This was one of the first restaurants in suburban Maryland to offer the cuisine of China's Szechuan and Hunan provinces.
When we visited nearly three years ago, it was still going strong, although the quality had dimmed a bit compared with its early days.
We just went back again and were delighted with what we found: Some excellent food, rock bottom prices and a dining room that had just been nicely redecorated with smoked mirrors and a beautiful, beige wallpaper. The place has such a suave look these days that the few tasseled Chinese lanterns seem strangely out of place.
For appetizers, the steamed dumplings remain first class, with reasonably delicate wrappers that have just the right satiny sheen (no waterlogging here), and with a good garlic- and ginger-flavored ground pork filling.
The dan dan noodles, nicely firm, have a sauce with just the right balance of peanut, pepper, vinegar and sugar, and the egg rolls have all the requisite virtues: wrappers that crackle, a filling chock full of ground meat and crisp vegetables, and admirable freedom from oiliness.
There are several good soups, among them shredded pork with Szechuan pickle, with a good chicken broth, crisp julienned cabbage, slivers of pork and tiny bits of intensely salty pickle for flavor. (People on low-sodium diets, beware).
Although we didn't try them this time, the sizzling rice soups mixed with superheated rice at table for a hissing, steaming sideshow, have been very good in the past.
Among the entrees, kung pao chicken is a paragon, one of the best we've had in a long time. The chicken is carefully trimmed and cubed so that the morsels are about the same size as the peanuts. There are enough peanuts to give the right crunch, and the sauce is neither overdosed with hoisin sauce nor overapplied.
Also outstanding is the crispy duck, with a nicely crunchy skin, a minimum of fat, moist, tender meat, and a lovely hint of anise. Hunan-style lamb, in a properly robust, garlicky ginger-flavored sauce, is another winner, with flavorful meat set off by still-lively broccoli.
One of the dishes the Szechuan and Hunan did best in its early days was mixed vegetables, stir frying them with great care so they'd cook through and yet retain their brightness and bite, and serving them with just a light wash of mild, scarcely thickened sauce. And now? They're doing it just as well, we're happy to report.
The crispy pan-fried noodle dishes are immense, and at $6 or so they provide lots of bulk for your money. But we found the noodles too limp (the crisp bottom was strangely absent) and the sauce too plentiful and too bland.
Judging from what we saw at other tables, the lo mein dishes would probably be a better bet. Triple delights, a combination beef-chicken-shrimp dish, was pleasant but ordinary.