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Nov 20, 2009 06:31 PM

Hunan Taste - Authentic Hunanese comes to Catonsville - in the HMart strip mall

Following some early very positive reports:
a group of us headed to the new Hunan Taste last night to check things out for ourselves and explore a bit more of the menu, which is long (perhaps too long, and certainly not English-friendly, as it lacks much in the way of description of ingredients or heat levels).

This is not a menu for the squeamish - pig /fish/fowl intestines, duck feet, hen's blood, fish skins, etc. will be found on each of the many pages. If you're out for some chow mein, perhaps it would be best to look at the other Chinese restaurant in the same strip mall.

We started by diving into a very good rendition of cold beef tendon (which, while quite tasty, doesn't hold a candle to the stellar Triple-T at Grace Garden).

Cred established, we then ordered the Tea Tree Fungus dish suggested by Warthog, which was indeed delicious, and came out hot-pot style still cooking over the flame, We moved on to the highly recommended:

*clam soup with white gourd. The gourd is similar to winter melon in taste and texture. A mild light broth complemented it perfectly. Nice to have it served with Chinese soup spoons too.
* a fiery fish in hot oil (don't recall the menu name or number). Lots of mung beans, garlic and ginger and cilantro made this my favorite dish of the evening.
*Chairman Mao's favorite pork belly. Whole garlic cloves, chiles, soy, wine, sugar, star anise and cinnamon (thanks 1000yregg) and cabbage made this a thick and satisfying and unctous stew. Highly recommended if you love pork belly. A much better description can be found here:

Good tea, rice in individual covered bowls, attentive service and pleasant surroundings. The menu appears to be a work in progress, but they are off to a great start.

I am certain that the local newspaper critics will be there soon for their own reviews -(ELarge, RGorelick, I'm looking at you!) but don't wait for them - this is already getting the Chowhound stamp of approval.

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  1. Not only was the service attentive, but they were excited to have non-Chinese ordering the authentic dishes. Once we told them "pretend we're Chinese, now tell us what to order", they were all over themselves throwing suggestions out to the table.

    I can't say that I'd drive all the way out here from MoCo, since Rockville is ground zero for the Chinese community in the DC area, but I'm glad to have this place available when I'm in the hood. Choosing between Hunan Taste and Grace Garden will be quite a chore!

    1. Grace Garden and Hunan Taste are simply the dynamic duo. It is beyond me why anyone would eat Chinese food anywhere else.

      36 Replies
      1. re: elgringoviejo

        >> Grace Garden and Hunan Taste are simply the dynamic duo. It is beyond me why anyone would eat Chinese food anywhere else.

        In the Baltimore area, of course. In the DC area we have equally wonderful choices.

        1. re: DanielK

          Great. I have read about "Mama"s Dumpling" in Rockville and would like to check it out some of these days. What else is at the top of your list?

          1. re: elgringoviejo

            Just in Rockville, there's A&J, China Bistro ("Mama's"), Sichuan Pavilion, Joe's Noodle, Tony Lin's, Seven Seas, Michael's Noodles, China Canteen, Bob's Noodle 66, and that's just off the top of my head.

            1. re: DanielK

              Reading Chowhound, yelp, urbanspoon etcetera revealed a mishmash of conflicting opinions on these restaurants that could perplex one seeking to decide which of of these restaurants to choose. Anyway, I am glad that Rockville has so many good Chineses choices, though not surprised given its population and income level. Meanwhile, those of us closer to Baltimore are fortunate to have the dynamic duo of Grace Garden and Hunan Taste.

              1. re: elgringoviejo

                I would put Sichuan Pavillion, A&J and Joe's at the top of the list but I will admit to never having liked Bob's 66 while a lot of my fellow Chinese food lovers do.

                Our last meals at Tony Lin's and & Seas were nothing special but I have more limited experience with them.

                I like the steamed dumplings and the small plates at China Bistro but thread lightly with anything else. Butm, the dumplings and small plates are superb.

