Beware those food pictures on the wall


May 22, 2002|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My heart sank as we parked outside the new No. 1 Chinese Restaurant on Roland Avenue in Hampden.

"They have pictures of the food," my son said disdainfully.

Inside, the No. 1 did indeed have photographs of many dishes - which in my son's experience is not a good sign. And the restaurant had about as much character as a bus station - linoleum floor, fluorescent lights and only a couple of chairs to wait in.

And we waited. Despite having called in our order well ahead of our arrival, we had to wait 10 more minutes for the food, bringing the preparation time to more than 30 minutes. Granted, it was a busy night and the staff of four in the open kitchen was obviously hustling. But a half-hour seemed long for Chinese takeout.

As for the food, the words "nothing special" come to mind. The vegetables seemed reasonably fresh and crisp, while the meats were average. And the kitchen, which professes to use no MSG (a plus in my book), was quite timid about using other spices to make up for lost taste.

Steamed pork dumplings came eight to the order ($3.95). On the smallish side, they were loaded with shredded pork that had a hint of pepper. The sauce was too sweet.

The kitchen easily handled our request for something not on the menu: bean curd in garlic sauce. The $6.45 dish featured nice pieces of tofu amid an assortment of vegetables, including baby corn, water chestnuts and snow peas. Overall, though, it was too gelatinous and sweet. The brown rice accompanying it, however, was chewy and good.

Roast pork Sichuan ($4.50 a pint) included pork slices that were dry, and it, too, suffered from a lack of fire. Beef fried rice ($6.95 a quart) was a letdown - bland yellowish rice with tiny pieces of carrot and unseasoned beef slices. Chicken and broccoli ($4.50 for a pint) was perfectly competent.

Next time, I won't be afraid to ask the restaurant to spice up the dishes - and I'll stick to the chicken.

The restaurant, which has a sister establishment in Pikesville, is easy to get to - at the corner of Roland Avenue and 40th Street - and it delivers. With Roland Park to the north and the Johns Hopkins University to the east, the restaurant has a bright future, if it zips up its dishes and increases efficiency in the kitchen.

Parking is at meters on-street, which can be a struggle during the day.

No. 1 Chinese Restaurant

Food: **

Service: **

Waiting room: *

Parking: **

Where: 3998 Roland Ave., Hampden

Phone: 410-235-1688

Fax: 410-235-1687

Hours: 11:15 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11:15 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Friday to Saturday; 12:15 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $3.75 to $12.95 for main dishes; credit cards accepted

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