Authentic Chinese Restaurants in Washington, DC

We travel fairly often to China and have enjoyed the food there very much, so we decided to start hunting for Chinese restaurants in the Washington, DC area that we thought produced authentic dishes that taste like the restaurants in Beijing.  (With the added advantage that the restaurants in DC are cleaner, and it’s safe to drink the water.)  We had several criteria for our search:

1)   Level of Spiciness – Chinese restaurants in the United States generally tone down the level of spice and hot peppers for American palates.  The restaurants on our list do not do so.  There are non-spicy dishes to be found, of course, but if you order a spicy dish from these restaurants, you are guaranteed a spicy dish.

2)   Authentic Dishes – there are many items that Chinese eat that sound alien or unappetizing to American tastes.  These dishes include items such as tripe, tendon, jellyfish, and sea cucumber.  Mind you, we don’t like tripe, tendon, or sea cucumber either (I do confess that I like jellyfish), but if you’re not offering those dishes, then you aren’t an authentic Chinese restaurant.

3)     Mapo tofu – this is a classic spicy dish with tofu and ground pork.  The Beijing version has an explosion of peppercorns with each mouthful, and a restaurant had to do this dish well in order to make our list.

This is only the beginning of our search, but we’ve come up with three restaurants that we think fit the criteria.  They are as follows (in order of discovery):

Sichuan Pavilion (1814 K St NW; 202-466-7790):  a friend of mine who works at the World Bank introduced me to this restaurant.  She told me it was where all of the Chinese who work at the World Bank go to eat.  (Branching out to other cuisines is not a Chinese strength—why sample other cuisines when your own is so clearly superior?)  The restaurant is better decorated than most Chinese restaurants, and the staff is knowledgeable and competent.  It gets very crowded at lunchtime, so make sure you go early or late if you want to avoid the lines.

Chalin’s, formerly Charlie Chiang’s (4250 Connecticut Ave NW; 202-966-1916):  the parents of a friend of our daughter’s introduced us to this restaurant.  They formerly worked at the Chinese Embassy, which is just down the street and told us that Chalin’s is a popular place for lunch for embassy employees.  In fact, the restaurant shut down during Hu Jintao’s visit so that the chef could cook for him while he was in the United States (note previous comment about branching out or the lack thereof.)  We’ve only been for dinner, and it’s never been crowded.  They have private rooms that you can reserve, which is a nice touch for large family gatherings.

Great Wall Szechuan House (1527 14th St NW; 202-797-8888):  some Japanese friends introduced us to this restaurant.  Mapo tofu is a favorite dish amongst the Japanese—go figure.  This is the most casual of the three restaurants (which is a pretty high (low?) bar when you’re talking about Chinese restaurants).  There is limited seating, but if you live close by, takeout is very doable.  Parking is VERY limited.  We are seriously thinking about using a car service next time we go.  Jim thinks the mapo tofu here is the best of the three because it is the least greasy, but the rest of us disagree.  The twice-cooked pork here is a must order.  Normally, it’s a very ordinary dish, but at the Great Wall, they use pork belly instead of ordinary pork.  Not to be missed!

We know there are more restaurants to be found, especially in Montgomery County and northern Virginia.  I’ll keep you posted on additional discoveries!

Alan Wong’s (a double helping)

In our latest visit to Honolulu, we were greedy enough to eat at Alan Wong’s twice during our trip.  The first meal was very good, but the second meal outdid itself.  At the second dinner, Jim and I ordered the classic tasting menu, which we could do without having the entire table required to order it.  (I understand the serving and pacing issues when only some at a table order the tasting menu, but it’s still a nice thing when a restaurant allows that flexibility.)

