Moveable Feasts

The espresso needs work, and so does the price. Three bucks a pop seems stiff. But the proprietor's hospitality doesn't need any work at all. On each of our visits, he stopped by with on-the-house glasses of port to round off the meal.

This restaurant is the complete package--setting, service, food. I'd say Altos is flying high.

C-Fu Gourmet, 2051 West Warner, Chandler, 899-3888. Hours: Dim sum, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., seven days a week; Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, 4:30 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

The proprietor of C-Fu Gourmet doesn't think small. His new place has enough square footage--13,000--to double as an airplane hangar. And I expect most of those square feet are going to be filled by ecstatically happy fans of Chinese food.

But they'll have to share space with other creatures. Depending on the season, tilapia, flounder, lobster, rock cod, shrimp, sea bass, eel and crab also call the restaurant home. In fact, you can watch your dinner do laps in large holding tanks. That's because C-Fu specializes in seafood so fresh that most of it is still alive when you order it.

It's not the Shamu show at Sea World, but getting an up-close-and-personal view of the food chain provides a certain entertainment value. It's certainly a lot more entertaining than staring at C-Fu's minimalist, bare-wall decor.

But if you wanted to see scenery, you'd be at the Grand Canyon. Folks come here for serious Chinese fare, the kind you get on Mott Street in New York or Grant Street in San Francisco.

You could start out nibbling the excellent pot stickers, six plump, doughy, skillet-fried dumplings. Or you could whet your appetite with the won ton noodle soup, made with homemade won tons. But these are only teasers. I say plunge right into the sea.

Don't miss the ravishing Dungeness crab. The kitchen hooks and cooks a hefty, two-pound beauty, then breaks it into manageable-size hunks. Next, the crab is smothered with a gorgeous black bean sauce zipped up with some chile heat. Chinese food doesn't get any better than this. Even the waiter thought so. He was so smitten by this dish that I thought he might sit down and join us.

Tilapia, a farm-raised, white-fleshed fish, also got us worked up. After it's brought whole to the table, the server will deftly remove the head and bones if you wish. The fish comes smothered in an effective ginger-and-scallion sauce that contrasts nicely with tilapia's mild taste.

If you've ever wondered why shrimp is considered a delicacy, it will be clear once you bite into C-Fu's crustaceans. Just-out-of-the-water shrimp have a sweet, sublime taste that frozen shrimp just can't duplicate. Order the shrimp special, and C-Fu will present you with about 20 whole, steamed critters--head, antennae, shell still attached--bathed in a potent garlic sauce. It's messy, but also mesmerizing. (Note, though, that other C-Fu shrimp dishes, like shrimp chow mein, don't use fresh shrimp. Ask the waiter to tell you which shrimp dishes originate in the tank.)

Other aquatic dishes can't match the taste intensity of the tank fare. But I doubt anyone will complain about the King of the Sea, a huge load of shrimp, scallops, squid, crab, mussels and clams teamed with Chinese veggies in a light, understated wine sauce. And Crispy Spinach, a chef's special featuring assorted seafood and chicken on a bed of fried spinach, also furnishes hearty satisfaction.

However, I suggest you complement your fresh seafood dishes with some of C-Fu's first-rate beef and chicken. Lemongrass beef, an occasional special, is a thrill. Tender strips of lightly fried beef are coated with a fragrant, head-turning lemongrass sauce. C-Fu Chicken features moist, battered poultry in a zingy, sweet-and-spicy dark sauce.

Orange beef is as pretty to look at as it is to eat. Crunchy, bite-size morsels of deep-fried beef are lined with a citrusy, not-too-sweet orange sauce, then placed atop a bed of vibrantly green steamed broccoli. A colorful ring of cucumber, tomatoes, oranges and jicama brings a touch of Japanese artistry to the platter. And for sheer uncomplicated pleasure, try chow fun, a Chinatown staple made from thick rice noodles. It leaves ordinary chow mein noodle dishes in the dust.

The only loser? A gristly sweet-and-sour-pork dish that the kitchen clearly took no interest in.

Sometimes, moving can leave you completely at sea. But C-Fu obviously has the right navigational charts.

Sombrilla Andaluza
$7.00
Lomo en adobo
18.00
Filete Pelon
21.00
Chocolate espresso
creme brulee
6.00

C-Fu Gourmet:
Orange beef
$8.95
C-Fu Chicken
8.95
Crab in
black bean sauce
17.90
Steamed shrimp
17.95

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