The Mandarin: Good old-fashioned, upper Eastside Chinese food
Story by Patricia M. Grossman, Photo by Julie Wiatt from the Silver Spring Voice
With all the talk about Asian Fusion restaurants popping up around the Metro DC area it’s comforting to know there are still the good old-fashioned Chinese restaurants like the Tian Jin Palace.
Forget the fancy dim sum and hot pot casseroles, gimme an egg roll served with classic Chinese duck sauce and hot mustard. I did order one filled with steaming cabbage and I was taken back to my childhood as I sopped up the last of the sauce and hot mustard with the crunchy end of the egg roll. I was pleased to find that it was not greasy. Of course, I had to order a bowl of Won Ton soup and it, also, was quite good. Many times I have been served Won Ton soup so bland I could not get myself to eat it, but this broth had a depth to it, and the wontons were filled with tasty, fresh pork.
Tian Jin Palace offers a good selection of appetizers, all reasonably priced: fried wontons, shrimp toast, fried chicken wings, steamed or pan-fried meat or vegetable dumplings, barbeque roast pork, beef sticks, and barbeque spareribs, to name a few. My dining partner and I ordered steamed vegetable dumplings, along with the dipping sauce. We had no complaints.
For those limiting their meat intake the Tian Jin Palace offers a wide array of vegetable dishes ranging in price from $4.50 for lunch to $6.95 for dinner.
Quite a few bean curd dishes are offered: bean curd with mixed vegetables, kung pao bean curd, pan-fried bean curd with black bean sauce, ma pao bean curd (soft bean curd in a hot brown sauce), and braised bean curd. Eggplant with basil and crispy eggplant also top the list, along with an interesting dish called, “Yellow Bird”—vegetables wrapped in tofu skin and braised in oyster sauce.
My companion insisted on seasonal vegetables with black mushrooms. I wasn’t too enthusiastic at first, but when the dish came to the table it was absolutely lyrical: swirls of baby bok choy in a light sauce topped with a generous portion of black mushrooms filled the large round plate. It was simply delicious—and so healthy too.
Some of the typical chicken dishes include lemon chicken, kung pao chicken, chicken with cashew nuts, and Hunan, Szechuan and General Tso’s chicken.
Shaw Erh Tong beef—sliced tenderloin with black mushrooms, bamboo shoots and snow peas in beef sauce—sounds really appealing, especially at the unbelievable price of $7.95. Other beef dishes include beef with broccoli, green pepper beef, and beef with snow peas. The Palace serves seafood as well: shrimp with broccoli, scallops with black bean or garlic sauce, sweet and sour prepared.
A low-fat menu—”no MSG, less oil, less salt”—includes steamed chicken, beef, shrimp, or scallops with vegetables in either a white or brown sauce. Fried rice, lo mein and chow mein are on the menu as well, naturally.
For those who work in downtown Silver Spring, the Tian Jin Palace offers a lunch deal ($4.95-5.50), which includes an egg roll, fried or steamed rice, and an entree. such as sweet and sour chicken, kung pao chicken, beef with broccoli, double cooked pork, fried rice, lo mein, chow mein, vegetable delight or eggplant with garlic sauce.
Other bargains too good to pass up are the Chef’s Specialties. I immediately went for the half of a Peking Duck at $11.95.
A half a duck, with skin, is served in small boneless pieces on a white oblong plate, accompanied by a plateful of tortilla sized pancakes, three inch strips of scallions, and a little dish of moderately sweet plum sauce (hoisin sauce).
First you take a pancake, spread it open on your plate and drizzle the plum sauce—which happens to be exceptionally good at this establishment. Then, take a few pieces of duck meat and place them on top of the plum sauce; add a piece or two of skin; sprinkle some scallions; and roll the pancake like an enchilada. Finally, lift the pancake and its precious ingredients and bite. Timeless decadence.
At Tian Jin Palace, I found that, while the duck meat was just a tad dry, the skin was not the least bit oily.
Another Chef Speciality is crispy whole fish served either Szechuan style, or with sweet and sour, black bean, or Hunan sauce.
A special treat, which we didn’t order since we had chosen the dumplings instead, are the homemade noodle dishes (well, not quite homemade—these noodles are delivered fresh daily from Chinatown in D.C.). I’ll be back to try either the Noodle Stew with pork, vegetable and dried shrimp or one of the other noodle dishes ($6.50).
The Tian Jin Palace is a wonderful addition to the ever-evolving tastes of Silver Spring. And if you grew up on good, basic Chinese food, like I did, the Tian Jin Palace may rekindle memories of your youth.
Hours are Monday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. and Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
The Tian Jin offers free delivery within a three-mile radius, $10.00 minimum.