- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life without dumplings, said an ancient Chinese philosopher, is not worth living. That may be a little menu hyperbole, but the dumplings at Shanghai Village in Bethesda would satisfy the tummy and warm the heart of that wise old man.

The fried meat dumplings with pork filling are tender, mildly spiced and not greasy. The steamed vegetable dumplings are filled with finely chopped dark green vegetables, cooked just long enough to retain a touch of crunch. Spring rolls, like the fried dumplings, are moist and well seasoned on the inside and crisp but not greasy on the outside.

Shanghai Village is a small jewel. A Chinese friend originally from Shanghai confides that it’s the Peking duck at Shanghai Village that draws customers, especially on Sundays, when Chinese families come to share and enjoy the duck. There’s none better in Washington or the suburbs.

The duck arrives at table steaming hot, its crisp skin gleaming. Kwok Cheung, the chef-owner of Shanghai Village, carves the ducks table-side, his eyes twinkling and his round face beaming. He wields the carving knife with style and delicacy as he places the slices of crisp skin and tender meat on a platter and distributes a mound of soft pancakes, which disappear quickly once filled with a slice of the duck, a bit of crispy skin, shredded green onions and hoisin sauce. The chef serves the first pancake. Then you’re on your own.

Kwok, as he prefers to be known, was born in Shanghai and came to the United States from Hong Kong, where his family moved when he was a boy. He arrived trained as a tailor, but like many of his fellow immigrants, he eventually found his vocation in cooking, first at the old Trader Vic’s restaurant in the Hilton hotel at 16th and K streets Northwest. His dishes at Shanghai Village include not only those from Shanghai cuisine, but spicier Hunan and Sichuan choices as well.

Soft-shell crabs, a seasonal specialty, are dipped in cornstarch and a little water and quickly deep-fried. They come to the table crisp, not greasy, hot, fresh and delicious. So, too, the perfectly prepared salt-and-pepper shrimp, lightly fried and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Pork with garlic sauce, one of the spicier dishes, is sliced pork with water chestnuts and tree mushrooms in a rich, spicy brown sauce. Walnut chicken, one of the chef’s specialties, is a combination of sliced chicken breast in a mild sauce with snow peas and bits of carrots, with candied walnuts sprinkled on top. It’s a delightful mixture of tender meat and crunchy nuts, of salty and sweet.

Another specialty is crispy shredded beef with shredded carrots, celery and green onions in a spicy sauce. What came to the table was the only disappointment of our meal, as the beef was not crispy and the sauce was only mildly spicy. Sichuan chicken, on the other hand, was a fine, spicy dish incorporating green pepper, celery and carrots with the chicken.

Shanghai bok choy is particularly fine, combining the Chinese green with chunks of bean curd and mushrooms in a light sauce. Kwok occasionally prepares a special Shanghai dish of dried bean curd, julienned and sauteed; it’s unusual and tasty.

Noodles also are very good, and the house lo mein includes small pieces of beef, chicken, roast pork and shrimp in a good brown sauce. There’s a full menu of appetizers, soups, beef, pork, seafood, chicken, vegetable and noodle dishes. The restaurant has a full bar and serves a variety of beers and wine.

Kwok’s business card cites an ancient Chinese poem: “Tomorrow and tomorrow: how many tomorrows are there anyway? If one always waits for tomorrow to do his work, then he accomplishes nothing in his lifetime!” A hungry diner shouldn’t wait for his succulent Peking duck .

RESTAURANT: Shanghai Village, 4929 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301/654-7787

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Appetizers $3 to $10; main courses $5.50 to $9 (lunch), $7.50 to $18 (dinner); whole duck $30

All major cards

Some street parking; ample parking behind the restaurant

Wheelchair accessible

Bethesda

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