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Panda Gourmet on New York Ave?

So, just saw this very positive review in the WP. I've never heard of this place, but it sounds like it's worth a visit:

Has anyone tried it?

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  1. I had the Dan Dan Noodles and they were salty for me and there was a small pile of something very salty in the bottom of the container (after I turned it into a larger container to mix)- like garlic salt. I got these things to go. The Ma Po Tofu was good especially the tofu. The rou jia (pork) was nice, but the filling did not have enough seasoning for the "roll" or maybe would have done well with half the "roll". Nothing was very hot- spicy, but maybe it was toned down.

    The people were nice and tried to be helpful. Of course other choices might have been better.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mscoffee1

      A Chinese coworker tried several dishes there last weekend and said that they were competent, but none were particularly outstanding. He also said the item he enjoyed the most was the cumin beef "sandwich" which is apparently something associated with Chinese muslims. My coworker spoke with the chef about the relatively low heat level in the ma la and was told that after having so many dishes sent back, he defaulted to standard low heat.

      1. re: monkeyrotica

        Maybe your coworker should post on Chowhound.

        1. re: Steve

          The guy doesn't even own a computer.

    2. I went there with a group about 6 weeks ago with the intention of tasting large portions of the menu after reading Tyler Cowen's endorsement in the Marginal Revolution blog http://marginalrevolution.com/margina...

      The dan dan noodles blew me away. I think the salty bits mscoffee1 found were salted, roasted Sichaun peppercorns which were fabulous on top of the noodles in the restaurant. I would go back for that dish alone. The liang pi noodles were also excellent and reminded me of Xi'an Famous Foods in NYC.

      I agree--the mapo is fantastic. Tons of leeks and an excellent soft tofu highlight the dish. The rou jia mou pictured in the WaPo article has about 3x the filling we had, but they were tasty. They weren't stand out, but I would eat them again. We also had the water boiled beef which was good, but the meat was slightly chewy. The big miss was the cold beef appetizer which tasted like freezer to me.

      A surprisingly good dish was ordered by the vegetarian among us. He ordered the appetizer of ginger string beans which were very tasty and a nice counterpoint to the heat. They seemed to be steamed beans with the ginger + hot oil combo you find with Chinese steamed chicken and such.

      The place attached to an unappealing Days Inn and smelled like cigarette smoke when we first walked in. The restaurant was largely empty on a weekday night, with two couples eating American Chinese food and a Chinese couple eating the dan dan noodles. Low turnover could explain the weird freezer flavor on the beef. The service was nice and they have a few beers and sodas for drinks.

      1 Reply
      1. re: oniontears

        Salted and roasted Sichuan peppercorns? I have to try those noodles!

      2. i just read that review and was intrigued.

        i guess the only thing i thought about that days inn before was that it was a little seedy.

        i wish them all success, and will make the trek out there.

        i just want to know how can one who does not speak chinese (me!) order these delicious-sounding dishes from the chinese menu there? how does this place compare to hong kong palace (other than the fact HKP does not make its own noodles, to my knowledge)?

        4 Replies
        1. re: alkapal

          You could download a copy of Pleco and buy the OCR module, and point it at the menu and read the translations. That's the route I recommend. (Actually, I recommend downloading Pleco and a stroke order teaching tool and learning to write the characters. Live OCR is a total crutch.)

          Or you could talk me or Steve or someone more knowledgeable into coming along. Or you could point and ask for translations (though that works better if you already know something about the dishes likely to be on the menu.)

          1. re: KWagle

            The best option of all would be to persuade the restaurant that making the Chinese menu available to non-Chinese would be extremely good for their business. Something similar, I believe, was done to make the Lao menu available at Bangkok Golden in Falls Church. If everyone makes the case, maybe they will get the message. I'm going to head there for the first time soon!

            1. re: mdavidf

              In Boston an enterprising Hound posted a translation of the menu at a local Sichuan restaurant, and the restaurant printed the post out and made it available to their customers (and I believe eventually used those translations to produce a complete printed menu.

              (Sadly that restaurant closed because the building was scheduled to be demolished, and they haven't found another space yet.)

          2. re: alkapal

            Frankly, the Chinese menu is not long, has pictures, and the waitstaff is quite helpful if you want to know more. They are not trying to hide the goodies from you until you crack the code. If you piece together reviews from here, Tyler Cowen, Washington Post and Yelp, it will steer you towards what you might be interested in trying and you can ask for it directly.

          3. compare this to hong kong place, anyone?

            2 Replies
            1. re: alkapal

              I have finally been to Panda Gourmet. There was a new menu with almost all Sichuan dishes and it was extensive. The restaurant itself was new and looked decent; the manager spoke fluent English, but most of the waitstaff (several who came up to our table, perhaps because they were in training) was clearly learning. On a weeknight only two other couples were there, the large place was bare, and one of the groups seemed to be a buddy of the staff.

