June 2004: Hunan Palace

By: Cynthia Hacinli

Sure, you can have old standbys like double-cooked pork and moo goo gai pan. Or you can ask for the Chinese menu with English translations--where Hunan fare is left behind for Shanghai and Taiwan. Put together a feast of three-cup chicken with whole garlic cloves and ginger; wu shi spareribs with bits of Chinese spinach; five-flavor beef; and crispy leek pancake folded over and filled with minced leeks and tofu.

Also delicious are chili-spiked oyster casserole crowned with a fried egg; and delicacies like sea cucumber with shrimp eggs and pork intestine with sour cabbage. The crystal-chandeliered dining room with Chinese still-life prints is an oasis of calm compared with many Chinese eateries--and a counterpoint to the fireworks cuisine.

Hunan Palace, 9011 Gaither Rd. (Shady Grove Center), Gaithersburg; 301-977-8600.