Catherine Spearnak 4:30 p.m., March 5
The lamps that hung from the ceiling of the Peking Restaurant conveyed the spirit of the place perfectly. Any doubts that the meal would end with fortune cookies, or that the leftovers would go home in little, paper boxes vanished at the site of such a familiar image of American-style Chinese dining.
Sure, the decor pointed somewhere in the general direction of later-Dynastic China, but the food was all the classic dishes of American Chinese food: egg foo fung, chow mein, sweet-and-sour chicken, etc.
While every manner of rice and noodle dish was available a la carte, the family-style dinners listed on the back of the menu were intriguing. Starting at $7.95 per person for the Peking Dinner, and rising all the way to $15.95 per person for the Extra Special Dinner, the family meals comprised a complete dinner service for the entire party.
The only thing that wasn't included was a Tsingtao beer ($3.75),
Served as courses, the execution of the meal was perhaps the restaurant's largest triumph. Courteous, friendly, and efficient, the servers at Peking could teach a lesson to the staff at much more expensive restaurants on how to attend a table.
An egg flower soup came out first. Comprised solely of chicken broth, egg whites, and rice, the soup was forgettable; far from either outright good or bad.
More impressive were the appetizers. The roast pork was a recognizable cut of meat, rather than the nondescript mystery meat that's often seen in this dish. The starters were served with a bizarre but amazing mixture of hot mustard and ketchup sounds awful in theory but was surprisingly delicious in practice. The egg rolls were a bit on the small side, but they had an oiliness that was satisfying in miniature and would have most likely been overwhelming had they been on the larger side.
The main dishes all came at once. The fried rice lacked luster but did act as a good accompaniment to the rich, sweet, crystal clear gravy that coated the egg foo yung and bore a mysterious resemblance to the brown sauce that covers Salisbury steaks. The sweet and sour dishes combined battered meat, carrots, peppers, and pineapple with the characteristic brilliantly red sauce that should surprise no one.
Fried shrimps came without sauce, but more of that mustard/ketchup blend was called for.
Perhaps the star of the show for the entrees was the pork chow mein. Lean pork, celery, water chestnuts, and cashews were bound together in a sort of veloute sauce and tossed with steamed noodles.
It was hard to say whether it was comfort food or Chinese food, and that best encapsulates the experience of the Peking Restaurant. It's hardly fine dining -- and the oily, sweet sauces don't exactly appeal to the more refined parts of one's palate -- but the meal itself will no doubt raise a lot of cozy associations.
2877 University Avenue
Otherwise open 11-9