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China King: Old favorites in new space

August 12, 2011

By ANNE CHOVEY

Special to The Herald-Mail

My mother's birthday falls around holiday time, and, when I was young, that usually meant my grandmother was at our house.

My grandmother always wanted to do something special for her daughter-in-law on her birthday and that often meant we would go to a Chinese restaurant.

In our town, the Chinese restaurant was a very elaborate place with red-and-gold wallpaper and dark, tiny rooms in the back for private parties like ours.

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The food came in metal dishes with lids that were ceremoniously lifted to reveal exotic dinners, and tea was offered in tiny cups without handles.

I guess that is why I always think that Chinese food is special and worthy of a celebration. So I looked forward to visiting China King on Washington Street. I took my friends, Penny Pasta and her boyfriend, Sam Osa, with me.

Unlike the Chinese restaurant of my childhood, China King is surrounded by windows and is full of light.

There are two sections of booths and a counter for ordering takeout. Stylish pendant lights hang over each table.

Oddly, country music played in the background. We were immediately greeted by our hostess who sat us and was also our waitress.

Like many Chinese restaurants, the menu was divided into sections of pork, beef, vegetable, poultry and seafood dishes. Many of the offerings were similar such as "Szechuan" or "Hunan" style, very spicy food named for different regions in China.

Others focused on the vegetable such as beef with broccoli or chicken with string beans or shrimp with snow peas. The pork dishes were mostly $7.65, poultry was $7.95, beef $8.95 and seafood $9.55.

Some dishes were sold in pints or quarts.

There was also a long list of appetizers, soup, fried rice and a few other interesting options: chow mein, chow fun (flat noodles) chow mei fun (rice vermicelli) lo mein (soft noodles) and egg foo young (an egg pancake.)

Another whole section was devoted to Chef's Suggestions and these included "Dragon and Phoenix" chicken and shrimp with baby corn, snow peas and green pepper in a special sauce and "Happy Family" beef, chicken, shrimp and pork with mixed vegetables in a brown sauce (both $9.65).

Just in case we were watching our weight, there were also diet specials in which the food was steamed  instead of sauteed or fried.

Penny knew immediately that she wanted Kung Po chicken. She ordered a combination plate, which included roast pork fried rice and an egg roll. Sam took a little more time. He is a vegetarian so his choices were more limited.

"Aha!" he said. "I'll get the homestyle bean curd. That's tofu."

He asked the waitress to make it a little spicy.

I decided upon shrimp with garlic sauce, also a spicy dish.

I guess we all like spicy food, but not to worry, there are plenty on nonspicy options on the menu, like lemon chicken or sweet and sour pork.

While we waited for our order, our waitress brought us a dish of crispy won ton wrappers, which had been fried, and some plum sauce for dipping. The sauce was very sweet, but we couldn't stop eating the won ton.

In no time at all, our waitress brought our food. I was slightly disappointed that there were no ceremonial dishes, but the platters were heavy china with a pretty blue Chinese design along the edge.  All three of our plates were heaping portions and we knew we would be able to take home lunch for the next day.

Penny's chicken looked yummy. Not only was there chicken, but also baby corn, carrots, celery, mushrooms and peppers. And it was topped off by a handful of peanuts. It was deliciously spicy without being too hot.

The pork fried rice was a bit disappointing -- tiny bits of pork and a few peas. It could have been so much more.

Sam's bean curd had broccoli, baby corn, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots in a dark, spicy sauce.

I tasted the bean curd: it had a lovely crispy outside with a chewy inside.  The contrast in textures between the curd and the crunchy water chestnuts was tasty.

My shrimp also had broccoli in it along with carrot strips, peppers, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. But it didn't taste like Sam's. It was a spicy rich sauce that was hot, but again, just right.

The broccoli was still crisp but it was not hard. I hate it when vegetables are barely cooked and you feel as if you are grazing in a field instead of eating off a plate.

The shrimp was well cooked, too.  When shrimp is overcooked it can be rubbery -- this was just right.

China King is not the Chinese restaurant of my childhood, but I enjoyed it. I think I might even schedule a birthday party there.

Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Restaurant review

China King Chinese Restaurant

3 1/2 (out of 5)

Food: 3

Service: 31/2

Ambiance: 3

Value: 3

Address: 339 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

Phone: 301-790-1222

Hours: 10:45 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:45 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

Food: Chinese with several vegetarian options.

Parking and handicapped accessibility: A large parking lot surrounds the restaurant. No accessibility issues were noted, except that the corridor to the restroom had several sharp turns and the highchairs were stacked there. Might be difficult to access in a wheelchair.

Bathrooms: large, clean and accessible inside.

Reservations are not necessary.

Website: http://www.mychinaking.com

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