So, to summarize the meal, first, you have to start with the festive summer non-alcoholic drinks:

summer "cocktails"

At the first dinner, we tried an organic butter (which was much better tasting than the normal butter) and a lilikoi (passionfruit) shot.

assortment of butterslilikoi shot

For the classic tasting menu, we started off with a “soup and sandwich” consisting of a chilled tomato soup with a grilled cheese-and-kalua-pig sandwich.  It was amazing!  This was followed by an ahi sashimi and avocado salsa stack, which is also an appetizer on the main menu.  Yummy!

soup-and-sandwichahi & avocado stack

Our 13 year old ordered the Crazy Asian appetizer, which consists of Chinese roast duck and pork hash lumpia in a hoisin balsamic vinaigrette.  It doesn’t sound like those ingredients would work together, but they do!

crazy asian

Next on the classic tasting menu was a ginger-crusted snapper served with a miso sesame vinaigrette and a seafood lasagne.

ginger crusted snapperseafood lasgne

Entrees for the kids consisted of a “katsu curry” tilapia and a tenderloin steak (the photo shows only the remains of the steak, as it was consumed too quickly to get a presentation photo):

katsu curry tilapiaremains of the steak

The last non-dessert dish in the classic tasting menu is the twice cooked short rib, soy braised and grilled “kalbi” style:

twice cooked short rib

The classic tasting menu includes a dessert called the “mini coconut”–coconut sorbet served in a chocolate shell with tropical fruits and lilikoi sauce.  The other dessert served at the table was a pineapple shave ice.

mini coconutpineapple shave ice

We left the restaurant both times in a delightful food coma.  We can’t wait to eat there again the next time we go!

The Bourne Legacy

I am a huge fan of the Bourne movies, and Jeremy Renner is my latest candidate for hunk-of-the-year, and so while I was disappointed that Matt Damon didn’t return to the franchise, I was predisposed to like this movie.

I did really enjoy the movie, but there are some major differences compared to the Matt Damon movies.  Moviegoers should not expect to go into this movie and expect to see the exact same movie, only with Jeremy Renner instead of Matt Damon.  And that’s a good thing because the two actors project different strengths and weaknesses.

First, the movie does a really excellent job integrating the Jason Bourne storyline into the plot.  The best way to think of The Bourne Legacy is that it’s a spinoff of the Bourne franchise, not a sequel.  And Jason Bourne’s character is mentioned often in the context of the movie’s plot, which is an excellent way to tie the movies together.

Second, Jeremy Renner is a more nuanced actor in his role as Aaron Cross than Matt Damon was as Jason Bourne.  Reasonable minds can disagree on this point, of course.  But the movie fleshes out the Aaron Cross character more than the previous movies did of Jason Bourne (other than as an unparalleled killing machine).  The ramification of this character development is that the movie has a more deliberate pacing than the previous Bourne movies.  In the previous Bourne movies, once the action started, you were treated to a rollercoaster of non-stop action scenes—explosions, killings, etc.—until the ending.  That is not the case in this movie (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  The action scenes are well done and, in many instances, more realistic than the Matt Damon action scenes (as in, yes, I can see how a mere mortal could have survived that scene).  But interspersed with the action scenes are scenes where the plot of the movie actually advances.  If you like the Bourne movies solely for the action scenes, The Bourne Legacy may seem a little slow to you, but I thought the movie did a very good job combining plot and action into a seamless whole.

Edward Norton, who I think is one of the best actors around, does his usual superb job at making ruthlessly cold-blooded decisions look rational and inevitable.  Joan Allen has a nice cameo role as does David Strathairn.  There was also a nice understated chemistry between Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz (who wasn’t nearly as unbelievable as a PhD virologist as, say, Denise Richards was as a nuclear physicist in one of the James Bond movies).

The movie has a PG-13 rating, and Common Sense Media recommends it for children 14 and above.  I would disagree with both those ratings.  There is no doubt that The Bourne Legacy is less explicitly violent than its predecessors.  However, it certainly doesn’t lack for broken necks, pools of blood, and dead bodies—there is just a lower body count and the deaths are generally less messy than in the other movies.   I still would be highly cautious about taking any child under 15 to this movie.