                Add in New Kam Fong in Wheaton {I very much disagree with the Washingtonian's review} and the expected return of HEOTB {or will it be HEITM? or HENTT?} and there is a lot of great places to chose from.

                While my one meal there did not blow me away, I also have great reports on Jade Garden in Derwood.

                Having said that, I do go to Grace Garden regularly and will probably go to Hunan Taste Thanksgiving. The time factor just make it hard to get to them other than on holidays

                1. re: elgringoviejo

                  1) You will always find conflicting opinions

                  2) Can anyone really trust yelp? It is a 'pay-to-play' site. That rules it out completely in my mind.

                  3) There have been so many positive posts over the years of A&J and Joe's Noodle House. Other new restos, like Sichuan Pavillion, have won great recent praise on Chowhound. It is not hard at all to come to some kind of conclusion. Of course, your opinion and experience could always turn out different.

                  4) Before you go, try to look up specific recs. Or post asking for specific recs. That will give you the best shot at having a great meal, since no place is great at everything.

                  1. re: Steve

                    I think Steve and Dean have an excellent point - make sure you figure out what each place does well before you go.

                    Seven Seas is a pretty mediocre place once you stray from the fresh seafood. China Bistro makes amazing dumplings, small plates, and noodles; everything else is standard Chinese-American. Tony Lin's does an excellent job with casseroles and braised meats, but you have to make sure you're getting the (translated) Chinese menu.

                    1. re: DanielK

                      You cannot go wrong with the dumplings at China Bistro. They also do some very, very good cold small plates that you'll find in the front case. Very cheap, so you can order a bunch of stuff. Just ask to take a look at what's in the case.

                      1. re: DanielK

                        I lveo the noodles themselves but I think I have had them in soup and the soups are over thickened to my mind. But I wouldn't hesitate to try the noodles in a stirfry. The noodles themselves are as good if not better then A&J.

                2. re: elgringoviejo

                  Joe's - but to do it right Hong Kong Palace in 7 corners (cumin lamb...slobber). Note that it's actually Sichuan fare.

                  1. re: Dennis S

                    I must disagree. I like Bith HkP and Joe's but I prefer Joe's overall far beyond HKP. WHile the crunchy pepper chickenis amazing at HKP, there have been to many dishes that just dont thrill me to put it int he Joe's category. But really, neither is as much fun for me right now as SP!

                    1. re: deangold

                      Speaking of Joe's, I had an oustanding dish that I've never tried before. Fish Filet w/ Cellophane Noodles. It's listed under "Noodles" with two peppers, but it's more of a soup. A big bowl of fiery clear broth seasoned with fresh peppers, several filets of mild, very fresh fish (whiting?) and of course, the noodles. Top notch, folks. Don't get any in your eye though. I did,! I'll be more careful next time.

                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                        The fish is tilapia and it is aka H25 on the menu. One of the best dishes at Joe's

                      2. re: deangold

                        Joe's is sloppy, so is Sichuan Pavilion. Throw some red sauce over the food at the last second, otherwise no flavor. The da lu mein at Joe's is terrible, absolutely terrible (despite the menu saying the soup should be thick, it was watery). Sichuan Pavilion is just no match for HKP (based on my one experience there with you). Normally I couldn't care less about heat but SP did not deliver at all when they're supposed to. We don't order the same food and I'm sure we don't have the same taste it shouldn't be shocking we have difference preferences some times.

                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                          Where do you go for Sichuan food int he area?

                          1. re: Ericandblueboy

                            My couple of visits to HKP did not show any dishes with the level of heat, and especially level of complexity of flavor, that Joe's and SP have shown in repeated visits.

                            1. re: DanielK

                              I sweat my butt off at HKP so it's hot enough for me.

                              1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                Then maybe HKP is where Joe's was a couple of years back, and won't serve the truly hot stuff to non-Chinese.

