Szechuan Taste provides fine food and comfortable surroundings

May 10, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Every neighborhood needs a place like Szechuan Taste. A place you can go for reliably decent food at sensible prices. A place where the music is soothing and the staff behaves with low-key courtesy. A place where you'll feel at home even if you don't feel like dressing up and putting out a lot ofeffort.

At Szechuan Taste you won't feel like you're slumming, though. This Parkville place is in a shopping center, but isn't one of those Formica-clad carry-outs. (Although you can carry out, of course.) The walls are an interesting shade somewhere between rose and terra cotta, the chairs are rattan, the art is discreet and the background music consists of lilting, bird-like flute sounds -- sort of Asian New Age. In short, tasteful.

Despite the name, the menu offers all sorts of Chinese tastes, from chow mein to "Seven Stars Over August Moon" and "Flaming Diamond Head." Not much innovation is found among the appetizers, but judging from the kitchen's fine performance on something as simple as an egg roll ($2.95 for two), it doesn't need to delve into anything flashier. The rolls were huge (one is big enough for two, two will spoil your appetite), plump and savory. And the fried crab wontons ($3.70) were even better. The exteriors were crisp, the pastry inside tender and elastic, and the creamy crab filling, which resembled hot crab and cream cheese dip, was wonderful. I wouldn't give it high points for authenticity -- the Chinese aren't dairy buffs -- but no sensible crab-lover would complain.

As a lobster-addict who is considering applying for honorary Maine citizenship, I eat the stuff every chance I get, although it is frequently a disappointment this far from its native waters. To its credit, the lobster in the lobster Mandarin style ($13.95) was not the least bit tough, and there was plenty of it. It was hard to judge the flavor, though, as the lightly-battered chunks of lobster were served with a bright orange sweet-and-sour sauce whose vinegar tang and dose of hot peppers admitted no competition. In view of this, and the cost of the dish (substantially higher than most other offerings), it's not the best value on the menu.

Somewhat more satisfactory, if only because our expectations were lower, was the shredded tender beef Szechuan style ($9.25), a robustly spicy stir-fry of beef strips, carrots, scallions 22 and other vegetables.

Szechuan Taste would not be my first choice for a big-deal dinner out, but it's an awfully relaxing place to spend a couple hours without spending the better part of your paycheck. (Our meal for two, even with that lobster, cost less than $30.) It's the closest you can come to cocooning without actually staying home.

Szechuan Taste Where: Belair Beltway Shopping Center, 7678 Belair Road.

Hours: Open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon-10:30 p.m. Sundays.

Credit Cards: AE, C, MC, V.

Features: Szechuan, Hunan, Cantonese and Polynesian dishes.

No-smoking section? Yes.

Call: 882-6950

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