Chinese New Year begins tomorrow. In honor of the Year of the Horse, I decided to review Han Dynasty, which opened in Old City three months ago.
The restaurant is known for its Sichuan food where spice is king. Hot peppers are featured in many of the dishes. I like spicy food, but when a chef goes overboard with a much-too-heavy hand, problems arise. It is difficult to savor ingredients when they are masked by too much heat.
Han Dynasty is located in a beautiful space that has been the home of several types of restaurants. It features a lovely bar, bar seating and comfortable booths and banquettes. The original Corinthian columns set off the looming hand-painted ceiling.
Our delightful server brought us a pot of lukewarm tea and helped us navigate through the menu. He told us the restaurant serves traditional Chinese food family style with portions large enough to share.
Since the menu centers on Sichuan fare, heat indicators are set off by numbers, with 10 being the hottest. I had questions about the difference between the dumplings and the wonton appetizers. The dumplings, stuffed with ground pork, were served with a hot sauce with a bit of sweetness. This sounded delicious.
Han Dynasty’s dumplings ($6.95) were nestled in a bowl of chili oil that was so hot, tears sprang to my eyes, and every pore of my being was affected. I wanted to taste the dumplings, so they were whisked away and came back rinsed with a small dish of soy sauce on the side. The wrapper was light and silken so the texture was spot on. There could have been a bit more ground pork inside, but I could finally taste these treats.
The same thing occurred with the spicy crispy cucumbers ($6.95). Much too much chili oil masked the half-moons of cool cukes.
Since I am a soup girl, I knew any kind of rich Chinese soup would warm us up on a cold winter’s night. Edward and I looked at the choices and with our server’s help, tucked into bowls of pork with pickled vegetables ($6.95). The stock had a little kick because bits of hot peppers floated in the broth. I avoided them completely, and found the broth to be tasty with just a hint of heat. Strands of pork shared company with strands of pickled Asian greens that played off each other quite nicely. I think the addition of noodles would have given the soup more texture.
For our entrees, we avoided the heat completely. We just wanted three dishes that were well-seasoned, as I hoped the ingredients would shine on their own.
Shredded duck with ginger ($18.95) hit the mark. The duck was boneless, tender, juicy and not a bit greasy. It hit the hot wok with julienned green beans, green peppers, scallions, fresh fragrant ginger and a hint of soy sauce. It was a rich and satisfying dish.
Cumin lamb ($16.95) consisted of bits of lamb, probably cut from the leg or shoulder, encrusted with cumin and simply wok-fried with onions, garlic and peppers. The sauce was light with soy so that it did not detract from the flavor of the meat.
Since most entrees feature onions, green peppers and scallions, we wanted to sample a vegetable dish. Baby bok choy with black trumpet mushrooms ($11.95) was a hearty mix of slightly still crunchy bok choy married with heady mushrooms coated in a rich soy hoisin sauce.
“The sauce is really good on the rice,” Edward said as he munched with his chopsticks.
It was, indeed.
These entrees wiped away the memory of over-the-top-hot dishes.
Han Dynasty has a full bar. The prices are moderate. A martini is $10, while the wine list features vintages at about $8.
Service was excellent. Our waiter was helpful and knew the dishes well, which is necessary for first-time visitors to Han Dynasty.
Three tips of the toque to Han Dynasty.