                                1. re: DanielK

                                  I didn't have any trouble getting served very hot food at HKP today.

                                  But I'd rather be near JNH because of all the small plates which are such treasures.

                                  1. re: DanielK

                                    Who knows? Every dish has different levels of heat as interpreted by the chef and possibly by who they think their target audience is. The complexity of flavors is a different story. You really have to eat at these places frequently to really make that call and I don't eat out enough. I'll admit that I haven't been to Joe's and SP more than once recently.

                      3. re: DanielK

                        "In the Baltimore area, of course. In the DC area we have equally wonderful choices."

                        Well, aside from New Big Wong, I'm not so sure of that. But, I consider Joe's Noodle House and Seven Seas (College Park) to be only "good enough" and that's not good enough to warrant even an hour's travel. (NBW, on the other hand, is worth a day's drive--you're not going to find better Cantonese food anywhere on the east coast.)

                        1. re: KWagle

                          We can agree to disagree. I've had FAR better meals at a dozen different places in the DC area than I had at Hunan Taste. And the meal that I had at HT was very good.

                          Grace Garden fared better, but I still maintain there are a handful of places in MoCo that are it's equal or better.

                          1. re: DanielK

                            I place JNH, GG, and Peking Palace (Hunanese in Germantown) as the top three, by a wide margin.

                            GG is the most exceptional, in a way, as it does some things extremely well that have no peer in this area. But it does pay to order some dishes 24 hours in advance.

                            HT is outright not as good as PP.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Sadly, I haven't been able to go to Grace Garden because the local authorities think the risk of the roof collapsing under the snow load is a valid reason to keep a foodie from his food. Though I have to admit, the staff probably concurs with them.

                              I'll have to check out Peking Palace, but if (as some reviews claim) their authentic menu is untranslated, I have to admit my ability to read Chinese isn't up to snuff yet.

                              Joe's just doesn't do it for me anymore, but I've become very, very spoiled by Lao Sichuan in Framingham, which is easily worth a weekend trip to Boston.

                              I'd be happy to hear about the other dozen places, and what dishes they do well.

                              1. re: KWagle

                                PP has three menus, IIRC. One Americanized, one Hunan translated, and an even larger one untranslated.

                                I order off Thai language and Chinese language menus, and I can't read any of it. Well, I recognize the Chinese character for 'shredded,' but I guess that only goes so far. I also point to specials listed on the menu or on the wall.

                                Fortunately, most Chinese restaurants have waitstaff that can translate for you.

                                Here's what I do:

                                Point and ask.
                                Tell them you want the real Hunan specialty food.
                                Research before you go, ask for specific dishes or alternates.
                                If I order something, I make sure they show me on the menu where it is so I'll know (ie, third from bottom, first column).

                                One of the specialties of Hunan cuisine is preserved or smoked foods, so make sure you ask about that.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  I can recognise a few printed Chinese characters. There are some useful tools for iPhone to help one learn, as well as McCawley's classic book--but I find the modern translation and teaching tools much more useful.

                                  Having now eaten at 鴻福湘園 (Hong Fu Xiang Yuan) AKA Hunan Taste four nights in a row, I'm fairly confident in the quality of their kitchen--at least very good, if not great. I'm also impressed with the diversity of their menu. Of the 14 or so dishes we sampled, only a couple were not worth ordering again. IMO that's a pretty good record, matched only at NBW and Lao Sichuan (both of which I would classify as "great".) I think I've managed to try pretty much everything on their menu I really wanted to try (I can make beef pizzle or black chicken soup at home.) And I remain impressed, MUCH more so than with JNH.

                                  The owner seems like a nice guy but speaks no English AFAICT, but his wife came out to talk with us tonight; she speaks English quite well and is also very sweet. They also have a hostess and a waiter whose English is quite good. This makes it much easier for us to get the food we actually want. Even on my first visit, they did not try to steer me away from ordering what I wanted.

