Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Most dinner entrees about $7. Cards: American Express, MasterCharge, Visa.
The Hunan Village is a small Chinese restaurant in a small shopping center, pleasant, cozy and unprepossessing. What lifts the Hunan Village several notches above most other shopping center Chinese restaurants is its knack for doing common dishes uncommonly well.
Take lemon chicken. In most Chinese restaurants this is nothing more than slabs of chicken breast coverered with a cloying, lemon-candy sauce. At the Hunan Village the lemon chicken is for people who'd rather not have dessert as an entree -- small strips of marinated chicken beautifully fried in a feather-light, delicately crisp batter with wedges of fresh lemon to be squeezed on top. This is a fried dish on a par with a fine tempura, and at $6.75 for an immense plateful, it's a notable bargain.
Frying, in fact, is what they do best. So, as expected, the crispy fish chunks are excellent, the fish are perfectly filleted, the sauce faintly sweet and laced with fresh garlic and ginger. Even kung pao shrimp are batter-fried, an unusual touch, and they're excellent.
Just as unusual is serving the fiery hot-sweet-salty kung pao sauce on the side -- in this case a brilliant idea, since it preserves the crispness of the batter on the shrimp and allows the diner to adjust the hotness to taste.
Not every fried dish is first rate. Egg rolls, for example, were awful the last time we tried them, bland and mushy. Speaking of appetizers, we found the wrappers on the steamed dumplings thick and gluey. If you're a dumpling fan, you'll probably do better to order them fried. The paper chicken appetizer was well flavored but too gristly to make it worthwhile.
Since one cannot live by fried entrees alone, here are some nonfried choices:
Among the soups, san shzin is a pleasant, simple rendition, a good chicken broth crammed with shrimp, chicken, straw mushrooms and snow peas. (Although the menu lists this dish -- as well as the triple delight entree -- as "with sizzling rice," and although we remember great shows of steaming tableside sizzle on earlier visits, there has been no sizzling of either dish lately.)
Good nonfried entrees include yuling duck, half a bird nicely roasted so that the skin is amber-crisp, the meat juicy and flavorful, the fat minimal. It's served with a simple soy-based sauce with scallions that might be too salty on some dishes but that complements the duck beautifully.
A delightful and unusual dish is "hot in the cold," in which strips of lean pork are served in a pungent, salty, garlicky, gingery sauce. At the last moment strips of cold cucumber are added, and the result is a wonderful contrast in flavors and textures.
For something mild if unexciting, triple delight -- a generous mixture of beef, shrimp, chicken, mushrooms and snow peas -- is a reliable choice, the meat and the slightly sweet sauce mildly flavored with garlic and ginger. An even milder sauce -- lighter on the ginger and garlic -- appears on the Mongolian beef, a generous portion of thinly sliced beef with leeks.
Finally, don't overlook that old standby, lo mein. At the Hunan Village it's a heroic portion for $4.75, generously endowed with roast pork and shrimp.