After all the back and forth about A&J, I decided to write some details in the hope it will be useful to some of you.
Please note that this pertains only to the Rockville location.
Disclaimer: no connection, just a contented regular customer.
A little background - skip to next paragraph if you don't care: I used to love Chinese food, but I don't usually care for it anymore. Even at the restaurants that are supposed to be better, according to knowledgeable friends, I find the dishes gloppy, heavy, monotonous. I love spicy food, I love Thai and Burmese... for some reason Chinese just bores me. Except for A&J, and maybe twice a year New Fortune.
Space: smallish, seating about 50 people mostly at tables for four. Two larger tables seat 6 to 8; most often Chinese families are sitting there. During extremely busy times I've seen the staff seat separate parties at the large tables, asking first if the patrons mind sharing a table. The room is simply decorated but kept reasonably clean.
When you're seated they will bring you a paper menu and a pot of tea. You mark your choices, they take the menu, and your dishes start showing up when they're ready. Some come out fast, others take up to twenty minutes (which to me is a good thing - it means they're freshly steamed instead of being cooked and later reheated).
Descriptions of favorite dishes (I have a menu in front of me):
1101 Hong Shao Niu Ro Mian (Spicy Beef Noodle Soup): a large bowl of intensely rich and spicy beef broth, with your choice of thin (rice?) or wide (wheat - what I always get) noodles, a few pieces of stewed (?) beef, and a few greens (bok-choy like). The wheat noodles are thick and pleasantly chewy and a bit wheaty tasting, making me think of the homemade noodles my Italian relatives used to make. Note that the menu doesn't offer the choice - usually the server will ask "thin or wide noodle?"
1202 Dan Dan Mian (Noodles in Hot Spicy Sesame Sauce, Top with Peanut Powder): Similar to but not quite like Dan Dan noodles at other Chinese restaurants. Again your choice of thin or wide noodles. Not as peanutty or as thickly sauced as at other places. Only mildly spicy. Very filling - a very large bowl.
2102 Hong You Chao Shou (Spicy Wonton w/ Hot Red Sauce Szechuan Style): The wontons are a lot of wrapper around a small amount of pork filling, and not spicy by themselves. The sauce is moderately spicy and significantly sour.
2205 Wonton Soup: just 'cause you're an adventurous chowhound doesn't mean you can't like a simple dish like this! This is comfort food. The same wontons as above in a well-balanced, flavorful chicken broth with a bit of sesame oil on top.
4105 Gou Tie (Pan Fried Pork Dumpling/Pot Stickers): These are long and narrow, served eight to a plate, with good chewy not-too-thick wrappers around a flavorful pork filling. Can come out a bit greasy at times.
4202 Xiao Long Bao (Steamed Pork Bun): Heaven in a metal steamer. Perfect wrappers, toothsome but never heavy, enclosing piping hot tender ground pork and a bit of broth - careful not to burn your mouth! - with shredded fresh ginger on top.
5210 Xiang Cai Dou Gan (Dry Bean Curd, Peanuts and Cilantro Salad w/ Hot Sauce): the name says it all. Very tasty, and quick to come out, since it is served room temp. I like nibbling on this while I wait for my other dishes.
6301 Dou Sha Su Bing (Red Bean Paste Pastry w/ Pine Nuts): dessert. The bean paste is sweet, the pastry flaky as if baked instead of fried, with sesame seeds on the bottom.
There are many others I've tried but don't remember in enough detail to be worth describing. The menu includes various noodles soups; cold noodle dishes; other soups; fried meat on rice with a bowl of broth dishes; "pastries" like scallion pancake, sesame biscuit with beef and so on; dumplings; meats like steamed spareribs, smoked chicken, beef tendon; cold salads like cucumber in garlic, bean curd, pork ear; various drinks.
I hope I've convinced a few of you to give A&J a try. If you greatly disagree with my descriptions I'd like to read your opinion, too. And now that you know what I like in Chinese food, if you can suggest a new place for me to try, I'm all ears.
Heck now I'm hungry. Think I'll head out soon for a bowl of noodle soup...
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