Jump to content

Panda Gourmet, Szechuan Specialists in the Langdon Days Inn - New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE


Recommended Posts

Not sure if this is on anyone's radar, but I discovered this place through another website that shall remain nameless (begins with a Y), but even there, it seems to be flying under the radar except for people of Chinese extraction.  Anyway, I decided to check it out last weekend.  Here is a synopsis of what I have posted elsewhere:

My server seemed eager for me to try some of the Szechuan specialties which are printed in English on both the eat-in menu and take-out menu, rather than the Chinese American menu items (maybe it was because I expressed interest in the crispy pork intestines).  Anyway, the menu has a section with "Szechuan and Country Style Entrees"  and "Szechuan Chef's Specials, Appetizers and Cold Dishes".  I stuck with the appetizers:  String Beans in Ginger Sauce, Shrimp with Scallion Sauce, Dan Dan Spicy Noodle with Minced Pork, Steam Dumplings in Red Hot Sauce, and Sauteed Duck Eggs with Green Pepper.

I definitely got the lip and tongue numbing sensation caused by Szechuan peppercorns.  Personally, I thought the steamed dumplings were the tastiest of the lot.  The dumplings themselves were a slightly thinner versions of pot stickers/gyoza.  The duck eggs were what are sometimes known as thousand-year-old-eggs, century eggs, etc. and the green pepper was actually jalapenos.  Although I didn't try any of the mains from the Szechuanese menu, it included such Szechuan staples as Double Cooked Pork and Ma Po Tofu in addition to more interesting sounding items such as Lamb with Cumin and Shredded Duck with Szechuan Sauce.

But, to add another twist, there is yet another menu of specialties (on a separate menu) from Xi'an called Rouga Mo.  These are like muffins/biscuits/flat bread split down the middle and filled with pork that's been cooked with five spice powder.  According to my waiter this is what a lot of what the Chinese clientele (the majority of the diners) come to order.  That and Chengdu Spicy Noodles.  He was kind enough to offer me one on the house, and it certainly would make for a great lunch/snack.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Ha! Don't judge a book by its cover, huh? I never would have thought to stop here, but based on your review I definitely will now. Wasn't this place advertising pho just a few months ago? Maybe I'm thinking of another place.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ha! Don't judge a book by its cover, huh? I never would have thought to stop here, but based on your review I definitely will now. Wasn't this place advertising pho just a few months ago? Maybe I'm thinking of another place.

Could be. I think it was called Joe's Noodle House or something like that. And as I recall, the Chinese government took over this entire Days Inn a few years back to house the workers they brought over to build their new embassy housing in Cleveland Park, so this may be some kind of hold over.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting. and there definitely was a spot amongst those hotels with a big Pho sign last year-ish...and I thought that's a weird place to have a pho shop. and I also recall the Joe's Noodle House sign (and assumed it wasn't related to the Joe's in Rockville).

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not related. But the Chinese underground has been thumbs-up-ing this place. Ask for the Xian menu, as that is supposed to be the Chet's hometown speciality. But this news was good only as of three weeks ago.

When I asked if the chef was from Szechuan, my waiter told me he "spent a lot of time there", so it's possible he is originally from Xi'an.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I went for lunch today and enjoyed my meal. As I'm writing this I'm very conscious of trying to strike the right tone. On the one hand I don't want to be overly positive just because it's the sort of restaurant that beats the expectations you set when you pull up to the place and walk in the door. (Is it likely there's a better Chinese restaurant in a Day's Inn?) On the other hand I don't want to unfairly judge it just because it's got some stiff competition in the Szechuan department in the area. I'll just go dish by dish (some of these I brought home and tried later--I'm not a glutton, geez).

Chengdu Cold Noodle -- very simple (besides the sauce and the noodles, there's just the occasional bean sprout and a scattering of chopped scallion) but tasty and I like how the heat doesn't whack you over the head...it's definitely there but it's subtle and creeps up on you.

Steamed dumplings are doughy and heavy handed.

Fried scallion pancakes -- what can I say, my two year old loved them, but anything starchy and fried is going to be a winner in his book. They were kind of tough and just weren't done with much finesse.

The above mentioned Rouga Mo - filling but not particularly interesting. It's a sandwich not a stuffed bun. Tasted like a pan fried English muffin filled with (surprisingly) unseasoned shredded pork.

