Court of Shanghai disappoints

Lunch: Diners could have just as easily walked to an all-you-can-eat $5 lunch buffet in a suburban strip mall and eaten similar food.

June 24, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The Court of Shanghai in Annapolis is pretty much what you would expect from a building that looks like a remodeled International House of Pancakes: lots of reasonably priced food in huge portions, but nothing that stands out from a dozen other mediocre suburban Chinese restaurants.

The other day a friend and I headed out for lunch at the red and brown building with the broad pointy roof at 1971 West St. We were happy to find a big buffet with a choice of two soups, four entrees and plenty of fried egg rolls and chicken and dumplings -- all for $6.95. But we were unhappy when everything seemed to taste the same.

The beef and broccoli had the same sweet and otherwise unremarkable flavor as the chicken dish, which tasted suspiciously similar to the pork and vegetable dishes.

My friend tried the sweet and sour soup, while I gave the won ton soup a try. Both were watery, without flavor. The soups tasted as if they once might have had flavor but someone spilled a gallon of water in the pot.

We also ordered the Szechuan green beans, $4.50 for a lunch portion. This was the best dish of the meal, arriving with a large helping of steamed rice and plenty of beans. If it hadn't been drowned in almost a bowl-full of gooey sauce, it would have been quite tasty. We found that delicately wiping the sauce off the beans helped the taste.

My companion ordered the beef in garlic sauce for $5.50. The menu indicated this dish was spicy, but it turned out to be bland and with too much sauce -- which was sweet and lacking in garlic.

We did like the steamed dumplings, though. They were hot and spicy.

The service turned out to be the restaurant's saving grace. Our waitress was friendly and polite, offering free refills on soda and tea. The place looked clean, though the trappings of what looked like an old IHOP kept poking through the Asian overlay.

For example, if you look up at the ceiling, you can enjoy three ornate, Asian-style chandeliers. But look a little farther and you see those big IHOP-style pillars rising to the steepled roof.

We could have just as easily walked to an all-you-can-eat $5 lunch buffet in a suburban strip mall and eaten similar food.

Our bill at Court of Shanghai including tax and tip came to $34.10. And to add to our feeling of having been ripped off, our fortune cookies were stale.

Court of Shanghai

Where: 1971 West St., Annapolis, 410-266-5990

Hours: Sundays through Thursdays, 11: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11: 30 a.m. to 10: 30 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$8.50; entrees, $5.95-$12.95; lunch buffet $6.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Rating: *

Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven

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