantro. (Brining, BTW, is frowned upon by no less an authority than Harold McGee.)

                                                                        We also had the tea-tree mushrooms with pork shreds in the "casserole" which is a mini wok over a can of sterno. That would've been improved by chopping the mushrooms. And we had the linwu duck, which is roast duck stir-fried with hot and spicy accompaniments, and was uniformly praised. My friends were not brave enough to try the "bullwhack" (some part of the bull's reproductive organs) with ginseng and lyceum, or the taihe (black-boned) chicken with tremella and longan.

                                                                        Next time, preserved pork with dried beans?, preserved beef, maybe even Chairman Mao's red-cooked pork with chestnuts. We shall see.

                                                                        Hunan Taste
                                                                        718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                                                                        1. re: KWagle

                                                                          So i was too busy eating the past few days to keep up on my reviewing. Last night I had carryout, preserved beef steak, which is in fact a steak grilled till crusty on the outside and then sliced, and preserved duck with dried long beans. The beef was excellent, but doesn't travel well at all--eat it in your car the parking lot. The duck was IMO even better than the linwu duck, but my dining companion (Jon Singer) disagreed.

                                                                          Tonight we had the preserved duck with smoked bamboo, which is easily my favorite of the three preserved vegetable choices. We had Chairman Mao's favorite red-cooked pork, chunks of unctious pork belly with five-spice. The beef on toothpicks AND the deep-fried mutton chop were both excellent, though the beef was my preference because it had some cumin in it. Both were lightly breaded and well-seasoned. The shredded snails (some kind of brackish water snail, not conch, but not small snails either) would have been good at some other meal, but tonight it was overshadowed by pretty much everything else. The steamed pork belly with preserved vegetable (mustard cabbage?) was just as much fun as Mao's pork, though different. And we didn't forget to order our taro and pumpkin pancakes, which were quite nice.

                                                                          Having now eaten there four nights in a row, I'm confident in saying their cooking is at least very good, probably great, and most of the dishes were quite enjoyable (I think the tea tree mushrooms would've been better had they been chopped up a bit.) The owner seems very nice but also seems to speak no English, but his wife speaks very good English. He was kind enough (with the help of a young woman who also speaks good English) to let me take his menu to the copy shop, so I can work on my Chinese reading skills (their menu lists the name of the dish, the primary ingredient, and the secondary ingredients, which makes it easy to practice "writing" them and sending them to Google Translate.)

                                                                          There are rumors (Hi Steve!) of some strangely named Hunan place in Rockville I have to check out, but this place blows The Grand Sichuan on St. Mark's (the only other restaurant I know to have authentic Hunan cooking) completely out of the water.

                                                                          I still have to try Grace Garden, if their building is ever un-condemned, but I'm very, very happy to have been distracted by this place for the better part of a week. My bank account, however, has to disagree.

                                                                          1. re: KWagle

                                                                            If you ever plan on hitting the place in Germantown (not Rockville) give me a shout! My e-mail is in my profile.

                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                              Argh, I was just at Peking Palace tonight, and was frankly disappointed in both the dishes and the cooking. Furthermore, the menu didn't seem that exciting to me, but perhaps all the good stuff is on the Chinese menu. The owner did say I could take their Chinese menus to FedEx (curiously, there's a FedEx close by. :-)) Showing the owners the iPhone's snazzy translation tools certainly seems to help with that quest.

                                                                              We had the steamed smoked pork in black bean sauce, in which the pork was not particularly strong in smoke or preserved flavor, and the black bean sauce was just a sprinkling of black beans and crushed red chiles. The pork in particular tasted somewhat off to me, in a way that made me think "old pork, not preserved properly, just past its expiration date. I did like the *overall* flavor profile of the dish, but the main ingredient just wasn't that good.

                                                                              The dry crispy beef was, despite being on the Chinese-ish menu, Americanized, as the owner (?a woman who seemed to be the owner anyway) admitted when Geoff commented on how sweet it was. I happen to like that particular dish, which we also had at Seven Seas CP last week with mango, but it wasn't what we expected. (Geoff and Thuan have recommended some kind of dried and then cooked beef at Joe's, which I'm not sure I've ever tried, and she thought this might be similar.)

                                                                              The best dish, and it was quite decent, was cuttlefish with some kind of dried "medicinal" vegetable in a hot pot (as opposed to a clay pot.) It's made me decide I like cuttlefish a LOT more than squid, but I haven't figured out how to communicate the difference in Chinese (the folks at New Big Wong didn't think there were two different kinds of inkfish.)

                                                                              It's certainly possible they were just having a bad night--I'd go back at least once, maybe twice--but it's also possible that they just aren't in the same league as NBW, Hong Fu Xiang Garden AKA "Hunan Taste", or presumably Grace Garden, which I continue to hope to be able to try at least once before heading back to New England, which will happen after i get to new Big Wong at least once this trip.

                                                                              1. re: KWagle

                                                                                Which tools do you use on the iPhone for translating?

                                                                                1. re: sweth

                                                                                  I use "Chinese Word Search" to learn to recognise characters. It can be limited to food words, and you can cut and paste to save things. That job is made much easier by iDoClipboard, which saves text and lets you email it. For translations I use TransMate, which is a front end for Google, and also allows you to cut and paste as well as edit and resubmit a translation request (AKA a string.) I have DianHua dictionary as well, but rarely use it. I also found something called "Write Chinese" which is a very basic Chinese letter stroke order practice tool--this is important because the iPhone's handwriting recognizer depends on correct stroke order and direction (as did the Newton HWR.)

                                                                                2. re: KWagle

                                                                                  The one time I went to Peking Palace, the best dish I had was also a hot pot. Perhaps that's their wheelhouse.

                                                                                  FYI, I think "mo yu" is "inkfish", "yo yu" is squid, and "wu zei" is "cuttlefish".

                                                                                  1. re: KWagle

                                                                                    Makes me wonder what the 'medicinal' vegetable is. Would be interested in get ting a look at it.

                                                                                    Was the pork served in a pot?

                                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                                      The vegetable wasn't recognizable. I forgot to ask the owner for the page in her notebook on which she wrote it down. She was actually quite helpful with our attempts to write characters, demonstrating and correcting our stroke order and direction.

                                                                                      The pork wasn't served in a hot pot, it was just in a bowl.

                                                                          2. Menus from Hong Fu Xiang Garden AKA Hunan Taste are now on Flickr. Translate away, earthlings.