We knew we'd like Dynasty Gourmet when the dumplings were brought to our table, not just because they tasted good but also because the serving was so artfully arranged.
We had ordered several appetizers -- fried dumplings, egg rolls, lovers' dumplings (stuffed with shrimp and pork) -- and the kitchen took the time and care to arrange them on a single white platter, complete with a tomato peel rose, like a small sculpture.
That's the kind of extra attention that makes this restaurant a step above many others. The food alone is good enough to keep us coming back. It's not great food, certainly, but generally above average. We like the small touches that you don't usually find except at more expensive places.
Ask the waiter what he recommends and he doesn't just repeat the menu. He tells you which dishes he thinks are good and which are boring. Order a whole fish, and the manager stops by the table to warn that the fish isn't so fresh tonight. He says he'd much rather serve another dish. And although the menu looks pretty much like a hundred other Chinese menus around town, there are a few distinctive dishes that we don't often find.
Start as we did with dumplings (skip the dull egg rolls unless you have kids who have to have them) and some bon bon chicken -- big shreds of white meat in a dark, hot peanut sauce. If you like extremely spicy food, try the Hunan wontons, soft folds of dough in a searing soy sauce sprinkled with peppers.
We haven't had many dishes we didn't like, so feel free to experiment (and, of course, to ask the waiter for help). A few of our favorites: minced chicken with pine nuts (an appetizer actually, tiny pearls of chicken, celery and carrots tossed in a clear glaze with a hint of sweetness, wrapped in lettuce leaves); shredded chicken with yu shiang sauce (threads of meat and red and green peppers, slightly flavored with ginger and garlic), and terrific baked shrimp with shell in spicy salt (a generous serving of big juicy shrimp, seared until they taste smoky and flowery with pepper; the shell's so soft and tastes so good you should try eating it).
Don't neglect noodle dishes -- pan-fried, for instance, piled with bright, vivid broccoli and carrots, along with shrimp, scallops and chicken.
Sesame beef is a pleasant dish, too, but we could do without the light tomato sauce, which reminds us of barbecue. However, it's sprinkled with striking black and white sesame seeds.
The most visually spectacular dish, unfortunately, is one of the most flawed. Called double wonders, it looks like a centerpiece at a Chinese state banquet, with piles of sienna-colored spicy chicken and pristine white lobster arranged around the bright orange lobster shell that sits upright like a statue. The chicken is delicious, but the lobster tastes limp and watery. Another dish that sounds interesting, scallops stuffed with shrimp paste, has been a bit pasty.
At the end of the meal you'll get your ritual plate of fortune cookies, naturally, but also one more gracious touch: a platter of sweet sliced oranges. Dynasty Gourmet doesn't have to serve any fruit, and you probably wouldn't miss it if the restaurant didn't. But the staff wants to give you something extra -- and that makes a modestly priced dinner here just a bit more special.