Perhaps you haven't noticed, but I have -- almost every week a new restaurant opens in Anne Arundel County. One of the newest, Lee's Szechuan Restaurant, was our destination this past week.
Lee's has several attributes in its favor to make it a winner in our family. For starters, the specialty cuisine is Szechuan, a favorite in the Wallace household. Another positive is, as they say in the real estate business, location, location, location.
Situated in Northway Shopping Center at Route 3 and Old Mill Road, Lee's is very convenient to our Severn home.
Lee's also has an extensive dinner menu with 15 appetizers, nine soups and 14 chef's specialties, in addition to entrees categorized according to poultry, pork, beef, seafood, duck, vegetable and noodles.
But would it pass the taste test? Hubby and I, along with sister Ruth and her husband Rich, decided to investigate the newest Oriental restaurant in our neighborhood.
Hubby and I did the Szechuan honors while Ruth and Rich stuck to standard Chinese fare. We started with soup. Hubby and I had hot and sour ($1.25) and Ruth and Rich sampled the won-ton ($1.25).
The hot and sour soup lived up to the little star beside it that deemed it "pleasantly hot and spicy." The zing in the soup came from vinegar rather than spice. The broth was thick and contained all the right ingredients that make for delicious hot and sour soup.
The won-ton soup looked good and tasted that way also. Ruth and Rich felt the use of ground pork in the won-ton detracted from the overall goodness of the soup.
We weren't looking for adventure, we were checking to see if Lee's could become our favorite Chinese restaurant. Therefore, we ordered standard appetizers of egg rolls ($2.20 for two) and spring rolls ($2.20 for two).
The menu offered some mighty interesting-sounding appetizers, such as cold shredded chicken in spicy sesame and peanut butter sauce.
The spring rolls were preferred 3-to-1 over the egg rolls, but both were adequate appetizers. The egg roll contained pork, shrimp and vegetables.
The predominant ingredient was cabbage. The egg rolls had shrimp and vegetables and didn't depend as much on the cabbage.
Our entrees for the evening were Hunan Beef ($7.95) consisting of slices of beef sauteed with broccoli, bamboo shoots and mushrooms in a spicy brown hot sauce; double cooked port Szechuan style ($7.50), a dish of pork double cooked with cabbage and green peppers; Sweet and Sour Chicken ($7.50), chunks of chicken deep fried in batter, served with pineapple, onions, carrots, and green peppers in a sweet and sour sauce. And last but not least was Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables in white sauce ($8.95).
Following our accepted family practice of sharing entrees, we each took portions of every entree. I'm happy to report there were no losers in the taste test. I'm also happy to report there was no clear cut winner, either.
I had ordered the double cooked pork and I thought the spicy brown sauce and cabbage was superior to the other dishes. Hubby thought his choice of Hunan beef was the best because it had the most fire. Lee's chef walks a fine Szechuan line. The food is "pleasantly hot and spicy" without leaving your mouth numb.
Rich thought his sweet and sour chicken was the best he'd had because the flavor of the sauce was not overly sweet. Also, the sauce coated the chicken and vegetables but did not drown them. The shrimp and vegetables were a big winner with Ruth. The vegetables were crispy and the shrimp tasty.
The portions were generous with enough to satisfy our appetites and still provide take home leftovers. The general consensus was we'd go back again based just on the quality of the food.
Lee's Szechuan Restaurant provided other enticements beyond the food to spark interest in a return visit. The atmosphere, while definitely Oriental, was upscale with comfortable-looking chairs. We especially liked the banquette-style booths with overstuffed benches.
The fried noodles provided with the soup were extra wide and long. A spicy cabbage salad dish was also provided for our nibbling pleasure.
Unfortunately, our first pot of tea was just lukewarm but the refill was piping hot.
The final nice touch was an additional 10 percent deducted from the bill as a Grand Opening special. The maitre d' said the 10 percent off should last at least until the middle of October.
Lee's Szechuan Restaurant has a liquor license pending. The restaurant is accessible to the disabled.
What would a Chinese restaurant be without carryout? The dinner carryout menu is extensive. The lunch carryout menu is an abbreviated version of the dinner menu with combination meals available that include fried rice and soup.
Yes, this team of taste testers decided we must go back and try some of the more adventuresome items such as Phoenix Bird's Nest or Eight Treasure Duck. Even the "ten ingredients soft won-ton soup for two" sounded interesting. Perhaps I'll try Sha Cha beef with the Malaysian barbecue sauce.
Lee's Szechuan Restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m.
to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday they are open until 11 p.m.
For carryout, call 987-6111.
Joan Whitson Wallace, a free-lance writer, lives in Severn. She has written about food for a number of publications, and is working on a cookbook, "Mom Taught Me How to Cook."