- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Sugar sometimes a bit too much and spice and lots of things nice, that's what Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant is full of.
Located in the center of Washington's minuscule Chinatown on H Street between 6th and 7th, the Seafood Restaurant is upstairs; downstairs is Tony Cheng's Mongolian Restaurant, where diners pick out the foods they wish to eat from a sumptuous buffet, and the cooks prepare them to order. The idea is fun, but in my book, the sophistication and nuances of Chinese cooking are best left to the knowledgeable chef who knows what ingredients to put with which spices.
Upstairs at 619 H St. is the Seafood Restaurant, which offers a full range of Chinese cookery, as well as specializing in seafood fresh from the tank. There are several fish tanks, with some formidable species swimming around, at the entrance to the dining room, and a huge round tank in the center of the room filled with some rather unhappy looking crabs and lobsters. The whole fish and shellfish can be ordered steamed, sauteed with black bean or ginger sauces, or in any way the diner wishes for from about $25 to $33.
To balance the fish at the entrance, in the rear of the dining room are some beautiful glazed roasted ducks hanging on hooks in a glass-encased shiny steel display window. Just looking makes you hungry.
On Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 in the morning to 3 p.m., rolling carts come out of the kitchen with delectable dim sum: dumplings made of shrimp, shark's fin, pork or taro, sweet or salty buns, chicken feet, bean curd noodle crepes and other Chinese specialties.
On weekends, the restaurant is filled with large groups, many of them Chinese families, enjoying an outing in traditional style. Dim sum and various noodle dishes are available at lunchtime during the week, as well, but only to order from the menu and not from the carts.
Mr. Cheng or Tony, as everyone calls him is known around town for having given Washingtonians a taste of superb cooking at his Szechwan Restaurant on I Street several decades ago. (He is also the "Asian pear king" for his enterprise in growing and selling Asian pears on his large Virginia farm.) The Szechwan was wonderful and lingers on in the memories of all who dined there.
Happily, some of our favorite recipes survive in good health at the Seafood Restaurant, a large, bright space with colorful screens to offer privacy for larger parties. Hot tea arrives unbidden; beer and a pleasant, light house chardonnay go well with dinner.
Foremost among my Szechwan memories is the outstanding shredded chicken Szechwan style. It's difficult to find a Chinese restaurant that shreds its chicken most slice or dice it but Tony still shreds, and the dish is a delicious combination of chicken, shreds of carrots, bean sprouts and wood mushrooms in a spicy sauce.
Bon bon chicken is also outstanding as an appetizer. The dish consists of moist, tender shredded chicken, served room temperature, topped with slivered spring onions and a rich peanut sauce with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It's a delicious combination. The ingredients marry perfectly with no single flavor overpowering any other.
Fried meat dumplings (called potstickers on the West Coast) were disappointing. The filling, with just a hint of cinnamon, is fine, although the dumpling itself is doughy. A tasty scallion pancake suffered, although less so, from the same defect.
Jumbo shrimp in wine sauce is a chef's special. The shrimp are lightly battered and fried; they are served, piping hot, in a sweet/sour, spicy, dark sauce. Sweet yes, but, happily, not overly so. Unfortunately, sugar is a problem at the Seafood Restaurant, as it is in all Washington Chinese restaurants, and many of the dishes tend to be overly sweetened. Such is the case with jumbo shrimp, Szechwan style, where too much sugar is used in the onion and tomato sauce, making the sauce cloying. The shrimp in both dishes are fresh and tender.
Crispy shredded beef is truly crispy. It's another dish tending to sweetness, but it is well prepared and pleasantly textured. The old standby, moo shi pork, served with four excellent, thin pancakes, is a good, mild dish, well prepared.
The menu has a full range of vegetable and noodle dishes, including such favorites as excellent string beans, spicy eggplant, curried rice noodles and lo mein with beef, vegetables, chicken, shrimp or roast pork.
Beef, chicken, duck, pork, shellfish and fish are all available in spicy sauces such as garlic, Hunan or Szechwan style. There are dozens of dishes featuring fish, meat or vegetables that are sauced mildly. The Seafood Restaurant also offers a variety of casseroles, which resemble stews, often in a broth.
For the really adventurous diners, the Seafood Restaurant prepares such unusual dishes as pig's belly with taro or preserved mustard greens, cold shredded jellyfish, sauteed snail in black bean sauce, stuffed bean cakes and marinated cuttlefish.
The service is prompt and cheerful. Portions are huge, so there always seems to be something left over for tomorrow's lunch. The kitchen uses MSG, but will refrain upon request. The Seafood Restaurant may not be the old Szechwan, but it's nice to know that Tony is hanging in and still taking good care of all his hungry customers.


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