Flounder and Vegetables in Fiery Pot -- really liked this seafood stew. Lots of fresh tasting fish, in a broth with the flavor profile I associate with Szechuan food--spicy and mouth numbing. Spicy but not fiery hot.

Beef with Cumin. Would have chosen lamb with cumin but I looked around at the empty restaurant and just wasn't confident they'd be turning over lamb quickly enough. Definitely liked this dish, which is redolent of freshly ground, toasted cumin. Filled with large pieces of red chiles as well, and a little salty. But overall a win for me.

Here are photos of the carry out menu (which I think is the same as the one they gave me in the restaurant)...

http://i.imgur.com/DquoE5kl.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/GVnEN6Ml.jpg

...and of some of the food:

Beef with Cumin

Scallion Pancakes

Rouga Mo

Rouga Mo

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Stopped by yesterday for the two -- and they're the only two (far as I could tell) -- Xi'an items on the menu: the Rouga Mo and Liang Pi. Both very good, and basic, but not as good as my memories of the same at NYC's Xi'an Famous Foods. Both under $4 -- very good deals.

The Sichuan menu, on the other hand, is very extensive -- and most of the patrons appeared to be ordering both the Xi'an snacks and some Sichuan dishes, many of which looked very tempting. Next time . . . .

Not sure if this is on anyone's radar, but I discovered this place through another website that shall remain nameless (begins with a Y), but even there, it seems to be flying under the radar except for people of Chinese extraction. Anyway, I decided to check it out last weekend. Here is a synopsis of what I have posted elsewhere:

My server seemed eager for me to try some of the Szechuan specialties which are printed in English on both the eat-in menu and take-out menu, rather than the Chinese American menu items (maybe it was because I expressed interest in the crispy pork intestines). Anyway, the menu has a section with "Szechuan and Country Style Entrees" and "Szechuan Chef's Specials, Appetizers and Cold Dishes". I stuck with the appetizers: String Beans in Ginger Sauce, Shrimp with Scallion Sauce, Dan Dan Spicy Noodle with Minced Pork, Steam Dumplings in Red Hot Sauce, and Sauteed Duck Eggs with Green Pepper.

I definitely got the lip and tongue numbing sensation caused by Szechuan peppercorns. Personally, I thought the steamed dumplings were the tastiest of the lot. The dumplings themselves were a slightly thinner versions of pot stickers/gyoza. The duck eggs were what are sometimes known as thousand-year-old-eggs, century eggs, etc. and the green pepper was actually jalapenos. Although I didn't try any of the mains from the Szechuanese menu, it included such Szechuan staples as Double Cooked Pork and Ma Po Tofu in addition to more interesting sounding items such as Lamb with Cumin and Shredded Duck with Szechuan Sauce.

But, to add another twist, there is yet another menu of specialties (on a separate menu) from Xi'an called Rouga Mo. These are like muffins/biscuits/flat bread split down the middle and filled with pork that's been cooked with five spice powder. According to my waiter this is what a lot of what the Chinese clientele (the majority of the diners) come to order. That and Chengdu Spicy Noodles. He was kind enough to offer me one on the house, and it certainly would make for a great lunch/snack.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I had a good dinner here.  Terrific mapo tofu and dandan noodles.  Real sichuan peppercorn but reasonably restrained on heat.  Great flounder hot pot.  It had a lot of leeks and cabbage, which were especially good.  I thought the sichuan stringbeans were strong but not as good as at Hong Kong Palace.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

had a great dinner of carryout from here last night. as noted above the dan dan noodles (vegetarian version at least) are terrific and were gone in a flash, and the vegetarian mapo tofu is indeed more flavorful than hot, which i appreciated. the surprise hit was the chinese celery tofu salad--celery with pressed tofu in a terrific garlicky sauce. the Biang biang noodles are a large portion of delicate, thin, 1 inch wide rice noodles with scallions and bok choy mixed in, with the sole spice appearing to be the dried spice mix on top. these suffered a bit from transport i think, and though they were good, i think eaten fresh, with extra spices on top (i'm going to ask for them to add extra spice on top next time) they'd be fantastic.

the spring rolls were ordinary, though larger than usual and seemed homemade, rather than the usual mass produced version.

the woman who answered the phone when i ordered was very nice and helpful, and said that they could make many of the dishes, including the soups, vegetarian.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not saying the following is representative of the operation as a whole, but this happened:

Friday night at 6:30pm was a complete s***show, my wife has forbid us ever to return. Can't even comment on the food, as we did not even get to that part of the evening after 90 minutes of sitting in the restaurant. That night, they made Thai X-ing's service look like Marcel's. After 20 minutes of sitting at our table waiting for a server, I joined other sit-down customers that started walking up to the cash register to place their order, as no one was coming to our table with water, utensils, menus, or to bring the highchair we were promised.

