China Chow: When I first came to Phoenix, Gourmet House of Hong Kong was the only place in town to get serious, Chinatown-quality Chinese food.
Over the next few years, though, worthy competitors started to spring up, like C-Fu Gourmet in Tempe and Big Wong on West Indian School Road. During this same time, I thought Gourmet House's quality was beginning to slip, too.
The proprietors, however, seem to have recognized the problem and stopped the slide, restoring the restaurant to top form. It culminated a few months ago with a massive menu makeover. When I dropped by recently, the kitchen was operating at full throttle.
The emphasis is on seafood. Scallops, oysters, crab, clams, shrimp, squid, mussels, lobster meat and whole lobster now each merit their own menu heading. (There's a frog's legs section, too.) Many of these aquatic creatures swim together in the Long Green Pea With Seafood, a dish hidden away in the "New Hong Kong Style Cooking" menu section. This dish features crunchy Chinese green beans, a vegetable all-too-rarely encountered in most Phoenix Chinese restaurants.
The house specialties are also worth lingering over. I especially liked the chicken and red snapper special, a potent duo in a sprightly sauce. And vegetarians should head straight to their corner of the menu for "Monk Style" vegetables, a blend of snow peas, broccoli, black mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots and sprouts.
Thank goodness no one has tampered with my favorite dish, barbecued pork chow fun. It's thick, pan-fried rice noodles laced with smoky slices of meat. And Gourmet House of Hong Kong remains one of the few restaurants in town where you can get Peking duck with no advance notice.
Gourmet House of Hong Kong is at 1438 East McDowell. Call 253-4859.
Food, Glorious Food: For the eighth straight year, the Sheraton San Marcos in Chandler is hosting a Food Fest weekend August 11 through 13.
It begins Friday night with a cooking class on pizzas. On Saturday, there are classes on healthful Italian cooking for kids, grilling and Greek cuisine. Sunday morning, there's a seminar on coffee, followed by instruction for preparing a meal from Provence.
The price for the weekend: $250 per couple, which includes a room for two nights, continental breakfast and all classes and tastings. For more info, call 963-6655.
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Chain Gang: That's what it looks like Sam's Cafe will be joining soon. Management is preparing to duplicate Sam's Cafe across the country, under the name Canyon Cafe. Currently, there are four restaurants, two in Dallas and two in Phoenix (at Arizona Center and at Biltmore Fashion Park).
The new director of operations comes from Brinker International, the force behind Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill and Grady's (see the Cafe review). He's betting diners from other regions will appreciate Sam's distinctive Southwestern fare.
Maybe. But I bet eventually the food will have to be toned down for national consumption. Let's hope the local branches, whose dishes I enjoy, can remain immune.