Restaurants & Reservations: Dining in Cincinnati

What happens when a rabbi and a lawyer walk into a bar? We'll let you know in a few years, but until then we'll do our best to share with you our favorite (and not-so-favorite) Cincinnati restaurants and hope you'll share some with us, too!

China Gourmet: Finally a Chinese Restaurant That Lives Up to Its Name

China Gourmet3340 Erie Ave • Cincinnati, OH 45208 • (513) 871-6612
His Take

A friend of ours heard us talking about finding a neighborhood Chinese place and recommended we check out China Gourmet. I had never noticed it before--largely because it occupies the basement/ground level of a nondescript plaza. But I’m always game for a recommendation, so I was keen to give it a try.

We visited China Gourmet late on a Thursday night for dinner, and the restaurant was largely empty, save for a few tables that wrapped up their meal shortly after we arrived. The restaurant was quiet, clean, and for a dark Chinese restaurant it had surprisingly contemporary lighting. The bar had a few patrons, most of whom I suspect were regular locals, and the LCD over the bar was tuned to the World Series.

We apparently came in from the back of the restaurant, since I gather they’ve oriented the hostess-stand to be near the parking lot. We were promptly seated and had our choice of a table or booth; we went with the latter. While I liked the decor--kind of a contemporary Chinese motif with even nicer contemporary silverware--I wasn’t at all impressed with the comfort of the booth. But I held out hope that the seating had little to do with the food. And I was right.

Our server greeted us with the usual drink and food menus, and we were surprised that the menu was much smaller than most Chinese restaurants. No doubt some of that is because it’s a much more upscale menu with a reasonable variety of dishes rather than listing separately every possible combination of proteins, vegetables, and sauces. That said, I couldn’t pick out what I wanted for dinner--nothing sounded so amazing, in part because there were minimal if any descriptions of each dish aside from the name. So, when our server came back, I asked him what I should order if I was in the mood for chicken with plenty of vegetables and a sauce with a little kick. Rather than point me to one dish or another, he suggested that I just let the chef throw together something not on the menu. He gave me my choice of sauces (I went with a garlic and black bean sauce) and said he’d throw in all the fresh vegetables he had. It sounded good to me, so I figured it was worth a shot. I was already impressed just by the service.

After we ordered, I was mildly disappointed not to have any Chinese noodles or other noshes brought over, but the wait was short enough that I almost didn’t notice. The food came out sizzling hot, and our server did an excellent plating job at our table. The staff overall were extremely nice and paid attention to little things like empty water glasses (which happen frequently with small glasses and lots of ice). But let’s talk about the food.

My dish came out with plenty of chicken and a mix of snow peas, bok choy, onions, and spinach in a mild black bean and garlic sauce. The chicken was much higher quality than what I find at places like First Wok, and the vegetables looked and tasted fresh. The sauce could have been spicier, but it definitely added more robust flavor to the meal. Overall, I’d say it was a very good dish--not amazing, but certainly above average.

And if only they had larger water glasses I’d be all set. I guess I’ll have to go back to ask. Shucks :-)

China Gourmet on Urbanspoon
Her Take

Since the last time we tried a neighborhood Chinese place, we were mightily disappointed, I was not sure what to expect from China Gourmet. But it had been recommended by a friend who is a connoisseur of Chinese food, so off we went. While China Gourmet faces Erie Avenue in East Hyde Park, the main entrance is in the back, from the parking lot. It looks like a more upscale restaurant, with white tablecloths, a roaring fire, low lighting, and a fancy full bar. On a Thursday night, later than the usual dinner hour (have to get to the gym sometime!), it was fairly empty. We were among the younger diners; there were no kids and most patrons seemed at least one generation older than us, but again, who goes out to eat late-ish on a Thursday night?!

The menu was smaller than expected, with entrees taking only two small columns. One column was specials, which were all in the $18-30 range, and the other column was what you expect from an American Chinese restaurant, but fewer choices. We soon learned why the small amount of choice was fairly irrelevant. Each of us wanted something that was sort of on the menu, like a combination of two dishes or a tweak to something we saw. As it turns out, this is no problem for the chef at China Gourmet.

I asked for a combination of the Szechwan bean curd (mmmmm, tofu) and the Szechwan eggplant. The waiter asked how I liked my tofu, soft or crispy (crispy on the outside), and whether I wanted other vegetables in addition to the eggplant (anything but broccoli, of course). Soon enough, our custom dishes arrived. They make a big deal out of presentation, but not in the same way as Green Papaya. Instead, the server put down his big tray of food, and he made a point to dish out our first serving, putting some rice and main dish onto each of our plates—asking first whether we were sharing the two dishes or each having our own. I was impressed! It did make it harder to take pictures of what the food looked like upon arrival from the kitchen though.

It was delicious. Mine had just the right amount of kick, and an interesting variety of veggies: eggplant, water chestnuts, carrot, peapods, some kind of fancy mushrooms, and probably a couple other things I’m forgetting, in addition to big pieces of tofu. The portions were decent sized, but not overly enormous. I had enough leftovers for a small lunch the next day, which, of course, made me very happy.

The prices are reasonable. As stated above, the specials are on the pricier end, but the regular dishes are all in the $8-15 range, with a wide range of appetizers if you are so inclined as well. Eggrolls start at about $2-3, although we skipped to the main course this time.

I’m psyched to have found a good Chinese place! Of course, never satisfied, recommendations for others are always welcome, but I’ll be returning to China Gourmet!

1 comment:

FoodHussy said...

Wow - I went once and was extremely disappointed. The prices were sky high and the food was mediocre at best...

Hard for me to say I'll try it again - but I'll add it to the list.