Chowhounds assembled this afternoon at China Star in Fairfax. Participating were: MartyL, Pappy, JamesG, Liz, Louise, PollyG, Steve, Tyler Cowan, and Zora.
Unfortunately, none of us thought to bring a camera, so no photos this time.
We let Tyler and JamesG do the ordering, with a few requests tossed in to boot. We tried (in order from their carry-out menu):
Peanuts with hot bean paste
Less hot than the name might suggest. Good peanut flavor underneath, with a firm texture.
Five spiced peanuts
Mildly flavored with five spice mix.
Dried fried small fish
A chowhound favorite. These were smelts lightly fried and coated in a mix of fried garlic and green herbs. And yes, you eat the whole thing, teeny tiny bones and all.
Hot fried crispy shredded tofu
The "hot" refers to spiciness on this cold dish. The tofu was in fine, long shreds and had a "sneak up on you" incendiary quality.
Spicy and sour baby wontons
These delicious dumplings arrive in a bowl of sauce. They are a bit bigger and less dense than their cousins at A&J.
Ya Cai with pork in hot pot
This is a savory dish with fatty pork in a brown sauce with a fine saute of vegetable surrounding it (presumably the ya cai). Some people really enjoyed the vegetables, others were unimpressed.
Szechwan Chili Chicken
The name of the dish is accurate, there was at least as much chili as chicken. The chiken was in small pieces, under 1 inch square, often on the bone, buried in an intimidating bed of hot peppers. It was also delicious, if very incendiary. I think we did order this one "numbing hot."
Crab meat with tofu
This was a soothing dish, although the crab was so subtle, we forgot about it and spent some time trying to identify the mystery flavor, before someone checked the menu and remembered the name of the dish.
Spicy and sour squid roll
The "roll" describes the shape of the pinecone-scored squid after cooking. There were big slices of garlic in the accompanying brown sauce. Some were disappointed that the sauce wasn't more sour. Compared to some of the other dishes, the squid was pretty mild.
Dry fried string beans
This was another favorite, with several of us opining that this was the best rendition of the dish they'd had. The beans were coated in garlic and ginger, and there was a generous amount of ground pork in the dish, too.
Corn with pine nuts
It looked pedestrian, and was a nice soothing dish. JamesG says you see it everywhere that foreigners eat in Bejing.
Another soothing dish, this reminded some of us of the better renditions of shrimp with lobster sauce. The serving was pretty much pure shrimp. Marty mentioned that when he'd eaten here for dinner, he saw it at every table.
Lion head in hot pot
This is a classic dish with ground meat surrounded by bok choy (in this case, 4 inch baby ones) in a casserole dish.
Chen cang flavor diced beef with pancake
We got this as an "add-on" at the end. Never mind that we were stuffed to capacity, we did this in the name of chow! The "pancakes" are actually about 1.5 inches thick, and have a pocket cut into them to hold the small beef nuggets (sort of the size of chili-ground coarse beef) which were richly seasoned with, among other things, cumin.
Chilean sea bass with pine nuts
This was a "soothing" dish. The sea bass was served in a very fine dice with some sweet pepper and other vegetables in addition to the pine nuts.
There were also two complimentary appetizers, one a sour and hot cabbage dish, and the other a marinated cold fungus dish of some sort. Both were interesting, but neither were among our favorites.
The staff were very friendly and offered, on our way out, to translate the Chinese language only specials that they rotate every 2 weeks.
The total damage including tip and a small donation to the Chowhound site was $25 each. Chowhound will be getting $37 in operating funds as a result.
Everyone else promised to chime in if I'd get the ball rolling on this report, so have at it!