Sunday, August 3, 2014

Panda Gourmet

Located off busy New York Avenue NE at Bladensburg Road, Panda Gourmet resides inside a Days Inn. The restaurant specializes in cuisine from the neighboring Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces of central China, and has been rumored to offer the "best Chinese food in DC."  The best Chinese food...in a Days Inn?!  I think it's fair to say I was quite skeptical.  After reading a few reviews, and having a couple coworkers recommend a visit, Keith convinced me to check it out.


The restaurant has it's own entrance on the side, apart from the hotel - look for the bow-tied cartoon panda logo.  The dining room is equally underwhelming, with an empty fish tank, outdated carpet, and Keno machines along the wall.  Yet, the staff was friendly and eager to serve.


My eyes immediately went to the appetizers section, and instead of ordering the normal spring roll or dumplings, we chose Dan Dan Spicy Noodles.  Topped with minced pork, the noodles were chewy and coated well with the slippery hot oil.  Keith remarked that this dish was like a spicy bolognese.  Szechuan cooking is typically laced with numbing peppers, but the heat in this dish was tolerable.



Next, we ordered a few items from the "Sichuan & Country Specials" section of the menu.  They happened to both be vegetarian options:  Tofu with Winter Mushrooms and Eggplant with Hot Garlic Sauce.  The tofu dish was delicious and not spicy at all.  It had a nice earthy brown sauce and was complimented with bright and crunchy bok choy.   The eggplant dish was a generous portion of the tender purple vegetable.  The garlic sauce had a hint of sweetness and tasted great drizzled over white rice.


Keith wanted to try another specialty item - Double Cooked Pork.  I thought the dish would be more like ribs or char siu, but it was actually thin slices of pork and fatty pork belly pieces tossed with scallions and a hot pepper oil sauce.  Though good, this dish was just alright.


Lastly, I wanted to try a "typical" Chinese food dish and chose the Kung Pao Chicken.  This preparation was more mild and did not have that many peanuts, in fact I maybe saw one or two in the whole dish.  Probably not the most authentic choice, however, I did appreciate that the chicken chunks were not fried.  The celery and carrot chunks were barely cooked giving a super crunchy texture to the dish.  We probably could have done without this dish, but we did not mind taking home all the left overs.

Despite the lackluster surroundings, the flavors and dishes at Panda Gourmet are fresh.  Service was super quick.  They offer a nice variety of typical Chinese fare along with some more adventurous options such as rabbit, frog, and pig ears.  If you don't want to leave with a doggy bag, stick to only 3 dishes maximum to share for two people, as the portions are generous.  I am still not convinced that it is the best in DC - certainly not worthy of a weekly visit - but I would return again.

Total Rating: 3.8
Food: 4, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 2.5, Accessibility: 3

What I ate:
Dan Dan Spicy Noodle
with minced pork

Kung Pao Chicken

Tofu with Winter Mushroom

Eggplant with Hot Garlic Sauce

Plus Keith ate:
Double Cooked Pork

Panda Gourmet on Urbanspoon

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