The signs are good at the China Coral when you see the fish tanks filled with trout, sea bass, eels and lobsters, looking lively. And the menu covers sea treasures from shrimp to abalone, sea cucumbers and fish lips, with special emphasis on what is in season.
This is a Chinese restaurant to remind you of why Cantonese food had such a long and happy reign in the United States. Even the wonton soup is respectable, and the spring rolls are particularly meaty, juicy and savory.
Among main dishes, try one of those fish from the tank, preferably simmered in water and topped with shredded scallions and sweetly pickled ginger. And have something stuffed with shrimp paste -- either fried cr.epes or boneless flattened fried duck -- because the shrimp paste here is light, fluffy and flavorful as it is at few other Chinese restaurants. Meat dishes are also good -- Mongolian lamb, for instance -- but the highlights are seafoods. If a sauce is too salty here or too thickened there, at least China Coral never falters in the freshness and careful cooking of its seafoods. Then there is the weekend dim sum menu, also seafood oriented but including a wide variety, right down to peanut butter-coconut buns for dessert.
China Coral has cozy booths and large round tables with Lazy Susans, and service is knowledgeable, if sometimes harassed. This is a Chinese restaurant to depend on for consistently decent cooking, wide variety and always something new, intriguing, out of the ordinary. 6900 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase. 656-1203. L $3.50-$5.25, D $5.95-$19. L, D daily. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Res sugg. Full bar.