The worst part was that the waitstaff was completely unorganized. Their expo system consisted of the 5 or so waitstaff and manager huddling up at the host counter, spreading out all of their paper ticket orders, and holding each plate of hot food there for 5 minutes until they could collectively find a matching ticket and cross it off the list. Meanwhile, pretty much every guest was ignored unless a server was hailed like a taxi on a loud avenue.

Not exaggerating. I have not seen so many angry tables in one restaurant, one table of 8 seniors sat and didn't get menus for 30 minutes. After we saw other tables that had arrived later than us begin to receive their dishes, and after my hungry kids had lost their patience, we tried to flag down a server to cancel our order. I got up and approached the manager, he literally ran into the kitchen. No one was making eye contact with us. We left, and I don't feel bad about it. I do feel bad about recommending this place to my other friends after 2 previously enjoyable (on slow weekday) nights.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

If I had my way, I would come back at a slower time like a Saturday lunch, we've enjoyed our meals here before.  But my wife is furious and has disowned this place entirely.

To clarify my previous point, I would not recommend this to my friends as a prime-time dinner venue now, based on our experience and because there aren't any neighboring back-up restaurants that would be worthwhile.  This place is further for most people than H Street NE, which Rocks has already identified as a problem location for accessibility.  But I truly hope this was a one-off experience and that my wife cools down.  Certainly Panda Gourmet's kitchen didn't fail us here that night, and that's pretty much the only reason why you would come.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Talking to a friend today, I discovered that Panda Gourmet delivers.  He got delivery from them recently and was thrilled with it.  The delivery range is 3 miles and there's no charge.  The driver was apparently quite happy with his 20% tip (like surprised).  They ordered dan dan noodles, some kind of fried/sauteed green beans, double cooked pork, other beef and pork, and I don't recall the rest.  (It was for two households.)

Friend raved about the quality of the food, which is also noteworthy since it was delivery food.  I believe they ordered on the weekend.  His wife did the ordering and she speaks Mandarin, but he said that's not why they were able to get delivery and good service.  FWIW YMMV.  Etc.

Anyway, this is within delivery range for Capitol Hill and other areas within 3 miles.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been once before, but never posted about it. I went again before the Lorde concert on Friday night at Echostage (literally, 0.25 miles away and I parked in the Days Inn lot which was perfect).

I'm one to put food quality and tastiness over anything else - ambience/decor, service, or even cost. But, the service at PG is by far the worst I've ever experienced on American soil. The worst.

When we arrived, there was a line of about 8 people and none of them had been talked to by the host or waitress. I asked them whether we needed to put our name down, and they said they had no idea, I tried to ask a host, he ignored me. Then, about 10 minutes after waiting a family got up from their table and walked past us and said, "We've been seated for 25 minutes and no one has taken our order or even come to the table yet." A few minutes later, 2 people entered the restaurant, went in front of our line and just sat at a table. Waitress brought them waters, and they even began to order food. I mentioned this to the frenzied host, and either he didn't understand me or just didn't care and said, "If you just sit at a table, it's not going to make the service any faster". But, it clearly did. We got seated and were able to put in orders. Everything came out slow, they hardly came by to refill beers/waters, and were surly and difficult to deal with the entire time. They had 2-3 waitresses for a full restaurant (it's fairly large, think double the size of Hong Kong Palace or Joe's Noodle House).

Honestly, the experience was so bad that I don't even want to discuss the food all that much. The cumin lamb was good but not warm enough in terms of temperature. They forget the flounder in fiery sauce dish, but also didn't charge us for it. The chicken wings, though nothing really Chinese about them, were delicious. The Dan Dan Noodles were great. The broccoli with oyster sauce was remarkably good (something I never ordered, but my friend really wanted).

