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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ Meiwah / Friendship Heights (Maryland)

Of all the restaurants that the city has to offer, perhaps the most intriguing — at least, so far as Chinese cooking is concerned — is Meiwah. Perhaps, if you work downtown, the one at New Hampshire Avenue and M Street may make your lunchtime easier. But sometimes that little extra push for a special treat makes all the difference. Go to Meiwah in Friendship Heights, and on sunny, clear days, snag a table on the outside verandah where a mini-garden’s lush greens bloom.

The setting is important, but more importantly, patrons come to eat — both Meiwah restaurants have garnered media and VIP attention because of the food. But, you may say, Chinese restaurants are everywhere in the metro area. Most, however, stick to Westernizing their menus, sweetening the recipes, and eliminating anything that is too exotic, such as Dancing (live) Prawns.

Under the watchful eye of owner Larry La, the two Meiwahs turn out traditional Chinese dishes that for Asian travelers will be reminiscent of Hong Kong eats: a gently seasoned chicken breast with asparagus spears comes in a delicate white sauce; the Hunan lamb has a subtle chili bite, but does not overwhelm; the sesame noodles swirl in a mildly seasoned sauce sparked by sesame oil; and the steamed dumplings come as a light dough wrapped cloud-like around a ground meat filling.

Of course, the success of the Meiwahs rests largely on the shoulders of Larry La, a bigger-than-life personality who must know every single person of note in the city. If your luck holds, you may run into La at one place or the other — that is, if he is not out scouting out other kitchens and restaurants or sharing a meal with a celeb or politician. He is a pragmatic fellow, who has made a name with his ebullient personality and careful control of his gastronomic enterprises.

Ideally, eating at Meiwah requires coming with a group of friends so you can order and eat more. With that lesson learned, a return trip for me would include the Cantonese-style lobster, Hunan-style crispy whole fish, and duck strips in garlic sauce. The meal would start off with Chinese roast pork, eggplant with crushed garlic, and deep-fried scallops.

And as you enjoy your meal, take a look at the surroundings: the Chinese artwork, the wooden entrance door reminiscent of ancient China, the elegant table settings, the cheerful staff. All these elements plus the food explain why La has succeeded so well with this and his first Meiwah. And for all DC old-timers, if you remember the halcyon days of City Lights of China, the Dupont Circle Chinese restaurant in a basement —- it was opened and managed by La for some years, making a mark for him in what has become a restaurant-mad city.

When La moved on to open first Meiwah and then his second, fortune ordained that he would continue his successes: no wonder the Meiwah website shows a page dedicated to all the celebs who have dined at a Meiwah.

So, the meal is over. You get a fortune cookie and orange slice for dessert, pay the bill, and head out the second-story restaurant, and chances are you wish to repeat the entire experience tomorrow.

Meiwah Restaurant /  Lunch & dinner daily. Entrée price range: $11.95-$27.95.  4457 Willard Ave., Chevy Chase (one short block north on Connecticut Ave. from Friendship Hghts. Red Line to Willard Ave. & one block west). (301) 652-9882; www.meiwahrestaurant.com.

Ed. Note: See, also, Alexandra Greeley’s review (http://tinyurl.com/k5nsfjq) of this restaurant’s original — and still there — New Hampshire Avenue and M Street, NW location when it first opened in 2000.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.