Longmont's China Gourmet is a newer, larger and more modern-feeling spot than its Boulder mothership, as this East County venue features a full bar, sizable windows and ample seating. But like the original, this eatery's stock in trade is straightforward and it serves more than decent Chinese food that's also moderately priced.
Service is order at the counter, and this makes for an efficient process where the food promptly arrives at the table. It's worth noting that it quickly became clear our group ordered more dishes than would fit on our table. However, the waitstaff rose to the occasion by attentively clearing empty plates and placing dishes with a skill that rivaled that of an accomplished Tetris player.
The menu, like the open stone-accented interior, is expansive. The bill of fare offers up all the usual suspects one expects from Chinese-American restaurants, including General Tsao's and sesame chicken, Happy Family combos and broccoli beef. There's a selection of meatless courses (note that the menu advises vegetarians to request omitting the chicken stock) including various tofu and vegetable offerings. One can even find a few culinary outliers here from outside the Chinese culinary tradition, including Pad Thai and teriyaki salmon.
However, my point of focus during a weeknight dinner were the selections falling under the category of "Authentic Dishes." Granted, our party of three wasn't big enough to warrant the crafting of a full-tilt Chinese banquet meal. However, I figured we could construct a truncated four-course meal, including soup, that would capture the spirit of a fancier, more celebratory, dinner. Of course, we couldn't have everything, so I had to forgo such favorites as red-sauced Gin Du pork chops and tofu hot pot
We started with two soups, one a $7.50 bowl spotlighting bok choy and tofu, the other a $9.95 West Lake beef number. One of these bowls would have been more than adequate for myself and my two dinner companions. The portion size of each was closer to that of a family-style shared bowl than an individual serving. The tofu selection had the comforting, albeit mild, tones of a house soup that one would get as part of the meal at a more down-home Chinese spot. This is a good thing, and slightly crisp greens and soft bean curd made for a simple but satisfying course.
While it's a simple preparation, the more rarefied West Lake is something one might enjoy at a special-occasion meal, such as at a wedding or milestone birthday. China Gourmet's version hit all the correct notes when it came to flavor and texture and featured a decent ration of tender beef, beaten egg, and a slightly thick consistency.
A $13.95 plate of salt-and-pepper shrimp possessed the requisite plump shellfish and lively seasoning boosted by red and green pepper, onion and a touch of jalapeño for heat. This preparation possessed more grease than the very best versions, and a crisper shell would have boosted our enjoyment. Nevertheless, the flavor was close to what it should be, although some might prefer a touch more peppery heat.
A whole $29.95 Peking duck had all the trappings of a traditional banquet presentation. A plateful of slivered scallion and cucumber, as well as a dish of sweet and savory hoisin sauce served as the requisite accompaniments. A choice of savory pancakes or bao soft buns were the starch option, and we went for the bao. The bao wasn't too chewy, a good sign, although the bird itself was on the dry side. Otherwise, the flavors and lacquered appearance of the bird in this eye-catching dish were spot on.
Perhaps the most successful course was an exercise in classic simplicity, a $24.95 whole steamed fish. While some restaurants are somewhat vague about what exact species one is getting, here it's specifically described as a striped bass. Traditional accents of scallion, ginger and soy were perfectly balanced, enhancing the clean flavor of the seafood, which was fall-off-the-bone tender. Drizzling the sauce and delicate bass chunks over rice made for a nostalgia-inducing taste experience that made me a profoundly happy camper.
While China Gourmet may not quite achieve the culinary heights of the best South Denver Asian eateries, it's still among the best choices in the county for traditional fare. In particular, items from the authentic dishes section combine honest-to-goodness spicing, good-quality ingredients and respectable portion sizes deserving of a Chinese food connoisseur's attention.