              The food was far better than anything Chinese on the Hill and one would be very hard pressed to find anything at this level inside the District. Right now, I still wouldn't place it up there with either Hong Kong Palace (which in my book is consistently outstanding) or Joe's (at its best, including the spicy wontons). Of the four noodle dishes sampled at Panda, the cold Chendu noodles were a real standout, spicy and complex. The Dan Dan noodles were quite good, but not great, and all the noodle dishes were decent. The cumin lamb was also strong, but not at the level of HKP. Panda's vaunted northern "hamburger" dish seemed to me not such a big deal, although it was intriguingly spiced. The ma pa tofu had leeks and was also good, but came with a lot of floating oil and, as always here, not too much heat. In sum, based on this one experience I'd say Tyler Cowen's rave was a bit over the top.

              Still, it is good to report that the menu issue is solved and there is a real Sichuan place near Capitol Hill. I will definitely be back to sample many of the other dishes on the extensive menu. That is, if more people don't go--if it remains as empty as I saw it, who knows how long it can survive!

              1. re: mdavidf

                thank you for your report and comparison to HKP.

            2. Tried it for the first time this weekend... and it was GREAT. In my opinion the Cumin Beef at Panda was better than the version at HKP (which I also love). The Chendu cold noodles were fantastic, as was the Mapo tofu. We like a lot of heat, and asked for everything to be made "Chinese spicy." We were absolutely satisfied with the level of spiciness.

              The staff were also very friendly and accommodating to the variety of customers in the place - some of which clearly didn't know what they were getting into... ("do you have sweet and sour shrimp?")

              1. I live close to Panda Gourmet and have been there five times in the last 2 months. The food is generally excellent, as many of the others posts in this chain attest. I would warn, however, that service has been consistently dreadful. I have gone during relatively busy times- once, at 4 in the afternoon, it was empty and the service was fine. But they are not yet equipped to deal with even moderately large crowds, and the servers are sweet, but lack the experience and proficiency with English to minimize the risk of confusion. Having said that, I keep going back, because it's really good. If I have just had bad luck, let me know, but I would recommend going during slightly off-hours so you can control the experience a bit. Happy eating!

                1. Shaanxi food in DC! No longer do you have to make the trek to NYC or to north of Boston!

                  Steve and I went there tonight. We tried to order the stir-fried pita with lamb and the stir-fried liang pi, but were told they didn't have those (sold out of the latter, apparently, but said they had the cold version, what gives?) After some questioning, it *seemed* to me that they were saying they didn't have or couldn't get the ingredients. I was unable to figure out if there was any hope of getting those dishes in the future. How I wished I had Sam Lipoff along for the ride! So we ordered the lamb soup with pita, the dan dan noodles, the beef with cumin, and the lamb skewers.

                  We screwed up and didn't order the handmade noodle, because I didn't notice it on the menu. I also didn't take the time to look at the 'series' items, each of which has a clearly specified and well-known cooking technique. This means I didn't get to try the gan guo fish, the gan shao beef, the gan bian string beans...

                  The soup was excellent, with bits of Shaanxi bread, some noodles (bean threads I think) and some kind of noodly stuff cut into tiny dice. It comes in two versions; I was unable to get any help figuring out how the 'supreme' differs from the other. I'm going to have to go back when there's an English-speaking person around to figure out these details.

                  The lamb skewers were a bit underdone for my taste, not because I wanted them cooked past medium rare but because I wanted a more crusty exterior. They also have kidney skewers, and chicken hearts and gizzards, all of which I'd be happy to try in the future. I wonder if they could make a mixture of different skewers.

                  The beef with cumin was decent but not more than that. Steve found it very salty, I found it salty enough I didn't need to reach for the salt shaker. Cuminy enough for me, surprisingly Steve didn't think the dish was particularly cuminy.

                  The dan dan noodles were okay. Well-seasoned but with hardly any meat topping, and the noodles themselves were pretty ordinary. I think they might've had a bit of huajiao, but certainly not piles of crunchy toasty on top. I'd be surprised if there weren't better ones in DC.

                  I probably would try the mapo doufu next time. Next time might be Monday or Tuesday, so ping me if you happen to want to come along.

                  Pictures and menus below (friend me if you can't get access.) They had three menus, one of which was Americanese, each of which had a different page of photos. I didn't bother to get pictures of the other two pages of photos; I think they included items from the written menu that most of us here would recognize by name.

                  Best of all, the actual Chinese name was 國寶美食. 美食 is good food or delicacies. And Pleco's example sentence for 國寶 [national treasure] was "The Giant Panda is known as the national treasure of China."