My friend, who's family has been in the Chinese restaurant business for years, did not even want to leave any tip whatsoever. He thought that from beginning to end, it was a failure on the part of the waitstaff (who should be pushing the kitchen staff to hustle), the manager for general disorganization, the host for not saying anything to guests, and in his opinion the food was good, not great. I thought the food was pretty good, but I think I'm never coming back except for two situations: 1) On the way home from Delaware beaches 2) Seeing a show at Echostage (man that was convenient).

I hate writing something like this, because it's a family business, I desperately want them to succeed, and I want people to be exposed to "real" Chinese food, but this was incredible.

Simul

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Late Saturday lunch, half a dozen tables occupied and at least 3-4 waitstaff. Service was not problematic, dishes came out in a timely fashion, and servers were easily flagged down for assistance. Only hitch was probably the server misunderstanding our order of scallion pancakes as yam pancakes - we were confused when a plate of fried yam slices arrived. The server offered to bring the scallion pancakes instead, but we opted to skip them at that point.

We ordered several small plates:

mouth-watering chicken - this seemed to be pieces of cold cooked chicken hacked into pieces (bone-in), floating in a lake of chili broth. This was one of those tastes-better-as-you-keep-eating it dishes. With broken bone shards in the chicken, you have to carefully nibble the meat off, so I think this is similar to pork knuckles in dim sum where the idea is to enjoy the tasty sauce coating the chicken while extracting tiny bits of meat from the bone.

wontons in chili sauce - this dish was nice, but I wouldn't classify it as excellent (have had better wontons at Hong Kong Palace, frex), good flavor to the chili oil sauce

Shanxi handmade noodles - this was the favorite, we ordered a second bowl after consuming the first. I think these are hand-pulled noodles, but much thinner and more delicate than the soup noodles at Xian Famous Foods in NYC (my attempts to make this type of noodle at home have also resulted in giant noodles). Mix the noodles to integrate the chili oil at the bottom with the spice mix sprinkled on top, great flavor combo.

fried yam - seemed to be thin slices of yam dipped into some kind of batter and deep fried, considered a dessert. Pretty much just tasted like a hot fried starch disk

Link to post
Share on other sites

Another late Saturday lunch with each dish a home run.

First to the table was Chinese celery and bean curd salad off the cold plates. Lots of sesame oil and high quality ingredients. There is a certain Szechuan way with pounded garlic, sugar, salt, green onions and ginger where the paste is gritty and the crystals of salt and sugar stay slightly undue solved, almost Melting into the sauce. Hard to execute and done perfectly. A stunning small plate.

Next, handmade noodles with pork and ordered spicy. The noodles were a rubbery version of pappardelle with ruffled edges. Chewy, toothy and the broth and chopped ingredients had a slow burn that built. I would have liked it spicy and Kay was just hanging in.

A plate of 4 skewers of crispy cumin lamb morsels was fabulos.

Cumin beef burger was a dense hockey puck of bread/biscuit/cracker with the aforementioned beef, loads of cumin with a bit of heat and sautéed peppers with a little heat as well. Freaking good if heavy.

Seriously wonderful food, unusual, great range of spices, very rustic. Panda Gourmet is now at the top of my list for Chinese exploration. I would bet that at least half the very long menu is unadulterated crap for the unadventurous. But the real deal is just that.

Need to get 8 victims.... I mean adventurous eaters to go back. The host/head waiter, Mr Cool Dude was excited at putting together an authentic banquet for 25++ for a group.

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

I find deangold's experience really interesting.  I went Saturday night, and thought it was the worst of my visits here.  I'm generally a big fan, and the food was simply amazing my last visit.  But many of our dishes just seemed a bit off this night.  I found the noodles in the Shanxi handmade noodles dish deangold describes above (my favorite dish here) were overdone, and the sauce was more watered down than usual.  The hot and spicy wontons were sweeter than previous visits.  One of the less adventurous eaters at our table ordered the steamed dumplings, which were literally the worst dumplings I've ever had in my life.

By no means do I mean the dinner was bad (except the dumplings), but just not as good as previous visits.  We went on the late side, and generally in the past have gone earlier, so I wonder if the food is stronger earlier in the evening than the end of the night.  The comparison of deangold's experience with mine seems to suggest this may be the case.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Need to get 8 victims.... I mean adventurous eaters to go back. The host/head waiter, Mr Cool Dude was excited at putting together an authentic banquet for 25++ for a group.