I really, really liked The Bourne Legacy.  The acting was consistently excellent throughout the movie, and Jeremy Renner carried the movie effortlessly as a vulnerable but skilled assassin.  The plot was very good (not always a given in an action movie), and I look forward to more in the series.  And, if they could somehow convince Matt Damon to come back and team up with Jeremy Renner in a Bourne movie, that would be ideal!

(Almost) Completed Renovations

It’s been a while since I’ve done a house renovation update, and I wish I could say that no news is good news… We still aren’t done with the renovations <sigh>, but there is progress.  We have moved upstairs, as all of the bedrooms and bathrooms are about 99% finished.  Each bedroom now has its own bathroom, which makes our 13 year old VERY happy.  And, now with an actual bedroom, she can shut the door on her brother when he is annoying (which, evidently, is most of the time).

Here’s the 13 year old’s room:

peipei's roompeipei's bathroom

Here’s the 10 year old’s room:

weiwei's room


Here’s the master bedroom (with a sitting room and an exercise room) and bathroom:

sitting rooms

master bedroom

master bathroommaster bathroom

The main floor is still not done, as they are installing bookshelves in the new study and the kitchen still has some work to be done.

We’re very pleased with how the house has turned out, but a bit disappointed about how long it’s taken.  (I know, I know, it always takes longer than you think, but this has REALLY taken longer than we thought.)  Given that school starts in less than a month, and we don’t have any of our fall “stuff,” it would be helpful for the house to be finished soon and all of our things from storage returned.  If I sound cranky, it’s because I am a little (shocking, I know).  I had hoped that we would have the summer—a relatively slow period in our lives—to unpack and sift through our things.  Having to do it in the fall, when our lives our chaotically busy, is not ideal.  That being said, without an Einsteinian express or an ability to bend the rules of space and time, we are clearly going to be unpacking in the fall.  🙂

And, of course, since I’m mellow and easygoing by nature, you just know that the fall is going to be a fun time to be spending with me as I unpack!

Our Hawaii Vacation

We just returned from a fabulous week in Honolulu where the skies were blue, the ocean  even bluer, and it was 80 degrees every day.  Oahu is our favorite island, mostly because we aren’t sit-on-the-beach kind of people, so there is more to do in Honolulu than anywhere else.  That’s not to say we didn’t sit on the beach and play in the pool a lot because we did.  The kids took surfing lessons every day, and we built sandcastles and spent time in the pool.  (We also did math homework and read from the school reading list, but that’s a topic for another day.)

view from the Halekulanisurfers


In addition to our usual visits to the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Art Museum (formerly the Honolulu Academy of Arts), we paid a visit to Pearl Harbor.  Jim and I had been years ago, but this was the kids’ first visit.  The USS Arizona Memorial is moving enough to break your heart.  The tour of the aircraft carrier USS Missouri is amazing, both because of the sheer size of the ship and because of the role the ship played in history.  (Among other things, the deck of the Missouri is the place where the Japanese signed the surrender documents ending World War II.)  And the tour of the World War II submarine, the USS Bowfin, is not for the claustrophobic.

USS Arizona

USS Missouri

I was also fascinated at the number of Japanese tourists wending their way through the Pearl Harbor sites, as if they were visiting just another tourist spot.  But, perhaps, they were learning things they didn’t know, just as Americans do when visiting Hiroshima.  (It was still weird, however.)

We also ate our way through our vacation, dining at our favorite restaurant, Alan Wong’s, twice (more about the meals in a later blog post) and at our second favorite restaurant, Roy’s, twice as well.  This is in addition to the meals of ramen, sushi, and kimchee fried rice that we consumed.  (And let’s not forget the shave ice.)

If you’re interested in travel tips to Hawaii, you can mouse over the Travel section of my website and click on Hawaii for my Hawaii travel tome.