If you haven't visited the North China lately, you're in for a surprise.
What was at best an ordinary-looking place has been transformed into an elaborate and elegant Chinese restaurant of the old school, complete with gold dragons, ceramic statuary, massive gold-inlaid screens, red walls, the traditional works. No modernity here, no blond woods or greenery, no uncertainty about the ethnic identity of the place.
Elegant it may be, but it's the same old North China in other respects: Still close-packed and noisy, and the waiters, though efficient, aren't any friendlier than before. You won't find much change in the food, either. Most of it remains solidly good, with a few outstanding items and some losers scattered here and there.
One of the best and most unusual appetizers is smoked vegetable roll, a sheet of bean curd skin rolled around smoked and julienned carrots, mushrooms and bamboo shoots -- a light, delicate, lovely dish. The excellent spring rolls are unusual here, too, with the girth of a wrist rather than a finger. They have a thick-but-light egg wrapper that's filled with sprouts, mushrooms, shrimp and pork, and they're perfectly fried.
An old standby, sweet and sour cabbage, is properly sweet, tart, hot and gingery. The combination soup is no surprise, either, but it's reliably pleasing, a good chicken broth crammed with meats and vegetables. Not so pleasing were the steamed dumplings, with the heaviest, pastiest wrappers we can remember.
An especially nice entree is moo-shi pork, a gargantuan portion of tender, succulent pork strips and vegetables that's covered with a blanket of fluffy fried egg. It's like an immense, full omelette, served with the customary pancakes and hoisin sauce.
Another winner is chef's beef, in which tender, marinated meat double-cooked so that it's juicy inside and crusty on the surface, served in an unthickened, slightly sweet, gingery sauce with slivers of garlic. Kouh-tah shrimp are pan-fried in egg batter and served in a good, unthickened, garlic-laced sauce. It's a fine dish, compromised somewhat by a soggy batter, the result of too much sauce. Kung pao chicken is a fine rendition, the meat carefully trimmed, the flavor well balanced between hot, sweet, salt and garlic, the sauce just coating the chicken and peanuts without puddling.
Peking lamb, on the other hand, was a disaster, so overtreated with hoisin sauce that it was too cloying to eat. If you're a lamb lover, aim for the lamb sauteed with spring onions instead.
And if you're a lover of noodle dishes, note that there are 11 of them here. Noodles with meat sauce are top-notch, neither clumpy nor oily nor mushy, with a mild, straightforward sauce and the contrast of crunchy scallion and cucumber strips.