Yes! And could possibly lasso in one or two others depending on timing.

Also, I will note that the steamed dumplings were pretty abysmal when ordered about a year ago for a weeknight dinner w/ non-adventurous folk.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not sure if the history of the location is in the thread, but someone I work with just told me about the likely genesis of the restaurant being in this location.  He said that when they were building the Chinese Embassy (or compound not , the whole location was rented by China to house the embassy staff and completely blocked off.  They hired buses to drive the staff to and from the location.  It is therefore not surprising that Panda is located where it is.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A larger group for lunch allowed for more exploration of the menu:

Shaanxi Style Home Made Noodles were so good that two bowls were ordered.  The noodles probably we not hand pulled, as admitted our very helpful waiter.

Lamb with Pita soaked on Soup was a big winner.  The "Pita" was small bread like cubes, some said like tofu and others like dumplings, chewy and dense.  The lamb came in the form of stock and small bits of long simmered bits of meat from the tougher parts of a lamb.  Accompanied by a plate of pickled garlic, hot chile paste and cilantro, this is a dish I would like to have on its own on a cold day.  Superb 

Cold Plates:

enoke mushrooms that had been stir fried or steamed lightly with sesame oil.  Quite delicious and a good foil for the more spicy dishes we had.

Rabbit in tiny cubes with black chile flakes and other stuff.  Earthy and very good.

Wonderful Chicken cubes of bone in chicken in a soupy red sauce.  The sauce was so good we made themleave it ont he bowl and spooned it on rice of drank it directly from our soup spoons.  

Ginger string beans Simple, refreshing, very popular.  Again, something cooling.  Made with regular green beans instead of long beans.  

Hot plates:

Lamb skewers were better, more juicy, than on first try.  Cumin and chile coated on a skewer.  Fabulous

Cumin Lamb was bone dry with the lamb coated with cumin and accompanied with leek

Dry Griddled Chicken was a plate of chiles frid whole {probably 100 chiles on the late} burying bits of crispy chicken with the slightest of sweet edge.  Despite the multitude of chiles, the dish was not super hot, but warm.  Fabulous.

Eggplant in hot garlic sauce {not sure if this is the description} this is a dish I have more typically seen as Eggplant in fish flavored sauce.  No fish in it at all, but a vinegar & sugar glaze large  chunks of eggplant that were nicely cooked and not greasy at all.  One of the best examples of this dish I have had.

Salt and Pepper Fish was nice, but my least favorite dish of the day... typical flour coated fish, salt, pepper and particularly good garlic and green onion bits as flavoring.  We joked that a plate of the salty garlic and green onions without the fish would have been fantastic.

All in all, 6 truly stunning dishes, and all but one very very good.  Very friendly service with the waiter willing to recommend dishes.

7 of ate til the point of pain for $25 per person tax and tip included.  Certainly my favorite place to go for Chinese today and rates up with my alltime favorites for the spicy side of Chinese... Henry's Hunan on Sansome in San Francisco, Brandy Ho's on Columbus in San Francisco, Twin Dragons and Chung King in LA, Three Happiness number 3 in Chicago and Peter Chiangs.  Plain spaces with superb food.

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

... Sichuan - a cuisine that has long been underrepresented in the area...

Ummmm, what?

Joe's Noodle, Sichuan Jin River, China Canteen, Great Wall, Hong Kong Palace, plus whatever Peter Chang places are hanging around at any given moment - and that's just off the top of my head.

Yes, compared to Toronto we are lacking in most Chinese regional cuisines, but I think we do pretty well with Sichuan.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Ummmm, what?

Joe's Noodle, Sichuan Jin River, China Canteen, Great Wall, Hong Kong Palace, plus whatever Peter Chang places are hanging around at any given moment - and that's just off the top of my head.

Yes, compared to Toronto we are lacking in most Chinese regional cuisines, but I think we do pretty well with Sichuan.

I have been to Joe's Noodle and it is not good. Maybe the other ones are better, but the various reviews haven't sounded that great. Chang sounded good but I think the closest one is in C'Ville now (?) and they sound quite hit and miss. Elevated Sichuan food (and I've been to Chengdu) is a revelation (have you read Fuchsia Dunlop's book?) and this place sounds like it.

If Joe's is your benchmark, I would suggest trying something else. Maybe this place by the sounds of it!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...