Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.; Sundays from 1 to 8:45 p.m.

Atmosphere: Nice - white tablecloths, large murals - but casual.

Price Range: Family dinners from $5 to $7; a la carte and special entrees from $3.50 to $7.50.

Credit Cards: Accepts major credit cards.

Special Facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs; high chairs and booster seats for young children; parking in shopping center lot where restaurant is located.

We had had one of those exhausting autumn Saturdays: Children had to be taken to or watched at soccer games, gymnastics workouts, religious school, piano lesons. Clothes had to be bought, shoes repaired, laundry washed. Come 7:30 p.m., we were all hungry, tired, cold and craving hot won ton soup.

Because The Orient in the Falls Road/River Road shopping center in Potomac isn't too far from our home and because all our Potomac acquaintances rave about their "neigborhood" Chinese restaurant, we descended on The Orient at 8 p.m.

We were concerned that a family group might be out of place so late on a Saturday evening, but the Orient is nothing if not family oriented. In addition to our weary looking foursome of two parents and two children, Orient was feeding several large groups of adults, a set of parents with three pre-school age of children, and a set of parents with an infant happily ensconced in a highchair.

Everyone was dressed casually, with jeans or jodhpurs being the favorite along with ski parkas and down vests over flannel shirts. There were white tablecloths on the tables and, on the walls, large murals with just a hint of mountain or bird in the design.

The family style Mandarin dinners might, we thought, be one reason families were attracted to the Orient. The prices on the dinners ranged from $10 for two persons to $14 for two persons, and from $3 to $7 per additional person, and offered a good selection of unusual dishes. On the $10-for-two dinner there were roast pork with Chinese vegetables, chow mein or egg foo yung plus wun tun (sic) soup or egg drop soup, egg roll, rice, dessert and tea. On the top-of-the-line dinner, $14 for two, there were the soup and egg roll plus a choice of fresh lobster Cantonese or jumbo shrimp with bacon, and moo goo gai pan or diced cut chicken with almonds.

Our family usually finds family dinners for four too much food to eat. We decided to order three Orient specials or a la carte entrees, a round of won ton soups for everyone and two orders of egg roll to share.

Asking four people to choose three dishes to share is a torture unique to Chinese restaurants.. I was taking a hard line against sweet and sour pork. Our children always want to order it; I don't like it at all. At least, I suggested, let's have everyone like everything we order.

That narrowed the field considerably, but we came up with moo shi pork, $5.75, and always a family favorite; chicken with pineapple, $4.50, a good substitute for sweet and sour pork, and sizzling gor-ba, $7.25, a lobster, chicken and pork dish served oover crispy rice.

What troubled us about our oder was passing by such Orient specials as pearl duck, $6.50, which the menu described as boneless duck blended with bean cake and green peas in oyster sauce; king crab meat with straw mushrooms, $7.25; and pacific shrimp, $7.25, deep fried and served with Chinese vegetables.

We were also concerned that we might have ordered on the skimpy side. When asked for advice, our waitress suggested we not order too much. "You can always order more later if you're still hungrey," she said.

We had a brief walk, but then our food starting arriving in waves. The won ton soup was hot and good but on the bland side. Nice bits of pork and spinach floated in it, and the won ton themselves were especially good - well stuffed and heavier on the meat than noodle. The egg rolls, next on our agenda, were nicely crimp on the outside and even crimper inside. They were filled with bean sprouts and other good things.

Next came the moo shi pork with delicate and light pancakes, so light we could almost see through them. The moo shi filling was crimp but too abundant for the number of pancakes served. We managed to finish it off, anyway.

The chicken with pineapple turned out to be a quiet and simple dish, not at all sweet, but a good balance with dishes that are hot and spicy. The gorba came to the table snapping, crackling and popping. The Orient hadn't skimped on the lobster; there were plenty of nice size chunks of the light and juicy meat. The dish wasn't particularly spicy or sharp and went over very well with our children, who felt they were ebing very adventurous trying something so different.

We had our choice of boiled or fried rice to accompany our meal and had chosen fried rice. We managed to finish all of it and most of the other dishes as well. After that we didn't need dessert.

Our tab at the Orient came to $26.78 including tax.

The Orient

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