190 Thomas Johnson Drive
Frederick, MD 21701
TEL: (301) 668-1118
Imagine Thurmont's Cozy Restaurant plopped down in China's Szechuan province.
If you can make that great cultural leap, then you're well on your way to understanding the great appeal of Rick's Chinatown, a hot new restaurant in northern Frederick.
The creation of Rick Hsu, a 45 year old Taiwan expatriate who has called America home for the last sixteen years, Rick's Chinatown offers a fresh Asian twist on a tried-and-true U.S. theme: offer prodigious quantities of Chinese food, price it ridiculously low and then let nature take its course. Rick calls it his "super buffet," and judging by the ear-to-ear smiles of his customers this week, he may be on to something big.
We visited Rick's Chinatown and found and attractive restaurant boasting a marble foyer, several crystal chandeliers and a cheery décor. The restaurant includes a full-service bar and banquet facilities. The centerpiece is the "super buffet," a veritable smorgasbord of Chinese delights spread across eight, maybe nine tables. Try though you may, you can't ignore it. It calls your name, taunts you, and challenges you to test you mettle with knife and fork. At least, that's way I told my treadmill.
Over the course of two visits, we sampled once from the buffet, a second time from the menu. What we found was a delicious mix of Szechuan, Hunan, Canton and Beijing cuisine.
The music is another delight - an intriguing amalgam of Chinese classics, contemporary orchestration and an overlaid cadence reminiscent of the Argentine Tango. As it played, my mind kept conjuring up images of a Chinese John Tesh playing the piano somewhere in the wind-swept mountains near Buenos Aires. Definitely not your usual fare on the FM dial.
I've partaken in fine Chinese restaurants from Hong Kong to a dozen U.S. Chinatowns, and I'd say that Rick's orange beef is among the best. Its superb taste is matched by a gorgeous presentation, and we marveled at the radish carved into an exotic tropical flower, amid a delicious bouquet of broccoli, Chinese celery, red peppers and caramelized orange peelings.
The king pao chicken is rather uninspired, however, though to be fair, its lack of pizzazz is customary for most kung pao in the region. The celebrated Yenching Palace known as the "home to the diplomats" on Washington D.C.'s Connecticut Avenue also serves a rather bland dish. For my money, the undisputed kung pao champion is found at Hunan Cheers on the Golden Mile - tangy and zippy as all get out.
The Chinese barbecued spare ribs are easily outclassed by their U.S. cousins, although finding great barbecue of any kind in Frederick County - Chinese, Memphis, Texas, or North Carolina styles-is a challenge worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
There's plenty of good news, however. The won ton soup is as flavorful as any chicken noodle soup in the United States has to offer, and as hearty as a bowl of steaming Matzo ball soup from a Brooklyn deli. Toss in a few fried noodles and you're in for a heavenly treat. We also enjoyed the egg rolls, which were agreeably light, non-greasy and plentiful.
There are many standouts from the buffet as well, including the bourbon chicken, sweet and sour pork, and beef with broccoli.
Having been open only four weeks now, this sparkling new restaurant is doing a commendable job. A little fine-tuning and presto! We recommend you give it a try yourself. With its good fare, huge buffet and low prices, Rick's Chinatown is destined to become the wok of the town.