The best thing about China Taste is that there are absolutely no surprises there, at least when it comes to the menu and the food; this is the same Chinese food we've all been eating since the big Szechuan explosion of the early 1980s. Of course, that familiarity could be the negative thing, too, depending on how you look at it. But with times like they are, it's sometimes good to know you can depend on getting exactly what you bargained for.

What makes China Taste worth a visit, and not just for carry-out, is its memory-inducing ambience, impressive in a storefront restaurant - red leather booths with Art Deco flourishes, chandeliers and tinkly Chinese music playing over quiet conversations.

Kelly green napkins on pale pink tablecloths are a refreshing touch, too. The current owners of China Taste took over last year, and it looks like everything from the paint to the carpeting has been freshened up. They've also installed a sushi bar in the area that must have once been the cocktail lounge. (China Taste is BYOB.)

It's a pleasure of sorts, too, not to have to think too hard to put together a meal, to concentrate instead on unwinding over a bowl of complimentary fried noodles, served with super horseradish-y hot mustard and very sugary duck sauce. Your favorite Chinese dishes are here, so just go ahead and order them.

In our case, it begins with fried dumplings, stuffed with mildly seasoned pork, that come to the table nicely browned and pleasantly oily, the way we like them. I might as well say here that China Taste makes no claims about using healthy oils or seasonal ingredients.

This is comfort food all the way, and you might find yourself getting fatigued halfway through the meal. We ordered up a plate of spare ribs, too, which were tasty but not particularly meaty. A shared bowl of chicken and corn soup was bland and starchy, but pleasingly so. Eating it started us off on nostalgic ramblings about childhoods spent on grandparents' farms. It was served piping hot, too. China Taste's wonton soup looked pretty to me, its broth clear and strong.

Entrees are served in generous enough portions to take home half for next day's lunch or a midnight refrigerator raid. For one of us, the thing to get was Dragon and Phoenix, which combines two Chinese-American classics, shrimp in a spicy red sauce and General Tso's chicken, separated on the plate by a row of vivid green broccoli. It's a good-looking dish, but I'd say both halves were a little too sugary and not peppery enough. Better I thought was the crispy beef Szechuan-style, one of those dishes that offers great pleasure and a big calorie count. Really, it's nothing more than lightly floured shredded beef, presented glisteningly on a plate with shredded carrots and celery. It's great.

Crispy duck is satisfying too. Served with a little dish of sea salt (I admit not knowing what I was supposed to do with that), this was another generous serving of something tasty and satisfying that can't possibly be good for you on a regular basis. On a random Tuesday evening, though, it was the perfect thing.

It was hard to resist the dinner combination specials, which for about $11.95 get you a main entree, a cup of soup, a three-piece appetizer assortment, and chicken fried rice. I'd save China Taste for a rainy evening, after a hard day at work. We absolutely left China Taste in a better mood and not much poorer then when we came in, and that's sometimes that's the biggest compliment you can give a restaurant.

on the menu
•BBQ spare ribs - $5.95

•Fried dumplings - $5.95

•Chicken corn soup for two - $5.95

•Dragon and Phoenix - $13.95

•Crispy duck - $12.95

•Crispy beef Szechuan style - $12.95

china taste
Where: 8750 Belair Road, Nottingham

Call: 410-529-9300

Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Alcohol: BYOB

Credit cards: VISA, Master Card, American Express

Appetizers: $3.25-$11.95

Entrees: $8.95-$19.95

Food: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

Ambience: ***


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