                                  And, they let me take their menu to a copy shop!!! So now I can learn more of the Chinese characters--the menu separates the name of the dish, the primary ingredient, and the other ingredients, making it easy to practice drawing them and entering them into Google translator. I should shortly have pictures of the menu if any of you want to do some translating of your own.

                                  Still hoping that Grace Garden will reopen before I have to leave the area. And there's also this Peking place I have to try. :-/

                                  1. re: KWagle

                                    Yes, HT has a high success rate, judging from my one meal there - ordering 19 dishes.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Nineteen dishes?!? What are you doing on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday? My lame-ass friends balk at ordering more than two dishes per person. (Though, I *have* tried most of the things on the menu I wanted to try... except for the vegetable dishes for which I would need a Vegetarian.)

                                      1. re: KWagle

                                        19 dishes were for 15 people...

                                        1. re: DanielK

                                          Oh. So your friends are lamer than mine. It sucks!

                                          1. re: KWagle

                                            Well, we had to order 2 of a lot of the dishes so everyone could get a taste, and the total was close to $20/person, so it was a reasonable compromise.

                                            But, as I said, it was a very good, but not great, meal. There were definitely both a few misses, and a few outstanding dishes. Glad I went, but will not drive an hour from Rockville unless I'm out that way for another reason.

                                            1. re: DanielK

                                              Well, I tried Peking Palace and was ultimately quite disappointed, in both the cooking and the dishes themselves. My full impressions are in the other HT thread. I'd be willing to try it again, but only with some pointed guidance about what to order and what to avoid (I'd suggest avoiding the smoked pork, which was not only not noticeably smoky but somewhat off-tasting as well.)

                                              Hong Fu Xiang Garden AKA Hunan Taste inspired me immediately to go back, and then go back three more nights until I'd had pretty much everything that excited me on the menu, and then to ask them to prepare dishes that aren't on the menu (preserved duck with smoked bamboo... the dried long beans and radish don't do it for me.) I'd go back to PP because I can't actually believe that the food I had was representative based on the opinions of knowledgeable posters. That's not a very strong recommendation.

                                              BTW, I once heard claims that a cook from Joe's had gone to a place called Peking Cheers, on or near Quince Orchard Road. Does this place still exist?

                                              1. re: KWagle

                                                A group of us tried Peking Cheers several years ago after the rumor came out. It was ok, nothing special.

                                                I don't get out to Peking Palace much since it is so far from me., so maybe it has gone downhill?

                                                I had a kind of smoked pork pot that was covered in a thick layer of hot chilies, and the smoke of the pork was overpowering. The flavoring of the dish and the way it was smoked was entirely new to me.

                                                1. re: Steve

                                                  Peking Cheers is ok, but the ex-Joe's chef is long gone. Back to Joe's, in fact, if I heard the story correctly.

                                                  1. re: DanielK

                                                    Peking Cheers has crashed and burned. A few years ago, you could get cocktails, a decent Peking duck and a pretty good approximation of some of the more popular dishes the chef brought over from Joe's. No more.

                    2. Wow, I thought this was about Hunan Taste?

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: hon

                        Let us get this train back on the rails. IMO Grace Garden and Hunan Taste are the dynamic duo for Chinese-seeking chowhounds in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

                        1. re: elgringoviejo

                          Agreed Old Gringo - I'm looking forward to deangold ferreting out some more good chow at Hunan Taste tomorrow and reporting back for those of us in the Baltimore area. It's an expansive menu, and without having and symbols denoting heat levels, might take some in-depth discussion with the staff. Fortunately, I think he will find them more than willing to discuss the dishes with him.

                          1. re: crackers

                            This thread is a perfect reason why the Baltimore and DC area should not be lumped into the same board (while we're not allowed to refer to York, PA in this forum too).

                            Report back, please. I hope to make it to Hunan Taste sometime in December when I return to the US for the Christmas holidays.

