Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., seven days a week.
Atmosphere: Not fancy, but service is attentive.
Price Range: Dinner main dishes from $5 to $16. Noodle, rice and vegetable dished, $3 to $4.
Credit Cards: VISA, Master Charge, American Express, Diners Club.
Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair; booster seats.
I grew up around the corner from the uptown Peking, the branch near Chevy Chase Circle. Back in the '50s, there were few Chinese restaurants in the Northwest part of the District, and Peking was synonymous with good but inexpensive Chinese food.
Today's faddish hot and spicy dishes were unknown. We always had egg rolls, spareribs and fried wontons to start, then egg drop or wonton soup. Then came the standard Cantonese dishes. Invariably, these were shrimp in lobster sauce (it took me two decades to discover the dish contains no lobster), various chow meins, beef-and-broccoli, chicken with almonds and vegetables medleys.
We went back to the Pekng recently, after a hiatus of at least 15 years. It wasn't so much a case of wanton nostalgia as of wonton nostalgia: a yen for that simpler, blander food we remembered eating before the thousand peppers of the Szechwan Revolution bloomed.
The decor has not changed a whit. Never fancy, now it is almost shabby.The high ceiling is peeling, the vinyl booths are worn and the floor tiles are chipped.
The place was not even a third full on a recent Sunday evening, but the linen was fresh and clean, and innumerable waiters appeared when it was time to be served.
The menu shows the Peking has attempted to change with the times. No longer are the old-style. Cantonese dishes the primary features. The new menu's highlights are Hunan, Szechwan and some Mandarin specialists not unlike those offered in the newer, more modern restaurants. There are bung bung chicken, country-style fried bean curd with pork and black beans, shredded squid with pork. Hunan style eggplant (a specialty of the house), Ming shrimp and hot sliced beef.
We thought we would try some of the old and some of the new. In both, we were disappointed.
The old standbys were poor. Egg rolls were large but mushy, with virtually no meat and little esle in the filling except cabbage. The greasy shrimp toast tasted of fish rather than shrimp. Wonton soup was served in generous portions, but the broth seemed no more than water.
The best beginning dish was the restaurant's well-known O-O soup. This is a tuned-down version of the currently popular hot and sour soup. It is a corn-starch-thickened chicken broth laced with sliced bean curd, shredded pork and chicken, topped with scallions. This mild and pleasing dish was the best of the dinner. Our children finished it to the last drop.
Among main dishes, the only adequate one was the moo shi pork, $4.75. This included acceptable amounts of shredded vegetables and meat, which made a mild filling for the thin pancakes.
The Chinese special fried chicken, recommended by our waiter, was cooked in rancid oil and served on shredded iceberg lettuce.
The jao tze, also known as "Chinese ravioli," contained adequate amounts of bland meat filling, but the dough wrappers were mushy and gluey.
The hot sliced pork Szechwan style was swimming in oil. Hot peppers were not overdone, and the dish did not have the zest its name implied.
Several fish dishes looked promising, especially the whole fried fish served in a sweet and sour sauce. The sauteed shrimp were adequate, served in a bean sauce with hot peppers and garlic, but floating in too much oil.
Neither the dishes of the past nor those of the present were up to the standards of the Peking as many remember it.