Atmosphere: A pleasant outdoor Vietnamese cafe indoors.
Price Range: Lunch specials for $2.75; most dinner entrees are around $5 with a dinner for two special at $7.95. Peking duck available (whole, $12.95; half, $6.95.)
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit Cards: American Express, Bank Americard, Visa, Master Charge.
Speical Facilities: Booster and high chairs available; free parking next door; carryout available. Easy access for patrons in wheelchairs.
The Mai Flower, one of the newest Vietnamese restaurants to blossom in Arlington, is full of surprises. The office building in which it is housed is a drab backdrop for the first pleasant surprise just inside the Mai Flower door: An indoor cafe with thatched bamboo canopies over the tables, pale willowy trees in the corners and delicate yellow and purple tree orchids decorating the walls and tables.
The effect was positively tropical on the wintry night we visited. One could easily have completed the scene by sipping Mai Tais and Pina Coladas under the stars -- albeit painted ones on the ceiling, which our 4-year-old noticed almost immediately.
We, however, forewent that pleasure and instead settle for tea, served in a pretty china pot, while we gave serious scrutiny to the menu. Mai Flower offers the cusines of both China and Vietnam, always a dilemma for hungry customers, but not much of a difficulty at Mai Flower since both are prepared well.
From appetizers to dessert we weren't once disappointed.
The spring rolls or cha gio, $2.25, had a brown, crisp rice paper surrounding a deliectable filling of pork, shrimp and begetables. The rolls then were dipped at the tabel in sweet and sour fish sauce. The barbecued pork, $2.50, was a tempting -- thin slices or port marinated in Chinese wine and spices, grilled, then brought to the table for a warm up over a little flaming stove. That of course was the highlight of the meal for our little one.
The chicken and cashew nuts, $5.50, one of the Szechuan selections, had large plump pieces of chicken with equally large, flavorful cashews served in a peppery tomato sauce with green peppers uncharacteristic of the Chinese.
Barbecued meat balls, our other entree, were tender little chunks of pork lightly seasoned with garlic, grilled and served with rice paper, thin almost transparent peices of pastry. The rice paper was spread with hoisin, a sweet Chinese bean sauce, then wrapped around the meatballs, lettuce, cucumber and other salad items for a delicious sandwich.
Throughout this feast we were cheerfully attended by a waitress who took special interest in our son.
Our only real disappointment with the dinner was not enought people to sample all of the Mai Flower's surprises. Among the interesting items on the menu are shrimp pineapple soup, roast squab on salad, shrimp-stuffed Chinese mushrooms, chicken a la citronelle, coconut chicken and several eel dishes.
We did end our meal rather spectacularly, however, with bananas fried in a crisp batter and drizzled with honey, 95 cents.
The last surprise, of course, was the bill -- $18.14, not including tip.