It started -- as it so often does -- with a call from a reader. I had to try the buffet at Mr. Chan Szechuan Restaurant. For $10, she said, you get a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet every Friday and Sunday night.
So off I went, taking two friends. It never occurred to me that if you're offering enormous amounts of food for a small amount of money, a few people might show up. My first piece of advice is, make reservations. We waited only a half-hour for a table and counted ourselves lucky.
Mr. Chan Szechuan is a nice restaurant, small and cheerful. The buffet is set up in a little room in back; and it is, indeed, more than worth the money. The evening we were there, it included big platters of fried appetizers: shrimp toast, egg rolls, fried green pepper rings, chicken wings. There were egg foo yung pancakes (without the gravy), and a bowl of cold sesame noodles.
On the steam table were shrimp with cashews (light on the shrimp and nuts, heavy on the zucchini and carrots, but by 7:30 it had been picked over); beef with broccoli in a pleasant, slightly sweet sauce; an excellent chicken with eggplant; fried rice; fresh green beans in garlic; and a General Tso's chicken with deep-fat-fried nuggets in candy-sweet sweet and sour sauce. There are six main dishes on Sunday night, but 12 on Friday. (The Friday night spread, of course, costs more.)
Platters of honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon finished off the buffet table.
If that weren't enough, you have your choice of soups: a decent won ton, hot and sour or an undercooked egg drop, plus ice cream or sherbet for dessert.
I personally would stick to the buffet, although Mr. Chan has a typically large menu and a sushi bar. We tried a couple of dishes from the specials menu, with mixed results.
First of all, I'm not sure three of the specials that evening needed to be yuba. Now yuba is a very healthy food, but it is yuba (not to put too fine a point on it: tofu skin). I personally would just as soon eat a wet sponge. We tried it with shiitake mushrooms and snow peas -- not bad, but the sauce was a bit bland, and one thing yuba doesn't need is a bland sauce. We're not talking about a lot of flavor here.
Another special took all the work out of Peking duck. The boneless duck meat, crisp skin, scallions and hoisin sauce came already wrapped in two pancakes, with steamed vegetables on the side. This was a great idea, but the pancakes were thick and doughy.
Mr. Chan Szechuan
Where: 1010 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville
Hours: Buffet hours, Friday 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: AE, D, MC, V
Features: All-you-can-eat Chinese buffet
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 484-1100
Prices: Friday, $10.50; Sunday, $8.95