Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Atmosphere: Pleasant and relaxed.
Price Range: Appetizers from $1.60 for two egg rolls to $7.75 for a combination; soups from 80 cents for egg drop to $7.50 for shark's fin for two; a la carte dishes from $3.95 for fried rice to $9.95 for lobster.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express.
Special Facilities: Parking lot; carryout and banquet facilities; exotic drinks; accessible to the handicapped.
When dining out with the kids, most families have a couple of basic needs: quick service and adequate food that won't cost an arm and a leg. For parents who pale at the thought of fast food, Chinese restaurants are usually the best bargains around.
The Szechuan Palace gets high marks in the price and service departments. The food, however, can be unpredictable.
On the evening our family dined there, out entrees were tasty enough. The problem was that somebody in the kitchen wasn't paying attention to the job. All four of our selections came to the table lukewarm and had cooled considerably more and more by the time we finished them.
The menu, typical of Chinese restaurants, is extensive. It runs from 15 kinds of soup, hot and cold appetizers that include the intriguingly named "chicken with hangover," to the more than two pages of a la carte selections. A big help, especially for patrons with youngsters, is that the spicy dishes are flagged in red on the menu. Another plus at Szechuan Palace is that Peking duck, $8 for a half, does not have to be ordered in advance.
Our family passed over the preliminaries and got right doen to the main courses, which are a la carter. No bowls of rice are thrown in. At the children's urging, we ordered old favorites of moo shi pork, $4.95, and Mandarin fried rice, $3.95, and then added chicken with cashews, $5.75, and one hot dish, beef with orange sauce, $6.25.
Service was fast and efficient. The kids barely had time to play with the paper fans that decorated our drinks before the family-style meal had arrived.
The quality of most dishes was good, but not exceptional. The fried rice was dry, lightly flavored and chock full of bits of chicken, shrimp and beef. Less successful was the chicken with cashews. Besides being lukewarm, its sauce was excessively salty and the presence of monosodium glutamate all too evident.
Moo shi pork, a combination of strips of pork, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and egg, was more satisfactory. Its flavors blended nicely with the accompanying piquant plum sauce and dry, bland pancakes.
The hot dish, tender sliced beef and scallions in a distinctive orange sauce, was spicy, but not too much so for the children to sample. Unfortunately, a few slivers of orange peel, unpleasant to bite into, had been left in the sauce.
Our meal finished with fortune cookies. Out desserts were toffee for four, $3.45, sesame banana, $1.95, rice pudding for four, $3.95 and fried pineapple, 95 cents.
Szechuan Palace is in the International Center complex in Reston, conveniently close to a movie theater for families planning to make a night of it. The restaurant's decor is suburban red and gold, with several nice screens, some attractive murals and bead curtains that fascinate the youngsters.
Our family of four dined for $32.85. That included two exotic cocktails, colas, tax and tip.