Young and Hungry

Spot Check: China Jade in Derwood

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The scallion pancakes were crispy but needed more of the namesake ingredient.

More than two years ago Liu Chaosheng took over Hong Kong Palace, a modest storefront in Falls Church, and rewrote the entire menu.  Gone were HKP's Cantonese dishes (even if the promise of them remained with the name of the place), replaced by Liu's specialty, the numbing and spicy dishes of Szechwan.

It was a tasty switcheroo.

Well, little did I realize until a couple of weeks ago that Liu has done much the same thing at China Jade in the Derwood neighborhood north of Rockville. He and some partners bought out the previous owners in February and revamped the menu, adding a good 100 Szechwan dishes to it.

But they did one thing differently in Derwood: They kept the Cantonese food, too. The new owners opted to retain chef Chun Lee, who handles the Cantonese side of the menu, says manager Maggie Wang.

Lee shares the kitchen with Hu Ping, who tackles the day-to-day Szechwan cooking at China Jade. Hu and Liu were apparently classmates at the Szechwan Institute of Culinary Arts and Science, according to the China Jade Web site. Liu visits the restaurant frequently and helps prepare sauces in advance, the manager says, but he still spends most of his time at Hong Kong Palace.

As far as the cooking goes at China Jade, I can only speak to the Szechwan dishes we ordered. I didn't get around the Cantonese plates. Truth to tell, it's hard to bypass Szechwan cooking when I find it, particularly when it's prepared under Liu's guidance, no matter how far removed.

More dishes after the jump.

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The spicy dried beef packs serious heat and a satisfying, jerky-like chew.

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The ma-po tofu boasts these firm silken cubes amid an oil-heavy sauce studded with fermented black beans and ground pork, but I thought the dish needed more Szechwan peppercorns. My lips were barely tingling.

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The double-cooked pork features an oyster-style sauce with fresh garlic leaves, rather than the black-bean sauce found at some other Szechwan outlets. The dish was loaded with peppers which provided plenty of heat to counter the thin slices of fatty pork. This was the best dish I sampled.

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I was tempted to order the "Bullfrog with Beer Sauce," which manager Wang tells me is a traditional Szechwan dish prepared with a whole fresh frog. "It's really good," she says. It's "much better than the chicken."

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