Atmosphere: The food's the thing.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $3.75 to $18 (Peking duck); most dishes $5.95 to $7.25. Minimum $4.75 a person (not applicable to small children).
Reservations: A good idea on weekends.
Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard.
Special facilities: Limited parking in front of restaurant; entrance is accessible to wheelchairs, but restaurant is crowded; boosters and highchairs available.
Where, everybody in the Chinese cooking class wanted to know, did the teacher go when she and her family ate out? The instructor, a native of Taiwan, kept slicing ginger and scallions and answered without hesitation, "Far East."
We knew of the small, nondescript restaurant just off Rockville Pike but had never tried it. There are newer, bigger and better known Chinese restaurants nearby. None of this mattered to the cooking teacher, so we decided to see for ourselves.
The Far East is indeed a good Chinese restaurant, and that is hardly a secret. On the evening we visited, its two narrow dining rooms were bustling. Luckily, the Far East has a staff that knows how to keep things running smoothly.
Although we didn't have a reservation, we were seated immediately, given tea and menus and had our order taken promptly by a waiter who answered questions pleasantly and patiently despite the dinner rush. Swift service is apparently a critical element in the Far East's popularity.
Another, of course, is the food. The kitchen focuses on Peking-style cooking, with a few Szechuan dishes among the 60 or so main items on the menu. In addition, three or four special dishes offered at times. These are posted in the small foyer, and may include items such as shrimp toast, usually offered on weekends, or a main dish using some seasonal ingredient to advantage. They are a little more expensive than the average entree but worth trying.
Our daughters sampled Far East's egg rolls (two for $2), which were served crisp and greaseless. My husband and I liked the hot and sour soup ($1.20) even better. It had just enough bite to whet the appetite.
We thought three main dishes enough for four of us. We ordered one of our favorites, moo shi pork ($6.25)--often a good measure of a Chinese restaurant. Far East's version was a melange of pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and egg that had freshness, texture and flavor. The pancakes accompanying it might have been lighter, but the plum sauce was tart enough to give the whole dish piquancy.
We also asked for one of the specials: a platter of shrimp, scallops, broccoli and snow peas in a light sauce ($8.95). Again, the ingredients seemed exceptionally fresh and had been delicately handled so that texture and flavor were preserved.
Our third choice, chicken velvet, was not available. Our waiter suggested we try crisp chicken ($7.50), and we were not disappointed. It was a whole bird, marinated, steamed and crisped, then cut into pieces and served on a bed of lettuce. It was not unlike a teriyaki, but lighter in flavor, and would have offered a nice balance to any number of more highly seasoned dishes.
On another visit we sampled pork chung king, a Szechuan favorite of ours. Far East's version balances nicely the hot flavor of the dish with the mild crunch of crisp cabbage and green peppers.
Toffee fruit is the only dessert listed on the menu, but the Far East was out of fruit that evening, and we had to settle for fortune cookies.
That dessert will be our excuse to return, but our bill for dinner provided us with another one. The four of us ate well that night for $32.49, tax and tip included.