Less Than Full Key

Finally got around to eating at Full Key (2227 University, in the strip mall with Max’s), historically regarded as one of Wheaton’s better Chinese restaurants. By whom?  You know…some people.

I wouldn’t rank it that high.  Unlike my favorite Rockville Sichuan hotspots, all the Chinese restaurants around here are Cantonese/Hong Kong style, both the old school haunts like Full Key, Paul Kee, Hollywood East, and Good Fortune, and the new kids on the block like New Kam Fong and Wong Gee.  Of course there’s also Jenny’s and Kenny’s and Brothers (pretty sure no apostrophe in Brothers — outlier! — which makes sense because there would have to be more than one, wouldn’t there?), which aren’t really anything in particular, just Americanized Chinese (and not too bad, if that’s your thing). And Full Key just isn’t as good as most of those.

Full Key has a sticker above the door, something like “We get great reviews on Yelp!”  If you read Yelp reviews (which I mostly don’t but forced myself to this time) you will find widely mixed reviews of Full Key; the allegedly terse service tends to get ripped, but a few dishes are lauded again and again: clams with chili and black bean sauce, stirfried snow pea leaves, and roast duck/pork. But for us the service was fine but the food only okay.

Service was not particularly enthusiastic or outgoing but was perfectly friendly — we even had to send a dish back when they beefed our noodles instead of porking them, and they apologized and took care of it no questions asked.  We didn’t order the clams because Mrs. Me doesn’t do clams; we didn’t order the snow pea leaves because they aren’t on the current menu, which while not “short” is still probably the shortest Chinese restaurant menu I’ve seen locally. That could in theory be a good sign — quality not quantity! — but it wasn’t really in practice.

We did order roast duck, and it was good, but not better than at New Kam Fong or Paul Kee. It was greasy, as some Yelpers had noted complainingly: of course it was greasy, it was roast duck!  And it isn’t really grease, it is sweet duck fat from heaven. Our favorite dish was the wonton soup, which had very rich yet clear broth with double-digit tasty shrimp dumplings afloat.  Szechuan string beans were good, Mrs. Me cleaned that plate, but could have been spicier; shredded pork Szechuan style was gloopy and bland and weighted too heavily to green peppers, everything bad about Americanized Chinese food in a single plate. Actually it could have been worse, it could have included water chestnuts.  But that’s what I get for ordering Sichuan dishes in Cantonese restaurants, a lesson I repeatedly fail to internalize.

All in all an okay meal with solid, quick service in the surprisingly small and tired-looking Full Key dining room.  Wheaton’s Chinese food scene is pretty competitive these days, with a bunch of good options, and while Full Key may once have been top tier, it is no longer.

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5 responses to “Less Than Full Key

  1. Good review. I have been to Paul Kee but still need to try Full Key and New Kam Fong. There are so many choices for Chinese in Wheaton, it can be overwhelming.

  2. “By whom? You know…some people”
    Jose Andres tweeted it’s one of his favorite spots during last new years celebration.

    I’ve only been once, but I think I made the mistake of ordering off the menu and not the blackboard near the register. My experience was plain.
    I’ve heard they have good szechuan hot pot.

  3. Pingback: Chinese Food Week at D.C. Eater « Hungry Like the Bear

  4. I must recommend the shrimp dumplings (with bits of pork), as in the shrimp dumpling soup – with or without noodles; without noodles means more dumplings. Those dumplings are what wontons want to grow up to be.

  5. “And it isn’t really grease, it is sweet duck fat from heaven”
    Hahahaha – agreed

    I expect crappy service from Chinese food restaurants, and would distrust places with too friendly staff. You’re here to eat good food. Dispense with the pleasantries.

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