Ever have a hankering for good Chinese? China Harbor on Solomons Island might be the place.
This restaurant has the relaxed feel that prevails at Solomons, with a decor that is smart and clean. Black lacquered tables complemented by pink napkins and chairs provide a comfortable backdrop for a meal. Next door to the Tiki Bar, China Harbor offers an amazing and authentic feast, or a lighter fare of appetizers and terrific soups.
But first the story behind this establishment. In October 1991, a woman in New Jersey was helping a friend with a decorating job. The friend knew someone who was looking for a decorator for a restaurant in Solomons. "The season is over," she now remembers him saying, "so why don't you just spend a couple days down there and let me know what you think?" Two short months later, Yvonne Lee became the owner and operator of China Harbor and the 10-room Island Manor Motel.
Lee immediately liked the small-town feel of Solomons. It reminded her of growing up in Taipei, Taiwan. In those days, she says, Taipei was more like a small town than the city it has become. "I've lived in places like Tokyo, D.C., Paris and Annapolis, and have never felt I fit in," she said. Solomons offers the small-town feel and life on an island she missed.
She says that running the motel is just "part of the deal, and comes in handy," but the real attraction for her was the chance to satisfy her passion for preparing and serving good, authentic Chinese food.
Her menu is large and varied. The spicy dishes are very hot, so diners who prefer milder sauces should tell their server. China Harbor offers dishes from many provinces of China, specializing in seafood dishes such as Oyster Soup for Two (oysters, ginger and scallions in a chicken broth, $7.95), or Seafood Pan-fried Noodles (sea scallops, shrimp, calamari and fish filet with vegetables sauteed in a delicate white sauce atop pan-fried egg noodles, $18.95).
The chefs at China Harbor are trained by an uncle who comes in from San Francisco, and Lee's mother occasionally comes to the United States to check out the authenticity of the old family recipes, as most are adaptations of her favorites. Many of the recipes have been revised somewhat to suit the American palate, and some are specifically designed for Southern Maryland tastes. "Duck hunting is popular here," Lee said, "so we always have three types of duck on the menu, Tea-Smoked Duck from the Zhang River area ($15.95), Peking Duck ($15.95, half; $27.95, whole), and Boneless Duckling ($15.95)."
The Crispy Whole Rockfish ($18.95), a Northern Chinese traditional holiday dish, is a big local favorite, as are the soft shell crabs (available now) that are served atop stir-fried vegetables. In addition to the specialties, China Harbor offers shrimp, scallops, beef, pork and chicken prepared 20 different ways. For instance, any of them can be ordered in hot and spicy, kung-pao or garlic sauce, or with stir-fried broccoli.
China Harbor offers an excellent array of Chinese food. If you're headed to Solomons for a fun night, this is a good place to start.
CAPTION: Yvonne Lee, owner of China Harbor, says Solomons Island reminds her of the small-town flavor of her childhood in Taipei.
CAPTION: Cook Kang Gang, in foreground, puts together ingredients for pork lo mein, one of the restaurant's many authentic dishes.
China Harbor Seafood Restaurant
* Address: 77 Charles St., Solomons; 410-326-0700
* Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
* Prices: Lunch, $4.95 to $9.95
Dinner entrees, $6.95 to $27.95
Carryout menu available, but no children's menu
* Best kept secret: Less busy at lunch and between 5 and 7 p.m.
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