There may be lots of good Chinese restaurants in the suburbs these days, but very few of them offer a menu in which no MSG is used. Peking and Hunan Gourmet is one of the few. (MSG, if you haven't yet heard about it, is a "flavor enhancer" commonly used in Asian cooking. It causes unpleasant symptoms in some people.)
Even for those who don't suffer from MSG-induced "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome," the Peking and Hunan Gourmet offers some big pluses. It has generally good food with a few outstanding dishes, reasonable prices and a handsome dining room with soft lighting and comfortable seating.
Even the appetizers here are MSG-free, and they don't suffer from the absense. Bon bon chicken is a lovely cold dish, with perfectly trimmed strips of chicken in a sauce that nicely balances hot, sweet and peanut flavors. Another cold appetizer, thinly sliced marinated beef, has a delightfully subtle anise flavor. But the jellyfish, although in a good gingery sauce, is rubbery. Among the hot appetizers, the wrappings on the steamed dumplings are too gluey (the fried ones are better). But the egg rolls are flawless: crisp and chewy outside, not excessively oily, and filled with plenty of coarse ground pork and a bit of fluffy egg. (The fluffy egg, a nice touch, is also in the steamed rice that accompanies the entrees.)
They really know how to cook a duck at the Peking and Hunan. Crispy duck is excellent: flavorful, juicy, crisp-skinned, with a minimum of excess fat. And, judging from past experiences, the Peking duck is another good bet.
The beef, lamb and pork entrees are generally prepared with high-quality meats that are carefully trimmed and cooked to retain flavor and succulence. The problem is that the "standard" sauces with which they are served -- hot garlic, Szechuan style, Hunan style -- tend to be blatantly and similarly flavored. Except for the Szechuan sauce, which is particularly cloying, they're not actually bad, just monotonous. So if a large group orders several of those dishes, there's a boring meal in store.
The trick is to find some subtle dishes that get away from the heaviness of the sweet-hot-tart-garlic-ginger routine. The best of those is the lamb with spring onions, an outstanding dish of very thin and succulent lamb slices with big pieces of scallion in a light, smokey-flavored sauce. Another subtle beauty, the best of the vegetable dishes, is sauteed broccoli.
If you want shrimp, head for the Peking shrimp, in a light sauce with plenty of ginger, balanced with a bit of hot pepper, sugar and garlic. The shrimps have had a heavier-than-usual batter lately, but the dish is good nonetheless. Lo mein, too, was a bit disappointing on our last visit -- a little less generous on the meats than we'd remembered, and a touch oily. Still, not bad.