Ding How is Fells Point's only new Chinese restaurant (if a place open about a year comes under the heading of "new"). Ding How is also Fells Point's only Chinese restaurant (unless I've overlooked some secret won ton stash). It is not small, or large, or hectic, but attractive, peaceable and comforting, and serves plausible and familiar Chinese food.
Most restaurants I visit once. When they're not at a distance, and when they lend themselves to ordering every which way, however, I sometimes like to go a couple of times. My husband and I went twice to Ding How. Both nights the kindness and the refinement of the staff gave us pleasure. I keep a hypothetical list of restaurants for nights I'm frazzled and in need of courtesy and uncomplicated food. Ding How fits the list.
Its menu proposes standard Chinese fare: hot and sour soup ($1.25), orange beef ($9.95), shrimp with garlic sauce ($8.95), fried fish in sweet and sour sauce ($7.95). The kitchen states that it can delete meat from any of the listed dishes.
We splurged on appetizers our first evening: Ding How steamed dumplings ($2.50), noodles with sesame sauce ($2.95) and string beans Sichuan style ($3.50). The dumplings had the wet, doughy thickness of a peasant snack -- more rib-sticking than urbane. With their chopped-pork-and-green-onion interiors, they made filling, tasty big bites for dipping in a simple sauce of sweetened soy, chilies and chopped green onions.
The noodles with sesame sauce were not the intriguing dish one has seen around in recent years, of cold noodles in sesame paste mixed with soy and herbs, but rather, cold noodles and bean sprouts in a too-wet, too-sweet soup of soy, sugar, green onions and sesame seeds.
On the other hand, the Sichuan string beans -- though crunchy and vividly green -- were wonderful, their surfaces marginally charred, to bring out complexities of flavor that a plain string bean rarely delivers. When we asked the waiter how they were cooked, he told us that they're tossed raw into a hot wok, together with oil and a special sauce they infuse in the cooking process, a sauce that looked partly soy and hot, shredded chilies.
We also ordered a whole fish a la Sichuan ($14.95), which the menu lists as a specialty of the house. The black bass didn't seem particularly fresh, but then authentically fresh fish seem to be harder and harder to find these days. The sauce, which tasted based on beef broth, and included sugar, soy, chilies and green onions, had a dominating character that worked to disguise the fish.
On our second visit, we began with a cup of Ding How won ton soup ($1.50), and then concentrated on entrees: Empress duck ($8.95) and moo shu pork served with steamed pancakes ($7.50). The result was a better evening of eating out than our first night's. For one thing, we liked the soup's robust poultry broth, which we conjectured was made of duck bones and meat as well as chicken. We also liked the number of won tons, their thin wrappers and the pleasant bite of chopped pork inside them.
Then, too, both entrees were well-made. On the one hand, Empress duck included several pieces of duck skin attached to thick layers of fat. In its favor, however, was the beauty of colorful vegetables -- the yellow of miniature ears of corn, the red-orange of carrot, the green of pea pods and zucchini -- and the amusement of a variety of textures, which included moist water chestnut slices; firm, sliced bamboo shoot; squares of Chinese cabbage, and thin-sliced sheets of sweetened, succulent ginger root.
Vegetables were important to the pork preparation as well. The pork had been sliced into matchsticks, and mixed with shreds of cabbage, together with tree fungus and chunky blobs of scrambled egg that were rich sponges for the juices and flavors. All of this, wrapped in a sweet bean-sauce-coated pancake (a mass-production pancake, of course, but of high quality), made good finger food.
Both evenings we drank Tsing Tao beers, which cost $2.50 a bottle; entrees came with bowls of rice and tea.
One doesn't usually think about desserts after a Chinese meal, but we were curious to know what was possible. Our waiter suggested a Chinese rice pudding ($4.15), which turned out to ** be an interesting, steaming-hot confection heavy on oil or hot fat, but otherwise delicious. It combined glutinous rice, sliced dates, lotus seeds and what our waiter called Chinese chocolate -- sweetened red bean paste. He told us it comes in a can. We would never have known by its tastes. Much as we liked it, there was more than enough for two. *
Next: Loveton Cafe
Ding How, 631-637 S. Broadway, 327-8888
Hours: Mondays to Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Fridays until 11 p.m., Saturdays noon to 11 p.m., Sundays noon to 10:30 p.m.
Accepts: ** * /-
Features: Chinese food
No-smoking area: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes