What strikes a first-time diner who happens upon Charlie Chiang's Restaurant in Centreville Square is the soft lights, the gentle piano music playing over the speakers, and the babbling brook that cuts through the restaurant.
But the real reason people keep coming back is the food.
Charlie Chiang's offers the "traditional" items such as General Tso's Chicken for $11.95 or Kung Pao Chicken for $9.95, but owner and manager Maggie Jim said there's more than the typical Chinese restaurant.
CUSTOMERS CAN choose from the Lamb of Two Seasons served with hot peppers and broccoli for $14.95 or their signature dish — Creamy Sesame Jumbo Shrimp, lightly breaded with honey and a fruit base for $14.95.
Jim pointed to the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Grill — which includes slices of pork, beef, and chicken as well as lo mein noodles and vegetables like broccoli, onions and celery with one of many sauces such as teriyaki and ginger — served with no oil, no MSG and less salt.
"We want people eating healthier. People were saying Chinese food isn't healthy, so we decided to make something to change their minds," said Jim. The Mongolian Grill, at $12, is only opened in the evening and is served with a spring roll, rice, and the egg drop or wonton soup.
The restaurant also offers a "Vegetable Corner" section of the menu, and a special section for low cholesterol and low-fat items — all geared to people who want to eat healthier.
The "Vegetable Corner" boasts items like Home Style Bean Curd for $7.95, Eggplant with Black Bean Sauce for $8.95, and Charlie Chiang's Bean Curd Special that includes mushrooms, onions and broccoli for $9.95.
The "Revolution Diet" selection includes low cholesterol and low-fat items such as the Julienne Chicken with Fresh Bean Sprouts for $9.95 and the Steamed Shredded Chicken and Vegetables for $9.95. All the items on this section of the menu are served without salt, sugar, corn starch or MSG.
For desserts, there's tiramisu for $5 and the fried banana for $6, and customers can also try a slice of New York-style cheese cake.
CHARLIE CHIANG'S has another menu that seems surprising in a Chinese food restaurant — a selection of wines. The restaurant offers glasses of wines starting at $5.50 for Zinfandels, Chardonnays and Merlots and ranging up to $10. Charlie Chiang’s also offers a special limited time Grove Street 'Classic' Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, which runs $65 a bottle.
"Most American people drink wine, and it's healthy, so why not drink it with Chinese food?" said Jim.
"Lots of customers become our friends because they come here so much. They are part of the family," said Jim.
Servers Helen Zhang and Mei Lee both served at other restaurants before they switched to Charlie Chiang's, whose unique layout and training came as a pleasant surprise.
"This restaurant has a very different style, I like it very much. The community and the customers are very good as well," said Zhang.
The centerpiece of the interior design consists of a babbling creek that cuts through the dining room, accented by bamboo and other tropical plants. An article on the restaurant was recently featured in The Hospitality Design Magazine.
A high-tech computerized ordering system streamlines the orders for more efficiency. "It's more convenient and its more modern," said Lee.
Khan Mojibur, an assistant manager at the Popeyes located next door to Charlie Chiang's, eats the restaurant's food about three times a week.
Mojibur likes Charlie Chiang's seafood the most, especially the Shrimp Fried Rice and Crab wontons.
"The food is really good. The service is good. When I order food they deliver it to me. They're really nice and friendly, I don't expect more," said Mojibur.
Centreville resident Brad Vali tried Charlie Chiang's Mongolian Barbecue and was impressed by the restaurant's unique design.
"It was good. I liked the whole layout. The water in the middle is really nice and the service was good," said Vali.