                            1. re: vivinator

                              Houston (2.2M) and Dallas (1.3M) get lumped into "Texas" but Austin (750K) gets its own board? smh

                              Either way, I wouldn't have gone to Grace Garden were it not for this board.

                              1. re: Roland Parker

                                Without this combo board, DC people would still think G&M was their best crabcake destination and not know the fake Phillips crab "meat" story, and Baltimorosos wouldn't know about about the new Wheaton Chinese spots or NH Ave. pollo joints, both an easy drive. And both cities think of Annapolis as part of their local dining scene.

                        2. Back from an outstanding meal. Just the two of us so our powers of exploration were a little limited. Still, we were able to taste quite a range with a lot of left overs and no serious medical damage to ourselves...

                          Combination cold meats was a huge platter of tongue, shank, pig's ear and one other part which we never quite identified, all faintly tasting of star anise in a very slightly spicy marinade with good balance. The quality of this dish was really quite amazing: each meat deftly handled with its essential flavor intact, texture perfect and a nice chewyness in each variety.

                          Spicy Fried Mutton

                          If it was in fact mutton, it was a small mutton: I would have expected more gaminess and chew from actual mutton. In any case, this was a superb dish. The seasoning/coating was reminiscent of Peter Chiang flavors, the frying deft and the stir frying with chiles, garlic & leeks a perfect finish. This is the kind of dish where the more folk eating it the better, as the dish is at its best the moment it hits the table. While it did not cool down to a greasy mess like dishes like this so often do, those first bites where you are both trying not to burn your tongue and yet risking that scalding because the flavors are just so perfect are wondrous.

                          Pig Kidney in Spicy Sauce

                          Not all that spicy, this was pig kidney that was at once both clean of strong ammoniation yet still pungent. It came with slivers of ginger, red chiles & garlic and an unidentified vegetable, pale green and stem like, with a delicious faintly radish faintly cabbage like flavor. Not very spicy (nothing was in general). Again, simply stupendous. If you have never ventured something as adventurous as kidney, do your self a favor and try this one.

                          Weaver Fish, Steamed spicy style

                          Steamed fish is a great test of fine Chinese dining but rarely is it a dish to get all hot and bothered about. I mean a fish is a fish and the steaming sauce is usually of a type. It can be more or less skillfully executed, but when all is said and done, it is steamed fish. Not this one. Not since my days in LA's Monterrey Park's Ocean star (the tiny joint with its perennial c or d grade from the health department, not the 800 seat banquet and dim sum palace) have I had a steaming sauce this good. My guess is it is a hot oil based sauce, where the ginger, garlic, green onions etc are put in hot oil, with sesame oil and soy are added to cool the mass down and then it is poured over the raw fish. Then the fish is steamed. If this wasn't the technique, then it had the same result: a special intensity of flavor in the liquid on the plate made rich from the two types of oil {peanut and sesame} and the extraction of the flavors of the seasonings without their loss of texture. The fish itself is rich & oily with a very gelatinous skin. In the words of Spencer Tracy speaking of Kate Hepburn in "Pat & Mike", "There ain't much meat on them bones, but what there is is cherce" Cherce indeed!

                          Tea Tree mushroom and pork bones soup

                          This was the only lesser dish of the meal and it was still good, especially once spiked with a little salt.

                          All in all, a great meal leaving us with a major deisre to nap and distended bellys. Enough food for 4 for $75. We will be back.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: deangold

                            Thanks for the write up Dean - surprised you could type after all that food! Is weaverfish is a flat fish like a flounder?

                            1. re: crackers

                              It is more bass like in appearance and is, according to Wikipedia, a bladderless flish that sinks to the bottom and waits for prey {shrimp, small fish and the occasional hapless swimmer} to happen by. Ugly but yummy! I'm just glad it didn't turn out to be a cover up name for the Northern Snakehead!

                              I can type but I am having trouble getting back up out of my chair!


