Restaurants & Bars 7

China Star (Fairfax)

James G | Feb 15, 2004 09:39 AM

Over the past months we have been going to China Star in Fairfax (at the Fair City Mall, near the intersection of Pickett and Main Street) pretty regularly, and it just keeps getting better! If you are a devotee of authentic Chinese food, it's definitely worth the trip!

This is a very small place, as has been noted here before. Parties greater than 8 people are probably going to have separate tables, since the place just is not suited to much larger groups. As a result, considering the frequency with which Chinese families dine en masse, there can occasionally be a wait for a table, though in our most recent outings the place has been relatively empty (i.e., no line for a seat).

One nice thing is that the wait staff appear to be genuinely engaged in the process of waiting on their tables, and are very helpful when it comes to negotiating the largely unfamiliar (to Westerners) menu. The menu skews heavily to Sichuan dishes, many of which are rarely if ever encountered in this area. Even those dishes that have become standards, like Gong Bao Chicken, Ma Po Tofu, and Twice-Cooked Pork, are produced here in a way that is far closer to the native version than one generally finds in the US, much less in what in DC counts for Chinatown.

But it is to the less-common dishes that you should direct your attention! On one of our recent visits the waitress who generally takes care of us (and who remembers that I am knowledgeable about Chinese food) introduced us to Chen Cang Beef, a dish made of small-dice beef dry-cooked with scallions, Sichuan peppers, and other spices, and served with a sort of puffy bread into which you spoon some of the beef to make a kind of sandwich. Delectable! They also make a dish that I think is called beef stew that comes in a sand pot and contains cubes of beef, vegetables and perhaps also tofu in a great sauce that has a wonderful almost anise-y flavor.

Also excellent is "country style chicken" (which may only be on the Chinese-only specials page); cubes of chicken on the bone with a variety of veg also with a very nice sauce. Their "Mala Rabbit" is a cold dish of small chunks of rabbit (on the bone) with Sichuan pepper and chiles that produces a nice sensation of heat and numbness that I really enjoy. Even the little dish of sauced soy beans that they bring to the table are exquisite. And the prices are very very low. And finally, they only have one menu (that is, no distinction between foreigners and Chinese here) so you don't have to worry about being discriminated against for your big nose!

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