Peking Gourmet Inn

$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

2011 Spring Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 15, 2011

A behemoth restaurant with a Beijing-size ego, Peking Gourmet Inn isn't so much resting on its laurels as it is snoozing on them. Starting at the entrance, where a blow-up of a 1988 gossip column trumpets the 33-year-old Chinese food hall as one of then-Vice President Bush's habits, and running to seemingly every inch of wall space in the multiple red-and-gold dining rooms that follow, this is a restaurant infatuated with itself. Among the hundreds of VIP faces beaming down on diners via framed photographs are countless Pentagon bigwigs and (who knew?) John Travolta.

Peking duck is supposedly the house specialty. So why is the woman who is carving my $39 order tableside handing over greasy, limp skin and dull slices of flesh? And why am I bundling the disappointments in floury pancakes with cloying plum sauce? No matter where or when I dip into the menu, I seem to find lackluster food. I can attest, however, to palatable green beans tossed with garlic and soy sauce, and shrimp with snow peas that aren't overcooked. Cubed "Peking Gourmet" beef packs a nice gingery punch.

Known quantities in the crowd are showered with attention, but good luck if you're not one of them. Some water, please? "I'll tell your waiter," a businesslike server replies. Some wine, please? "I will tell your waiter," the same red-jacketed staffer says, even though he isn't busy himself. "I feel like I'm intruding," whispers a friend. Like me, he is merely picking at the egg rolls with their dry beef-and-chicken fillings and at the pickled cabbage that speaks more of sugar than of vinegar. Elevator Muzak in the background fits right in.

One night, I glance over at a neighboring table hosting a gaggle of diners debating what to order from Peking Gourmet Inn's lengthy menu. Their waiter, poised with a pen, opens his mouth as wide as Leo the MGM lion and . . . yawns. I might, too, if I were around this boring food all day.