By day, McHuang's is a self-service, fast food Chinese eatery where diners order off paper menus and eat from trays. By night, it's an upscale restaurant with waitresses, and tables sporting crisp linens and expensive looking floral arrangements.
Any time, it's a cozy little dining room, decorated sparingly with a few simple Oriental adornments. A mirrored wall to one side lends the illusion of space. The staff is friendly and helpful, the setting a few notches above the dining rooms of similarly priced Chinese establishments.
If the food at McHuang's were consistently good, this would be a wonderful neighborhood spot for grabbing a quick meal or picking up carry-out after a busy day at the office. Unfortunately, the food never rises above adequateness, and much of the time falls below that.
Take for example an appetizer of spring rolls, whose tough, thick, chewy wrappers competed for blandness with a nondescript filling. Or the crackery-tasting, rubbery wontons, encasing a tough ball of pork. Both of these starters appear in the "flaming pu-pu platter," along with shrimp tempura, none-too-meaty barbecued spareribs, and chicken balls. Although the lightly battered shrimp tempura was by far the best of the samplings, the flame turned out to be the most exciting part of the platter.
And if a bowl of hot and sour soup was an indication of other soup offerings, I'd save any such noshing for elsewhere, for this was no more than an undistinguished beef broth and a few cubes of tofu.
Many of the appetizers are simply too heavy, be they wontons or spring rolls or steamed pork dumplings, which were overly starchy to boot. An hors d'oeuvre of shrimp toast proved to be an exception among the appetizers -- lightly fried and golden, it showcased some tender, fresh-tasting shrimp. (Indeed, it was the pearly pink shrimp that distinguished several seafood offerings, including an entree listed as Seafood Combination in Bird's Nest, a mix of lobster, scallops, shrimp and vegetables served in a fried noodle basket.)
The lunch menu includes about 30 dishes, and covers a range of cooking styles: it offers Hunan chicken, beef, and shrimp, as well as Szechuan chicken, sweet and sour entrees, and dishes of shredded pork or beef in hot garlic sauce. Combination platters include a side of decent fried rice and a forgettable spring roll.
Although the sweet and sour pork is a bit tough and chewy (and sauced in a too sweet glaze), the peppery kung pao chicken is quite pleasing, loaded with chicken, crunchy peanuts and crisply cooked broccoli. Another rather good dish has been the orange flavored beef. Served with an accompaniment of broccoli, and flecked with whole roasted hot peppers, it featured beef strips cooked to pinkness and a complementary sweet orange glaze. By all means avoid the lemon chicken, which proved a disaster of a dish. Though it appeared enticing in its light golden coating, the chicken was lost under a glaze so overpowering in its tartness that a few bites were all anyone could tackle.
McHuang's omits monosodium glutamate (MSG) from its dishes upon request, and the menu notes when entrees are distinctly spicy. Take it for its word. The Hunan Mixed Vegetables in particular were infused with an exceedingly generous amount of curry fire. Every bite of those perfectly steamed vegetables packed a wollop of heat, unpleasantly so.
The menu's appeal takes a back seat to McHuang's snazzy good looks. Perhaps I should heed the advice of my fortune cookie ("You will find what you're seeking") and take my chopsticks elsewhere.