Reprinted from The Washington Post, October 12, 1978
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Atmosphere: Comfortable, attractive furnishings, service is deferential but friendly.
Price Range: Most dishes in $4.50 to $8 range.
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, Master Charge.
Reservations: Advised on weekends and holidays.
Special facilities: Parking available; accessible for wheelchairs; booster chairs.
Rockville Pike's Emperor Ming restaurant could serve nothing but fried scrod and eucalyptus juice and still draw a crowd. It is a place of good cheer where the dying art of service has been revived and the diner is treated as something more than the bearer of an empty stomach and a credit card. Where else does the waiter thank you for accepting a glass of water from him?
The Emperor Ming scorns the Spartan decor of many Chinese restaurants and treats you to carpeting, candlelight, linen cloths and napkins. Tasseled lanterns and Asian mementos are there as well.
And a tip of the coolie hat to the emperor for his readable menu, which is well organized and helpful. For once, my husband, our two children and I did not have to grill the waitress on the meaning of bok choy or lichee chicken.
The best news, of course, is that the Emperor Ming is nearly as good at preparing food as it is at serving and describing it. This is not an original conclusion, judging from other patrons' glowing testimonials that hang framed on the walls and are printed on the place mats. "I'll never eat at McDonald's again," said one.
Rancorous sibling disagreements over the appetizers were resolved in a summit meeting leading to a compromise choice of Ming tao toy, $5.10. This is a variety of wonderful hors d'oeuvres, carefully counted out for equal distribution. It includes sticky barbecued spare ribs, the lightest of fried won tons and fried butterfly shrimp. The chicken wings, considered undesirables at home, are cooked in a tangy, garlicky glaze that made them a family hit. Only the egg rolls, with an unexciting filing, did not measure up.
Negotiations for stage two of the meal resulted in a settlement on three main dishes, one each of seafood, pork and chicken. Our 9-year-old's choice of a shrimp entree, $6.55, was fortunate. This simple creation - whole shrimp surrounded by fresh tomatoes, snow peas and other vegetables covered in a mild sauce - was festive to look at and even better to consume.
My favorite was the diced pork char sue dining, $5.50, small chunks of barbecued pork tossed with Vegetables, including celery, that provided a welcome change in the flavor department.
The almond chicken, $5.75, got the most stars from the girls. This old standby included water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and mushrooms. And naturally we got our quota of boiled rice.
In the midst of this Oriental splendor, my husband and I were given complimentary glasses of wine, a gesture made to all senior diners to honor the Emperor Ming's sixth birthday.
The rival of fortune cookies prompted our 11-year-old to come up with the Chinese puzzler of why Asian restaurants offer 101 main dishes but only cookies for dessert. Our answer of "so who has room for dessert?" Was irrelevant to one who would gladly begin and end every meal with a hot fudge sundoe. We conceded that she had a point, however.
After paying our bill - $33.01 for every thing including tip - we picked up a carryout menu. You can take home egg blossom soup for 95 cents, or crystal shrimp, $8.50, Korean beef, $4.40, or chef Kay Lee's specialty, Peking duck, $18. Or you can get the bo bo platter for $11.95 and gorge yourself on appetizers.
Note: Ask Mrs. Irene Wong, the energetic owner who is usually on the premises welcoming her guests, to show you the private banquet room in the back of the Emperor Ming. It's worth the tip to see her handsome collection of jade objects displayed in lighted cabinets.