Quiet little Hunan Wok may be wave of the future

April 17, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

I'm betting that the Hunan Wok is the wave of the future. I know it doesn't look it, this quiet little carry-out/eat-in tucked away in the Atrium of the Greenspring Shopping Center. The tiny room is decorated in the style of the rest of the shoppingI'm betting that the Hunan Wok is the wave of the future. I know it doesn't look it, this quiet little carry-out/eat-in tucked away in the Atrium of the Greenspring Shopping Center. The tiny room is decorated in the style of the rest of the shopping center -- soft colors, blond wood furniture, a skylight -- plus a few Chinese XTC decorations. A stack of soda cartons sits by the carryout counter.

But the Hunan Wok is something I haven't run into before. Not quite a restaurant, not quite a carryout, it combines elements of both to let you eat in the fast lane with a reasonable degree of civilized comfort. Sure, you can carry your dinner home from a standard Chinese restaurant, but then you have to settle for lukewarm dishes and deal with the clean-up. Eating at the Hunan Wok is a happy alternative. It's really a fast food restaurant, but the choices are more sophisticated than any hamburger joint. It's the next step when even gourmet-to-go is too much trouble.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the place except that a friend said the scallops with broccoli were wonderful, I called to make reservations. I may be the first person ever to make reservations at the Hunan Wok, but the people there are so polite no one laughed at me. Actually, calling in advance was probably a good idea. The other seven tables filled up pretty quickly.

The menu is as extensive as any Chinese restaurant's. It includes -- believe it or not -- Peking duck and a puu puu tray for two. (I presume they don't flame it since everything is served in carry-out cartons and plastic foam trays.) You place your order at the counter, pay and start snacking from the largest basket of fried noodles I've ever seen. Then you pick up soup spoons, chopsticks and napkins and head for your table. Someone brings you your food quicker than I would have thought possible, and you eliminate the wait for a doggy bag when you're finished because your dinner is already in take-home containers. Is that efficient or what?

So how's the food? Well, with one exception I'd give it high marks. Unfortunately that one exception is a pretty big one: The sauces on both our main dishes were too thick, too greasy and too salty. That's fixable, though. Then I'd recommend the beef and shrimp combination ($10.95), a Hunan Wok specialty. The kitchen is generous with the big shrimp and flavorful beef strips; the vegetables are fresh and not overcooked. Likewise, the Shanghai duck ($12.95), another specialty, made with crisp-skinned, defatted duck and mixed Chinese vegetables.

The rest of the meal was uniformly good: Plump, pan-fried meat dumplings ($4.75). Large, almost greaseless vegetable rolls ($2.50). (Hunan Wok has regular egg rolls with shrimp, too.) Not-too-thick, just-spicy-enough hot and sour soup ($1.50) and won ton soup ($1.50) made with a flavorful chicken broth.

When we walked in, my husband took a look around, sighed and said, "I guess I can't get a beer here." He was right, so remember to bring your own unless you're willing to settle for a can of soda or a cup of tea.

Hunan Wok

Where: 2835 J Smith Ave., Greenspring Shopping Center.

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

Credit cards accepted: No.

Features: Chinese food.

Non-smoking section? No.

Call: (410) 486-3267.

** 1/2

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