                          2. A good showing of Chowhounds from both Baltimore and NOVA/MoCo convened this afternoon for quite a feast at Hunan Taste to begin the new year. I think it's safe to speak for the group in saying that nobody left disappointed. In fact, we were quite pleased to find some additional gems on the extensive menu. So without further ado this is what we sampled - in the order they appear on the menu (Menu Item # in parenthesis). There may be one or two dishes I've forgotten, and others will post photos. Highlights for me were # 2, 8, 19, 52 and 55.

                            (#2) Spicy sliced ox lung
                            (#8) Shrimp with mixed bitter melon
                            (#17) Mao's braised pork
                            (#19) Spicy fried mutton chops
                            (#21) Spicy pig skin
                            (#?) Spicy Chanzul Frog
                            (#24) Steamed fish head-on with diced hot peppers
                            (#41) Double cooked pork with garlic
                            (#52) Preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoot. Not sausage - slices of salt preserved pork
                            (#55) Minced pork with sauteed sour beans
                            (#75) Eggplant in clay pot with garlic sauce
                            (#83) Stewed duck with ginseng. A thin soup, more than a stew
                            (#94) Tea Tree mushroom with pork casserole
                            (#95) Eggplant on iron plate
                            (#106) Soft Shell Turtle in brown sauce
                            (#128) Duck soup
                            (#130) Clam soup with winter melon
                            [off-menu] Saute snow pea leaves
                            (#?) Taro pancakes

                            total cost per person, including tax and 20%+ tip, with tea, rice and an extra order of taro pancakes: $25.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: crackers

                              Stealing your list, Crackers to add a few personal comments. And thank you for letting us all know about this: it was a great outing!

                              (#2) Spicy sliced ox lung. This has 2 meats in it, and is a meatier flavored clousin to Grace Garden's Sichuan triple treasures. I love both of them
                              (#8) Shrimp with mixed bitter melon. opinions varied wildly on this: a small cold dish that acts as a good foil to the spicier ones. the shrimp and bitter melons play off each other
                              (#17) Mao's braised pork-- maybe a little more spice, but I could visualize the Chairman soothing himself on The Long March with this
                              (#19) Spicy fried mutton chops-- sweet batter?? not spicy, not tasty
                              (#21) Spicy pig skin-- I had expected crispy
                              (#?) Spicy Chanzul Frog-- very spicy, with several different tastes of chili peppers and mild whole garlics. Yes!
                              (#24) Steamed fish head-on with diced hot peppers --nice sweet fish
                              (#41) Double cooked pork with garlic-- this was one of the dishes that I think we got the Anglo version of
                              (#52) Preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoot. Not sausage - slices of salt preserved pork. Came at the end, and caused orgasmic cries and groans all over the table. This was stupendous: rich and deep and a bit smoky and addictive
                              (#55) Minced pork with sauteed sour beans-- interesting, not my fave
                              (#75) Eggplant in clay pot with garlic sauce-- sort of sweet and sour, with the eggplant shining through
                              (#83) Stewed duck with ginseng. A thin soup, more than a stew-- this came in an individual soup tureen rather than the big one, but had far more flavor than the initial duck soup. It was great: I'll take this over chicken soup any day
                              (#94) Tea Tree mushroom with pork casserole-- chewy, flavorful mushrooms. as others ahve said, a good dish to accompany a meal, not as the entree
                              (#95) Eggplant on iron plate
                              (#106) Soft Shell Turtle in brown sauce-- who could tell it was turtle?
                              (#128) Duck soup-- leftover weak duck broth
                              (#130) Clam soup with winter melon
                              [off-menu] Saute snow pea leaves-- good as ever, great with the eggplant
                              (#?) Taro pancakes. OK, not as good as taro dim sum

                              Though I suspect it may have unfortunately been milded down a bit for us, it was a rfeally good meal. Hearing the waiter say to Steve:"I don't think you will like that. Too different." was not a good start; but I will be back.

