Fairfax, VA 22031
There is a great benefit to dining out with a group of people who enjoy tasting a variety of dishes and have opinions on each dish. Undoubtely, China Star is a prime candidate to visit with as many people as can fit around your table, considering the extensive menu it offers with a wide selection of choices, nearly making you wish you could squeeze all 3 daily meals into one. You can pick either of its two websites (yes, two?) to review the menu ahead of your visit, though narrowing your selection down is not easy because it all sounds so good. Perhaps this is a restaurant where one can be advised to visit often to try everything in order to ultimately settle on the favorites.
Unfortunately, of the five appetizers and about six or seven entrees, nearly all were disappointments. It is possible that our selections were simply wrong, but we cast quite a wide net, as you can see by the photos below, to get as many diverse flavors as possible.
To begin with, those items marked as "spicy" or even "numbing" were anything but. The fact that the Wontons, for example, were drowining in chili oil (see photo below) did not make them any less bland. Several appetizers sounded quite unique, which is why we ordered them, such as Cucumber with Mashed Garlic and Wood Ear. The former consisted of bland and mushy cucmbers with very little garlic flavor. It was particularly mushy and slimy when combined with any of the other food on one plate. The latter turned out to be a pile of delicate thin black mushrooms, also quite bland until you reached the small stash of pickled hot peppers at the bottom of the bowl. The Changdu Spicy Cold Noodle appetizer was also bland, and the noodles were annoyingly endless, rendering them nearly impossible to get off the serving plate without friends' help.
Now for the entrees, IF you are still hanging in there and thinking there is still a small chance you'll try Chine Star despite all you have read thus far.
The entrees... Well, someone on Yelp who loves spicy dishes as much as we all do, raved about the mild Fish with Pine Nuts, which, though not spicy was still all the rage. We figured with all the spicy dishes we were ordering, this would offer a nice balance. NOT. The fish was so mild both in flavor and texture, that, well... it was almost like eating something that was not there (if that makes sense), supplemented by more mushy cucumbers with the fish, boy, was this the wrong choice! The Szechuan chicken - a combination of brittle fried popcorn chicken with small slices of potatoes (yes, potatoes in a Chinese restaurant!) and intermittent cilantro stems - was, in a word, DRY. The sprinkled red pepper added some heat, but definitely not any flavor.
Going into details about the remaining dishes, is not worth it because, frankly, you get the idea!
Oh, the smoked duck, was dry, and should probably have been smoked rather than eaten, although, jokes aside, it was probably the least disappointing of the entrees, though the bar, as you can see, is not high.
In a word, while Northern Virginia is not necessarily known for its great Chinese food, and this restaurant supports this perception, there are other Chinese restaurants that are much more worthwhile of a return visit, such as Peking Gourmet Inn or Mark's Duck House, than China Star.
The good news is that the mediocre food was no barrier to a fun evening with a great group of people!
Dan Dan Noodle with ground pork
Cucumber with mashed garlic
Wontons with pork
Changdu Spicy Cold Noodles (not spicy)
Wood Ear (mushrooms) with Chili Oil Sauce
Very top is Cashew Chicken
Fish with Pine Nuts
Shrimp with Asparagus and Kung Pao Chicken
Left is Szechuan Chicken and bottom is Beef with Snow Peas