Atmosphere: Small, intimate, off the beaten path.
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.
Price Range: Most dishes are $3.75 to $6.50.
Credit Cards: Visa and American Express
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs.
There are days when our children are ready for anything: They'll go to the most unusual of restaurants and try - although not necessarily order - the most exotic of dishes. There are also days when they're not, when familiarity breeds comfort and they're simply not up to an experimental dinner. When faced with the latter mood recently, we went off to the Taiwan.
Taiwan is nestled between two over-powering buildings on Arlington Road in Bethesda. With its red awning and paned front window, it always looked fairly elegant. Recently, however, we spied sandwich-style poster boards outside announcing lunch and dinner specials. That made us feel Taiwan was interested in simple, family trade. The dishes advertised were the "hamburgers" of Chinese cuisine, the basics with which even the tamest of palates are comfortable.
Inside, Taiwan is small and intimate, with less than 20 tables set up in three rows. The tables are covered with red oil cloth: there are a few Chinese prints adorning one blue wall and one brick wall. That's about it. Taiwan is a very basic Chinese restaurant.
We ate there on a quiet Friday evening when only two other tables were in use. We sat at a booth along the brick wall, and before we could even look at the menu our waitress brought us hot tea and a plate of Chinese fried Chinese noodle we'd ever had in a restaurant. They were wide and flat with just a hint greasiness. They were delicious. We finished off the plate of them before we even considered our order. Our waitress cheerfully refilled the plate but suggested we go easy or we wouldn't be able to eat our dinner.
The menu at Taiwan is one of the shortest I've seen in a Chinese restaurant. There were a la carte entrees in the beef, pork, seafood, poultry and vegetable categories, but not more than 10 entries per category. Prices ranged from $3.75 to $6.50 per dish with one exception, Peking Duck, which was $13.95.
We opted for a la carte because some of the special dishes listed on a typewritten insert sounded tempting: Yu-Hsiang shrimp ($5.75), described as shrimp with bamboo shoots in a spicy sauce, crisp whole fish deep fried and served with a spicy sauce ($5), beef with orange flavor ($5); Szechuan shredded beef ($4.25); fried shrimp Szechuan style ($5.75); Yu-Hsiang beef ($4.50); Shanghai duck with water chestnuts and raisins ($4.50); and honey duck with Chinese vegetable ($6.50).
We started with won ton soup for three of us (60 cents apiece). It was fairly good and just plain enough to suit our children's mood. An order of egg rolls ($1.20) and another of spare ribs ($2.60) followed. The egg rolls, two to the order, were merely crisp and jammed with vegetables and lots of shrimp. The ribs, four to the order, were large and crispy looking but only fair. Our waitress told us we were lucky that night because the ribs were so big, usually they're smaller. perhaps smaller are more succulent.
Our next course was moo shi pork ($4), served with four pancakes, which were on the thick side. However, they held up well under the onstaught of a good and thick plum sauce and the inevitably messy, but nonetheless delicious, moo shi stuffing. We were glad our waitress served the moo shi pork separately from the rest of our dinner because the pancake needs a plate of its own.
After that came the deluge: subgum sea food ($5.25), honey duck ($6.50) and fried rice. By then we were hardly hungry and deeply regretting the earlier indulgence in fried noodles. The subgum seafood was a beautiful dish filled with chunks of scallop, shrimp and lobster as well as water chestnuts and broccoli in a light, clear sauce. It went well with the slightly too dry fried rice. The honey duck had been the big temptation. It was described as crisp fried duck with a honey glaze and while it was palatable and gorgeously crisp, somehow it was disappointing.
Fortune cookies topped off the meal. Most of the fortunes concerned those in mid-life crisis. "A fool at forty is a fool, indeed," our son, 10, was warned.
On a more upbeat note, our waitress came by with our bill for $23,60 for four people, our leftovers in neat white take-out packages and the information that Taiwan was one of the few Chinese restaurants around that did not charge for tea or noodles.