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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thing 81: Szechuan Gallery Restaurant

I remember the first time I ran across DC's Chinatown. Brand new to the District, I'd had a doctor's appointment up by Union Station. I arrived early in the morning only to find out that the appointment had been cancelled. With a couple of hours to kill before I had class, I decided to walk from Union Station back to Foggy Bottom. As I was strolling, I crossed through Chinatown, saw the big, ornate archway and thought "Oh, so this is Chinatown! I've been meaning to -- wait, where'd it go?"

You see, I'm from the suburbs of San Francisco, a city where Chinatown really means something. You can spend hours -- days! -- in San Francisco's Chinatown exploring shops that sell strange foods, imported goods, traditional herbal remedies and eating your way through some of the most delicious and authentic Chinese restaurants in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled on DC's Chinatown and it was two blocks long and two blocks wide.

Of course now, eight years later, it's not even that big. The main attraction in the area is no longer Chinatown but the Verizon Center. Generic chain restaurants have replaced any semblance of the old Chinatown. The only reminder that this area was ever a Chinatown is the Chinese lettering that adorns every business' sign. So there's a Chinese lettered Starbucks, La Tosca, Legal Seafood, Ruby Tuesday, Pot Belly Sandwich Works, Urban Outfitters and Benetton. Sigh.

Anyway, the point is that last night -- between cleaning the bathroom and folding the laundry, the Boyfriend and I sought out some actual Chinese food in Chinatown. It was a foolhardy and radical idea, but there we were at Szechuan Gallery Restaurant Garden, munching away at moo shi pork and sweet and sour chicken.

What a weird place. The food actually wasn't half bad (the crab rangoon was quite good in fact), but the place was just so weird. We were the only two people eating there for the most part. The restaurant smelled like an old man's apartment -- musty and slightly sour. It was decorated haphazardly, with a textured aluminum ceiling, fake flowers and Peking ducks drying near the front window.

At one point, a street vendor came in and sold the staff behind the bar some bottles of baby lotion, "two for five dollars." There was a lot of selling and negotiating for about eight minutes, then he left and it went back to being quiet again.

We ate our fill, with plenty of leftovers for today's lunch, and then headed out. Is this what Chinatown had to offer? Can you blame people for flocking to California Tortilla and Five Guys instead? Next time, Matchbox, all the way.

1 comments:

Tanya said...

I like Burma. It's in Chinatown, on the second floor of a building above... something unmemorable.