China Clipper provides adventurous departure from routine fare

January 15, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Now, I know the new China Clipper, located where the Bamboo Inn used to be, doesn't look like much from the outside. And inside it's like a lot of other suburban Chinese restaurants -- a big, featureless room with booths along one wall. The menu, until you liik closely,resembles every other chinese menu you've ever seen, with more dishes than anyone would care to read about.

But look closely and you'll find some surprises among the egg rolls and lo meins. Listed under the chef's specials are abalone and sea cucumber; under seafood, gray sole and squid sauteed with preserved shrimp paste. There's a section of lamb dishes, including leg of lamb Peking. Under rice and noodles, there's Rice Stick Singapore Style.

Probably 99 percent of China Clipper's customers are going to ignore the squid and go for the shrimp in lobster sauce, but it's still nice to know that you could try something beyond the usual Chinese-American dishes.

We were only modestly adventuresome, but then we had a teen-ager at the table with us. No teen-ager would put up with anyone ordering jellyfish or boneless pig knuckles when there are egg rolls and Sichuan beef to be had.

We compromised and started with sesame cold noodles, chicken satay and beef with watercress soup. These were followed by a seafood casserole and steak in black pepper sauce, the recommendations of the hostess, plus a dish that had no name. The waiter came up with it when we said we wanted a spicy chicken dish with vegetables, but couldn't find one on the menu. Try asking for Spicy Chicken Dish with Vegetables.

You have to applaud China Clipper's willingness to stray from the usual offerings, but you don't have to applaud the unevenness of the preparation. The soup had an excellently flavored broth, but it was greasy -- I suppose from the boiled meatballs. The chicken satay bore no resemblance to the thin strips of meat we expected, and it was served without any sauce. The sesame cold noodles were delicious, but the kitchen had forgotten they were supposed to be spicy. They weren't mildly spicy; they contained no red pepper at all.

China Clipper's most spectacular dish must be the seafood casserole, which arrived in a handsome pottery dish. We lifted the cover and found a melange of pinks and reds and white: two pieces of lobster in its shell, fat pink shrimp, scallops, white lengths of squid, a few semicircles of bamboo shoot and straw mushrooms in a pale, pretty sauce. If the lobster and squid hadn't been tough, I'd have nothing but praise for the dish.

The filet mignon with black pepper sauce was fabulous, butter-tender and flavorful. With its dark, winey sauce and mushrooms, it was better than steak au poivre I've had at expensive French restaurants.

You'd think a more usual dish like the spicy chicken would be a piece of cake. But no, it was short on vegetables and any other flavors but hot.

Who knows? Maybe there's someone in the kitchen who secretly wants to be a French chef. After all, our desserts -- chocolate mousse and creme caramel -- were excellent, and there is a "pastry du jour" on the menu, which the waiter said was the creme caramel.

China Clipper

Where: 1111 Rolling Road.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V.

Features: Chinese food.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 788-4777.

Prices: First courses: $1.50-$5.95, entrees: $6.50-$19.95.

** 1/2

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