Atmosphere: Comfortably decorated with tasteful Chinese motifs.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday.
Price range: $4.25 for chicken chow mein to $17 for Peking duck; most entrees in $6 to $7 range. Weekends until January: special anniversary prices available 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Reservations: Necessary on weekends; suggested on weekdays.
Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard.
Special facilities: Parking in Culmore Shopping Center lot in front of restaurant; accessible to wheelchairs if one curb can be negotiated; booster seats but no highchairs.
My whole family gave three cheers to the Peking Gourmet Inn. It isn't often my whole family gives three cheers to anything, especially a restaurant.
Sometimes if the food and the ambiance are good, the service may be inept. Sometimes service is friendly and the food good, but the place so plain you don't feel like you've been out to dinner. And all too often a restaurant may be slickly decorated and the staff efficient but the food decidedly mediocre.
Peking Gourmet Inn, however, is one of those rare establishments that is terrific on all counts.
The first cheer is for ambiance. Peking Gourmet offers the best of two worlds. Despite its location in yet another nondescript shopping center, the Inn is far more than a suburban carryout. It looks and acts like a real restaurant, with carpet and tablecloths, large stately Chinese lanterns as focal points, and tasteful Oriental art on the walls. It's a comfortable setting, but it's still the suburbs; you'll feel comfortable in casual clothes.
The second cheer is for service. Although the Inn is large, an efficient staff answers questions and makes explanations without impatience, serves you quickly without making you feel rushed, and keeps the water glasses filled even when the children make a game out of seeing how many glasses they can drink.
The third and most important cheer is for the food, which is truly wonderful. The Inn deserves to be called "Gourmet." The menu manages to offer an enticing array of both Peking and Szechuan dishes in three pages instead of the usual 10.
Appetizers are creditable at Peking Gourmet, especially the spring rolls (four for $2.40) and the fried dumplings (six for $2.75) with their spicy, sausage-like pork filling. Try both.
Treasure chicken is available, but the real jewel among the entrees is Peking duck. A whole duck, served with 12 pancakes, is always available without advance order for $17. If that seems pricey, consider that you are not likely to find a better Peking duck in the area.
A glistening honey color, it is carved into thin slices of succulent meat and crisp skin at your table. Every last drop of grease has been rendered from these impeccable birds.
Our family -- including the grandmother and child who sat down to dinner thinking they did not like duck -- didn't leave a morsel on the plate.
Another house specialty well worth trying is the Peking gourmet beef ($6.95). Large tender cubes of beef were coated with a piquant sauce and broiled to a rare, juicy turn.
If one measure of a restaurant's quality is the way it does a special dish, another measure is the way it does an ordinary one. We don't usually order moo goo gai pan, because it's often mediocre -- bland and gluey. But not at Peking Gourmet, which sets a standard with the crisp, fresh texture of its vegetables and the rich flavor of the chicken it puts together for this dish ($5.95).
And moo shi pork ($5.75) was as good a rendition of that dish as we have had anywhere.
Peking Gourmet offers a delightful dessert of toffeed fruit for $4.25 an order, which was enough for six of us to share. The waiter arrived with one large bowl filled with pieces of fruit which had been batter-dipped, deep-fried and coated in sugar syrup. A second bowl contained ice water.
When the waiter dipped the hot sugary fruit into the ice water, the sugar crystallized into a lacy covering. The whole operation was fun for the children to watch, and the resulting dessert was a light and sweet ending to a meal we all felt like raving about.