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Friday, June 1, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

China Village's classics bring back memories

Special to The Seattle Times

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The family at the table next to us told their waiter they had cut short their bike ride and decided to stop off to eat. On their way out, they ordered some takeout for the kid who hadn't come along for the ride.

China Village


Chinese

$$

Recommended

3224 N.E. 45th St., Seattle

206-523-0772

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays; noon-10:30 p.m. Saturdays; 4-10 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays.

Major credit cards / no obstacles / full bar.

Nearby, a children's birthday party was under way, complete with pointy hats and a Lazy Susan loaded with plates of fried rice and mu shu pork. And I was there because, in addition to my duties for The Times, I had been wondering whether the kitchen was still making a particular chicken dish. More about that in a moment.

We were all enjoying dinner at China Village, a family-owned hangout just east of University Village shopping center. The room is pleasant and comfortable - it's the kind of classic Chinese restaurant décor where you feel like you're in a box, but a clean and well-lighted box, done up in pastel and dark greens. People keep coming back, however, for the Chinese-American classics done consistently well.

For example, nearly every Chinese restaurant serves something called sesame chicken, but few are memorable. China Village's ($11.95) is exceptional, crispy with a bit of chili heat, and they've done it right every time I've had it. No need to worry that it might turn out soggy instead of crispy.

Shrimp in lobster sauce ($10.95), broccoli with garlic sauce ($7.95) - it's all here. I haven't tried the dish called "Lovers Eggplants" ($7.95), but the description is alluring: "This dish is dedicated to those of our guests with romantic inclinations." (Presumably, the many garlic-heavy dishes are dedicated to those of their guests without romantic inclinations, at least none in the next few hours.)

Almost anything from the "Lee's Specialties" section of the menu is worth considering; this chef's-specials list only occasionally veers into the "four kinds of meat and seafood" extravaganzas that never turn out to be as good as they sound. On the other hand, the equally kitchen-sink-minded China Village Fried Rice ($7.95) is delicious. Go figure.

China Village also serves a lunch special ($6.25) with soup, appetizer and entree. It's a good value as these things go, but it predictably fails to delve deep enough into the best parts of the restaurant's menu (that is, the sesame chicken isn't available as part of the special).

Surely some of China Village's appeal lies in the fact that it reminds many non-Chinese people of the place where they first met Chinese food - where every flavor was new, where the waiters would laugh and hand you a fork as you struggled with your chopsticks. No wonder so many return to China Village with kids in tow to relive that formative moment and pass it on.

The reasonable bill arrives with (what else?) orange slices and fortune cookies. My fortune read, "You have an unusually magnetic personality."

My dining companion's fortune was the same; luckily, I was dining with my wife. China Village's fortune is the same as well.

Check please

Steamed dumplings (three pork, three vegetarian): Steamed dumplings are always doughier and more subtle than their pan-fried counterparts, but in a reassuring way, and we especially liked the bits of firm tofu and greens in the veggie version.

Sesame chicken: A mound of crisp-fried chicken slices are lightly sauced with a spicy sesame glaze. It's hard to stop eating this even long after you're full.

China Village Special Prawns: I wish our waiter had mentioned that these prawns are crisp like the chicken, with a garlic sauce similar to the broccoli, and are in fact served with steamed broccoli, but I neglected to ask, and it certainly didn't stop us from eating them.

Broccoli with garlic sauce: The standby vegetable side dish is done well here, with plenty of stir-fried florets (but sadly, no slices of the equally tasty broccoli stem) in a spicy sauce with tons of garlic.

Itemized bill, meal for two:

Steamed dumplings: $5.95

China Village Special Prawns: $13.95

Sesame chicken: $11.95

Broccoli with garlic sauce: $7.95

Steamed rice: $2.00

Tax: $3.89

Total: $45.69

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