Word of Mouth: Gui Lin

Skip the takeout and settle in for Hong-Kong-style delights.

From Kliman Online’s “Word of Mouth”

Add Gui Lin to the list of wonderful Chinese spots in Rockville.

The restaurant's take-out customers may gravitate to the beef with broccoli and the chow foon noodles, but the best reason to head on up 270 is further back in the multiple-page menu, the dishes that make up the backbone of Hong Kong-style cooking — the dumpling soups, noodle bowls, hot pots and rice dishes.

You could eat here, with friends, for a couple of weeks and not eat the same thing twice. I say you could, not that you should. For me, it'd be  painfully hard to limit myself to a single order of the shrimp dumpling soup, a big, steaming bowl of gorgeous broth full of wilted lettuce and bobbing with a generous allotment of delicately-fashioned dumplings, their thin skins wrapped around an aromatic filling of minced shrimp and wild mushrooms. A soup of ground beef, wild mushroom and parsley — an assemblage of ingredients I've never seen on an area menu — is nearly as good. Hot pots are huge and rewarding, stocked with an array of goodies, from oysters and roast pork to bean curd, mutton, braised melon, and bitter squash.

The kitchen is serious about its seafood — it insists on using Vancouver crab for a stir fry with ginger and scallions — which is probably why simpler stuff, like an appetizer of clams tossed with minced pork, ginger, garlic, and black bean sauce, is so good; the clams themselves retain a briny sweetness that can't be faked.

The only miss I turned up early on was a main course of fried, butterflied shrimp, which were dipped in mayo and garnished with candied walnuts, a Hong Kong standard-bearer whose apotheosis can be found at the glorious Yank Sing, in San Francisco. No blaming the shrimp, though — they were plump and sweet. Most of the other main courses seem to find their mark. Two stand out in memory, particularly for the quality of their saucing, which avoids the gloppiness that mars too much Chinese cooking in this area: fried pork chops with thick bands of onion in a sweet and sour sauce and laterally sliced, still-pink-on-the-inside short ribs in a black pepper sauce with green peppers and onions.

Gui Lin has been a well-preserved secret in the local Chinese community for twenty years, with extended families nightly filling up the restaurant's 18 tables. With so few places for the rest of us to turn for the kind of cooking we crave, I hope they don't mind my spilling the beans.

-November 27, 2007