                              1. re: crackers

                                I guess I'll throw in my dish-by-dish review as well!

                                (#2) Spicy sliced ox lung - Similar to tendon/tripe/tongue from Sichuan restaurants. Decent flavor, would have liked a deeper richness from the lung, and definitely lacking in heat.
                                (#8) Shrimp with mixed bitter melon - Bitter melon is definitely an acquired taste, and not for everyone. The melon was decent, but the sauce seemed more cornstarch than anything, and the shrimp were small and hinted of iodine.
                                (#17) Mao's braised pork - A real winner in my book, but it's got pork belly, so it's hard to screw this up!
                                (#19) Spicy fried mutton chops - I liked this more than others. I didn't think the batter was sweet as much as just very heavy with cumin, which does play sweet. Not as good as Cumin Lamb at my normal Sichuan haunts, though.
                                (#21) Spicy pig skin - I also expected crispy, but this dish was unique and delicious. The peppers in this dish were probably the hottest (spicy) thing on the table today.
                                (#?) Spicy Chanzul Frog - This was frog? This was spicy?
                                (#24) Steamed fish head-on with diced hot peppers - Fish was fine (I stole a cheek - yum!), but again, very lacking in heat.
                                (#41) Double cooked pork with garlic - Makes me appreciate the version at Sichuan Pavillion in Rockville so much more. Good, but just not in the same league.
                                (#52) Preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoot - By far the winner of the night in my book. Flavorful pork belly that played incredibly with the smoked bamboo shoots.
                                (#55) Minced pork with sauteed sour beans - Good, but not great. Pork itself needed a flavor kick. This same dish at Joe's Noodle House in Rockville is far superior.
                                (#75) Eggplant in clay pot with garlic sauce - Nice, if not special.
                                (#83) Stewed duck with ginseng - Not a ginseng fan, so skipped it.
                                (#94) Tea Tree mushroom with pork casserole - Second favorite dish of the night. Great mushrooms, great flavor, great balance with the pork bits.
                                (#95) Eggplant on iron plate - Better than the other eggplant dish, fresh and a sauce that complemented rather than overwhelmed the eggplant.
                                (#106) Soft Shell Turtle in brown sauce - I didn't know it was turtle until after the meal, and the sauce was forgettable.
                                (#128) Duck soup - Not great.
                                (#130) Clam soup with winter melon - Also not great.
                                [off-menu] Saute snow pea leaves - Very fresh and well prepared.
                                (#?) Taro pancakes - Really nice closing dish; very different from how I've seen taro served before, crispy and a bit sweet.

                                Overall, I was expecting a much spicier meal, since Huinanese cuisine is supposed to be even spicier than Sichuan. I regularly go to a couple of local Sichuan places in Rockville (Joe's Noodle House and Sichuan Pavillion) and I can say that nothing we had today was even in the same ballpark as these places. I don't know if they toned it down for us, but there was definitely something missing on heat, but also depth of flavor along with the heat on a lot of dishes.

                                There were a few great dishes, and a few not so great ones. Company was wonderful, and though we hit more land mines today than my first couple of visits, I'd return if in the area.

                                DC-area hounds - unless there are some Huinanese dishes that you are really jonesing for that they have here and not elsewhere, I can't say it's worth the nearly 1-hour drive, but I'd be happy to have it in my neighborhood. It definitely makes me happy that the great Chinese food in Rockville is in MY hood!

                                1. re: crackers

                                  Thanks for the rundown, Crackers!

                                  My general observations are that the dishes we ordered had a very high success rate. Only the soups, the 'restorative' kind of watery Chinese broths, are of no interest. Everything else was very good and I appreciated the differences in spicing from one dish to the next.

                                  Though maybe only our final dish, the preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoots, was really great and would encourage me to shlep very far to eat here. From what I understand, this gets to the heart of Hunanese cooking better than anything else we tried, and I'd like to try their other preserved dishes. There is gold in them thar hills...

