Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; dinner, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. Prices: Most dinner entrees about $6. Cards: Cash only.
If we had to describe the China Restaurant in one word, it would be "modest."
This is a jeans-and-sweater place, small and family run, where the variety of dishes is limited, the portions are very generous, the prices are pleasingly low, and the service (tendered by members of the family) is friendly and accommodating.
The restaurant is spare but not unattractive, with reasonably gentle lighting and framed Chinese prints to soften the severity of the small, square room.
The food preparation tends to be simple -- vegetables and chicken hacked into big chunks, for example, rather than properly diced into small morsels -- and the quality of what's offered is a bit uneven, with some dishes excellent and others falling short of the mark.
To start, fried dumplings are very good, not too wet or oily, and with nicely tender wrappers.
And the soy-vinegar-hot oil dipping sauce has a pleasant extra touch: slivers of grated ginger. We would have preferred more ginger and garlic flavor in the dumpling filling, but that's a small quibble.
Fried won ton, usually a dull and greasy dish, is unusually good at the China Restaurant -- light and remarkably free of oil under the surface. Egg rolls, too, are more respectable, with chewy-crisp wrappers and a filling commendably free of excess oil.
The sesame shrimp appetizer was another story, however -- greasy and with a strong flavor that spoke of shrimp past its prime.
And rumaki (chicken liver wrapped in bacon) was crumbly dry. Moo shi pork is excellent: the pork well-trimmed, the sprouts crunchy, the pancakes tender but sturdy enough to hold the contents properly. Kung pao chicken has a nicely balanced salt-hot-sweet sauce and bits of green and red sweet pepper.
Chow san shein sounded simple and appealing: beef, chicken, shrimp and vegetables in what the menu calls "soy sauce." Sure enough, the meats were good and generously portioned, but the sauce turned out to be an unpleasantly thickened, ultra-bland glop that killed the dish. Too bad. Another loser is the curry: the chicken uncharacteristically cut into too-small pieces, the sauce an overabundant, one-dimensional soup that tasted as though someone had simply dumped curry powder into a standard sauce.
Our negative experience with the sesame shrimp appetizer notwithstanding, we found the shrimp entrees generally very good. Shrimp with cashew nuts, a stapled-to-the-menu special, was a simple, delicate dish, mild yet not bland, and thankfully not cursed with an overcornstarched sauce. The shrimp were sweet and fresh tasting and the sprinkle of green peas gave just the needed eye appeal. Tempura shrimp would have been excellent, for the shrimp were plump and tender and the frying commendably light, but there was entirely too much batter -- so much that the shrimp seemed encased in a kind of impenetrable golden cocoon.
There are a couple of good pork dishes that shouldn't be overlooked. Pork hung king has tender pork and lively green pepper in a mildly hot sauce, and pork hong kong has plenty of Chinese black mushrooms and "tree ears" in a very good, slightly sweet, slightly tart, slightly hot sauce.