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: KWagle

                    Panda Gourmet is more notable for the type of food they serve than excellence in execution. As KWagle said, the idea that we can get Shaanxi food in the DC area is very exciting to me.

                    We were only given the Chinese menu, but only from the 'American' menu is it evident that the liang pi is available cold (on the Chinese menu it is listed as the first dish, cold Shaanxi noodles).

                    The highlights were the shaanxi dishes: the pita with lamb and beef soup and the lamb skewers. The lamb skewers are tiny morsels of lamb coated in spices. They need to come out of the kitchen hotter and crunchier. Still, the availability of this alone warrants a visit. The bread in the soup gets pretty much dissolved - only tiny specs of it are left - turning the soup into a semi-porridge with tiny dices of wheat noodle and bean thread making it chunky. Alongside are delicious marinate cloves of garlic, cilantro, and a thick hot sauce to add as you like.

                    The dan dan noodles were served the texture of school cafeteria spaghetti. Nice garlicky sauce that became terrific when the flavors came together and all but a few of the noodles were gone. The cumin beef was well below most every version in the DC area: salty enough to knock you over and overwhelm the cumin.

                    I will go back for the Shaanxi dishes, and try the sichuan stuff more as an addendum.

                  2. I went a second night (in a row) to Panda Gourmet, and this time I had more success.

                    The Shaanxi Cold Steamed Noodles (aka Liang Pi) are a MUST ORDER, a great dish. The is is listed at the first dish (S01) under Shaanxi Snacks section of the menu. On the "American ' menu, listed also as Liang Pi.

                    Again ordered the soup of pita soaked in Lamb Supreme, and also the lamb and beef skewers. The manager said they didn't have chicken wings, heearts, or gizzards. They don't have quite a few things on the menu, it seems!

                    The skewers are heavily and un-artfully spiced, but I guess I can't be too picky since this is the only game in town for Shaanxi cuisine.

                    A new order was the very delicious green beans with ginger sauce/

                    Another new dish for me was under the 'dry-braised' section of the menu. The chicken came out as a boneless dry-fry, very crispy (if a bit hard and chewy), and with a ton of dried red chili peppers.

                    Overall a very successful meal full of a variety of flavors and textures. Very delicious.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Steve

                      What's this Chinese pita? A bread, or is that a word in Chinese that means something different? I've heard of soups made with bread as a thickener so it's not a totally dumb question.

                      1. re: MikeR

                        It's a flatbread, which is also split to make the sandwiches. If you look up the threads on Xi'an Famous Foods (NYC) or Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe (Boston) you'll see pictures of the stuff in many forms. At Gene's the bread is brought to the table to be torn up by the customer (traditional in Shaanxi) and then sent back to the kitchen to have soup added.

                        I'm glad Steve (Hi Steve!) had a better experience this time. Like many places, you have to dig a bit to find the good stuff. Several of the dishes in the "series" menu sound like they might be good prospects, the gan guo fish in particular. I love that dish and I don't think I've seen it on any menus in the DC area? I do wish you had ordered the non-supreme soup to see how it differed, and also tried the hand-pulled noodles. I guess we'll just have to go back again!

                        1. re: KWagle

                          I do not know how the gan guo 干锅 is listed on the menu in English. It means 'dry pot' and is usually served in a mini-wok at the table. Part of the menu is divided up into sections devoted to cooking style. Did you take a picture of the menu?

                          1. re: Steve

                            I did take pictures and posted the link above. The 'series' are

                            shui zhu - 水煮 - "Fiery Pot"
                            gan guo - 干锅 - "Griddle Cooked"
                            kung pao - 宫保 "Kung Pao"
                            gan shao - 干烧 - "Szechuan Hot Sauce"
                            yu xiang - 鱼香 - "Hot Garlic Sauce"
                            jiao yan - 椒盐 - "Black Pepper & Salt" [deep fried]
                            gan bian - 干煸 - "Dry Braised"
                            xiang la - 香辣 - "Stir Fried Spicy"
                            bao lei - 煲类 - "Hot Pot" [claypot, not hot broth]

                        2. re: MikeR

                          The pita in this dish is dissolved into the soup. The only thing left 'solid' are tiny moist, beige flecks. The rest of this thick, chunky soup is diced noodle and bean thread with a few pieces of protein. The soup is bland but with a nice, soothing flavor.

                      2. Does anyone know if Panda Gourmet serves a dish similar to Hong Kong Palace's spicy fried chicken with sesame stuffed peppers? Is the "dry braised" chicken similar, or the "stir fried" chicken?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: scotcheroo

                          I had the dry-braised chicken. No crunchy peppers. The chicken itself was good, but not as good as HKP.