                                  The spicing in general is fairly mild. You wouldn't know that this cuisine is considered the spiciest in China from what we ordered. I would encourage anyone from MoCo who is interested in investigating Hunan cuisine to try out Peking Palace in Germantown.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    Steve, Daniel, Crackers, et al -
                                    Would it make sense for a vegetarian to goto Hunan Taste?

                                    - lassithi

                                    1. re: lbags

                                      There are a number of tofu and vegetable dishes, so I don't see why a vegetarian could not do well here with at least one meal.

                                  2. re: crackers

                                    Thanks for the reports! I was wondering how this place was doing, since the initial excitement seemed to die down.

                                    I went there twice and was underwhelmed, but I'm willing to give them another chance. I'll try some of the dishes you folks recommended. I can give an anti-recommendation: the crispy duck. It tasted like a bucket of salt fell into the pot.

                                    1. re: crackers

                                      How daring are you when it comes to new foods? Do you hesitate or do your jump in with your tastebuds a blaze with curiosity? Do you search out new flavors, new cuisines and new restaurants? I fall to right of the center of the scale, willing to try the new – wanting to search out authentic foods of countries, not the American version.

                                      Recently much has been said about Hunan Taste, a Chinese restaurant in Catonsville at the H-Mart Plaza at the corner of Rolling Road and Route 40. A couple weeks ago I met fellow members from the Charm City Hounds, a foodie group that is a spin off from the website, as we tasted, sampled and commented on about 20 different authentic dishes at Hunan Taste. One can have the Americanized, well-recognized dishes as well as the authentic Hunanese or sometimes called Xiang cuisine offerings at Hunan Taste. We opted for the later.

                                      Ox, turtle, frog and many other oh-mys!

                                      Out of our group some had been to Hunan Taste previously and for others like me, it was a first. We ordered numerous dishes with the purpose of trying each one; platters were passed amongst the 2 tables. From pork belly, turtle, frog, ox and fish – no one hesitated to taste. Comments from the other Charm City Hounds were favorable to some dishes and disappointment with others. Expectations were that the pig skin dish would be crispy and it wasn’t, that the soups be intense with flavor but they were mild and disappointing. Certain dishes were the stars of the afternoon tasting and some won’t be re-ordered on return trips.

                                      The general consensus is that they might have played down the spice, the heat on the dishes for us and not given us the ‘authentic’ spicy dishes as would be served in the Hunan province in China.

                                      The star dishes of the afternoon were:

                                      • Spicy sliced ox lung
                                      • Mao’s braised pork belly
                                      • Sour beans and pork
                                      • Tea tree mushroom with pork – most felt is an excellent side
                                      • Preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoot which is really slices of salt preserved pork
                                      • Steamed fish head

                                      This is a link to a photo slide show

                                      I recommend a visit to Hunan Taste. Be sure to take a number of people so you can try many dishes- be daring and go with the authentic Hunanese dishes. The question for me is would I go back and the answer is yes.

                                      1. re: Dining Dish

                                        Are the charm city hounds open to new people? And if so, do you have a website or listserv or something?


                                        1. re: jvanderh

                                          Definitely! I'm not sure what the policy is about posting these things on the boards, but check out my profile. (I'm not an organizer, but I know we are very open to anyone joining, especially anyone who wants to organize outings!).

                                          1. re: jvanderh

                                            Jess, here is the link for Baltimore area chowhounds who like to get together at chow-worthy places in and around the greater Baltimore area. We do all the organizing via that site per the prohibition on doing it on this board:


                                            1. re: crackers

                                              Thank you, Dave and crackers! I submitted a request to join.

                                        2. re: crackers

                                          Thank you to everyone for all these notes. We went and ordered right off your list -- #52, #94, #95. It was absolutely terrific, and I think we would have been overwhelmed by the menu if we hadn't had your comments.