Trendy eating spots come and go, but the suburban Chinese restaurant remains a stronghold. Descriptions of the following aged examples are from reviews by Phyllis C. Richman and her staff. HOUSE OF CHINESE GOURMET --1485 Rockville Pike, Rockville. 984-9440. Open daily. Reservations accepted. AE, MC, V. Full bar.
There used to be two compelling reasons for eating at the House of Chinese Gourmet: the duck, and the special Chinese desserts. The desserts are served only on weekend afternoons now, which leaves just the attraction of the duck. But those beautiful birds are still worth a trip, and they're bargain-priced on Sunday through Thursday. Peking duck -- crisp skinned, nearly fat-free, carved at the table and served beautifully -- is a great favorite here, and deservedly so. Fragrant crispy duck with steamed buns is seasoned with more complexity, and equally impressive. Many of the remaining dishes have a capricious, touch-and- go carelessness to them. Our last visit yielded an elderly whole fish of distinct ripeness, and a "triple crown" -- a string-cut potato nest filled with meat and vegetables -- marred by chunks of fatty chicken. -- MARK & GAIL BARNETT.
HOUSE OF LIU -- Landover Mall. 773-8800. Open daily. AE, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Landover's House of Liu has a reverse-image problem. Its boast of having seven chefs from Peking, its lavish red-lacquer and carved wood interior and its extensive menu with such rareties as sea cucumbers lead one to expect very special food. But it emerges no better than a standard shopping-center Chinese restaurant, its meats and seafoods of pedestrian quality at best, its sauces tasting of little but soy or pepper. Best bets are the steamed dumplings, and the Peking duck is sometimes bargain-priced, and pretty good though inclined to be chewy. But what shows on the plate is just another fair-to- middling Chinese restaurant, moderately priced but failing far short of its own hoopla. -- P.C.R.
HSIAN FOONG -- 1836 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 528-8886. L daily except Sat., Sun. D daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Hsian Foong has been a powerhouse among suburban Chinese restaurants, but if what we found recently typifies its performance these days, fatigue is setting in. There are still flashes of the old brilliance: in the raw vegetables in sesame oil; in the shrimp toast, bulging with generosity; in the steamed dumplings, with satiny wrappers and well-seasoned meat stuffings, and in the superlative lemon chicken. Then there are the total, unmitigated disasters: heavy, oily, thick-wrapped egg rolls; shrimp tempura so rigidly encased in batter-armor it practically clatters when it hits the plate; and a camphor and tea smoked duck (formerly a strong suit here) that's too fatty, too salty and too devoid of smokiness to be worthy of its name. -- M.&G.B.
HUNAN SZECHUAN VILLAGE -- 4701 Columbia Pike, Arlington. 979-2229. Open daily. MC, V. Reservations suggested for five or more. Full bar.
Where else can you find a Chinese restaurant that has an outside in mock Tudor and looks inside like a former taco house? While the cuisine at Hunan Szechuan Village may not be as notable as the architecture, it gives Columbia Pike another cozy ethnic restaurant with decent food -- at almost- forgotten low prices. There's an interesting assortment of appetizers, though some on the greasy side; try scallion- flavored chicken toast, chicken patties wrapped with miniature bread cubes and fried to crunchy gold. Pork with garlic sauce and Szechuan whole fish have good flavors of garlic and ginger, although the sauces are a bit gloppy and the fish tastes as if it's been in the freezer too long. -- DANIEL ZWERDLING & BARBARA ROTHSCHILD
PINE AND BAMBOO -- 5541 Nicholson Lane, Rockville. 468-0011. Open daily. MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
This red- and gold-lacquered restaurant draws a loyal following. But loyalty isn't always based on quality -- and while the kitchen shows good intentions as it churns out an epic menu of Mandarin, Hunan and Szechuan dishes, the quality is maddeningly uneven. The chefs are often generous with the colors and textures of fresh ingredients: Hunan style chicken with fragrant ginger, Szechuan scallops tossed with confetti flecks of red pepper, eggplant Peking-style sprinkled with shards of ginger and garlic. But the graceful notes are sabotaged by a tedious reliance on greasy, overthickened sauces, occasional overcooking and an inexplicable affection for canned mushrooms. So save room for desserts -- especially the fresh fruits sealed in toffee and sesame seeds and fried puffs of dough stuffed with sweet red bean paste. --D.Z.&B.R..