Restaurant Review: Hunan L’Rose Restaurant is an Odenton Favorite
May 31, 2016 11:32AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Hunan L’Rose | 1131 Annapolis Road, Odenton | 410-672-2928 | hunanlrose.com | Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. | weekend reservations suggested | major credit cards accepted | carry-out available | wheelchair accessible. $$
Where are all those folks going?” I wondered as we watched a parade of people moving through one of the entrances at a busy strip mall in Odenton. Soon enough, I learned they were arriving at Hunan L’Rose Restaurant—my destination for a review of a place described to me by a West County resident as a “local landmark.”
There, at the front desk, stood the petite owner, Catalina Choy, calmly orchestrating seating for a crowd that had all arrived at 6 p.m. Couples, families with children, and groups of millennials were in the diverse mix of would-be diners—some of whom have been coming to this Chinese restaurant since it opened in 1992. Choy, whose husband Wing Chee manages the kitchen, seemed unflappable—keeping her cool in what seemed to be a mob scene.
Miraculously, it seemed every seat in the house was soon filled with a minimum of fuss, and the “overflow” invited to wait their turn in the small foyer. We had made reservations and found ourselves at a table in the main dining room, where a Choy family member brought ice water and two menus—one for food and the other a two-page list of exotic “umbrella drinks,” old-fashioned cocktails like Manhattans and frozen daiquiris, and a limited selection of beer and wines. A complimentary pot of tea and small cups welcome diners here, which we sipped while waiting for a split of Freixinet (a Spanish sparkling wine that weds well with Chinese food and a bargain at $4.50 per glass).
Part of the fun for Hunan L’Rose patrons is perusing the restaurant’s wondrous menu—a poetic description (in Chinese and English) of every imaginable creation in the style of Hunan and Cantonese cuisine. Though neither style is super spicy (unlike Szechuan), there are asterisks next to dishes considered “hot and spicy,” with a promise they can be “altered to your taste.” Warm appetizers on the list begin with spring or vegetarian rolls ($1.50 each), include fried or steamed dumplings (six for $6.25), and end with rumaki (chicken livers wrapped in bacon at four for $3.95).
We opted for a Pupu Platter for two ($14.95), a choice that attracted several admiring glances as it arrived on a turntable centered with a flaming grill. It got an approval rating of eight of ten for its selection of shrimp tempura, crab ragoons, beef cho ho, spring rolls, and spareribs—the rating slightly lowered by fatty spareribs and a spring roll heavily weighted with lettuce. Let it be said that the other items were delicious, the presentation stunning, and that the only item remaining on the turntable were the rib bones.
As an afficianodo of hot and sour soup as a therapeutic reliever of cold symptoms, I was eager to try Hunan L’Rose’s version of this Chinese staple. Denser in texture and with more ingredients, it was a different kind of “good” (from my Chinese go-to restaurant in Arnold)—satisfying and rich with tofu, bits of shredded pork, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms in a flavorful broth. Kudos to the kitchen.
In addition to crispy pan fried vegetable, seafood, or a mix of both noodles (proof of the chef’s Chinese origins), menu standards include chow mein, lo mein, and six kinds of fried rice served in mountainous portions ($9.95–11.95). Main dishes feature scallops, lobster, lamb, chicken, shrimp, pork, squid, fish, and duck in starring roles. I stopped short at the Peking Duck—available for same day service at $16 for a half or $32 for a whole that is ample for two.
This delicacy, rarely seen on the menus of local restaurants and usually requiring advance notice, is on my list of special treats. Here, Long Island duck is prepared in the traditional way: hung upside down to dry before its skin is sliced so it becomes crispy as the bird is roasted. The feast arrived on a platter, the thin slices of moist dark meat and pieces of crisped skin garnished with strips of scallions and a half-dozen pancakes. There’s a pleasurable bit of DIY involved, as the diner brushes a pancake with hoisin sauce, adds some meat, skin, and slices of scallion, then wraps into a cylinder for consumption—think Chinese taco. My quibble was with the pancakes—a bit large and on the tough side when ideally they could be smaller and lighter. But it’s a good way to satisfy a craving for duck and fun to share with someone else.
Visually, the star of our (admittedly limited) show was L’Rose Bird Nest ($19.95), one of 28 appealing options under the Chef’s Suggestions section of the menu. An eye-catching creation of scallops, shrimp, and crab meat cradled in a “nest” made of delicate strips of fried potatoes, its vibrant colors supplied by emerald green snow peas, bright yellow baby corns, a mélange of straw mushrooms, and sliced water chestnuts. Gorgeous to behold, its arrival at our table was accompanied by a few oohs and aahs from nearby diners wanting to know its “name.” Sautéed in a light sauce, the mélange of fruits from the sea and soil was quite lovely—and the portion enough for two.
Service at Hunan L’Rose by a cadre of family members is attentive under the watchful eye of Choy, who seemed to be aware of every detail. We watched her handle the complaint of a nearby diner about “slow service” by taking over the table herself. We saw her coaching an obviously inexperienced server in a discreet manor. We marveled at the steady march of a kitchen server carrying bags of carry-out to the front desk, where she doled them out to those who had called in for carry-out.
Based on our visit, it is easy to understand why Hunan L’Rose has been in business for nearly a quarter-century. The menu is enormous, the food is fresh, the atmosphere is happy, and the large aquarium that separates the two dining areas entertains patrons in a way that seems to calm the children.
A final sweet touch comes in the form of a complimentary dessert: small scoops of vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet served in small glass bowls with fortune cookies encasing a single message: “Learn Chinese.” Hunan L’Rose is a good place to begin.
About the Author: Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.