Summit Center 4686 King St., Alexandria 931-3331 or 931-3332. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday Prices: Soups and appetizers $1.25 to $4.50; entrees $5.50 to $12.95 Cards: Visa, MasterCard No nonsmoking section.
A basic Chinese stir-fry appears simple to make, but in recent attempts to find a good, new neighborhood Chinese restaurant, I have been struck by how often a "simple" dish, say, roast pork with snow peas, can go wrong -- flavorless pork, limp pea pods, salty sauce.
China Delight, though, is a welcome addition to the local scene. Although it cannot claim an innovative menu or exotic ingredients, its kitchen generally executes the basics with a competence that should not be taken for granted. The menu, complete with color photos of most of the chef's specialties, includes all the expected dishes, at moderate prices. Most are $7 to $8.
The attractive interior -- as pretty as a summer garden -- is an added bonus. Colorful murals on one wall are reflected in mirrors on the opposite wall; bamboo chairs have indigo-colored floral seat cushions, and the 15 tables are covered with petal-pink cloths. Dainty blue-on-white china and taped Chinese music add to the charming atmosphere.
Though the entrees are the best of the offerings, there are several agreeable appetizers. The hot appetizer assortment, at $4.50 per person, is an economical way to sample five dishes. The best of these were the meaty barbecued ribs, four-pointed dumplings stuffed with a creamy crab dip, and shrimp/chicken toast. Less satisfying were the crispy but bland spring rolls and a sweet/sour shrimp in a mediocre batter. A separate order of gummy steamed dumplings was the least satisfying of all.
Based on recent samplings, I would also pass up the watery wonton soup and a peppery but otherwise weak hot and sour soup.
As for the entrees, the Peking duck ($18), carved tableside with authoritative flourishes, was rich and juicy, although I would have preferred a crisper skin.
The service staff finds other opportunities for showmanship, such as deftly whacking a disk of fried noodles into individual portions, topped with an appealing combination of chicken, beef, shrimp and vegetables.
Other good entree choices are the tasty roast pork with crunchy snow peas and, nearly as successful, the gingery sweet and sour cubes of sesame beef, which were, however, a little too chewy.
For a spicy entree, I recommend the Hunan chicken, with a sauce enhanced by orange peel and perfectly balanced between sweet and hot.
Also good was the shredded pork with the properly fiery hot garlic sauce. Unfortunately, in another selection, the same wonderful sauce could not overcome the fishy taste of some flounder fillets.
The sprightly string beans Szechuan-style came with a flavorful but slightly salty ground pork that is best eaten with rice.
Although the spicy dishes were generally winners, the kitchen concocted a curiously bland tomato soup-like mixture for the spicy half of the yuan yang shrimp. The mild half was in an unobjectionable sauce of thickened chicken stock.
The staff is generally efficient and accommodating -- waiters demonstrate the use of chopsticks and offer tours of the kitchen during pauses between courses.
On recent visits, the only glitch appeared at the end of one meal, when getting the waiter's attention for the bill was as difficult as flagging down a cab during a rush-hour rainstorm.
Only four months old, China Delight already offers tasty, familiar Chinese dishes in an attractive setting -- a combination that's easy to appreciate.