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Much more pleasing to the eye were the lovely Chinese entrees. The menu is traditional, which is to say it lacks some of the epicurean finish of some modern "upscale" Chinese restaurants in Dade County. (The egg foo yungs, chow meins, and moo goo gai pans of yesteryear make return appearances here.) The Hunan Beef slices with baby corn, ginger, scallions, and green peppers ($14.95) could not have been more fragrant. And the chicken with walnuts, snow peas, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and vegetables ($13.95) offered that peculiar distinction of not being overpoweringly sweet, as many Sinophiles patrons prefer their dishes incorporating nuts to be. A simple veggie dish such as broccoli with garlic sauce ($5.25) would render the President's ban on broccoli as ludicrous as his choice of running mate. And any of the fried rices are both generous and flavorful.
And now, in lieu of dessert -- though you can order pineapple melba ($3.95), coconut snowball ($3.50), orHaagen-Dazs ice cream with honey walnuts ($3.50) -- we must adjourn to the bar for some entertainment. (By the way, the drinks here, while no match for the encyclopedic cocktail cart at Trader Vic's, must be counted a success: the banana daiquiri ($5.25) may be the tastiest in Miami.) It is in this retro-Vegas setting that Christine Lee's memory-lane experience attempts to reach a fitting culmination. The current show-stopper is a woman named Bunny Osborn. She sings.
Well, kind of.
I never believed I would live to hear Al Jolson's signature tune, "Swanee," performed live. And performed like this! "Swaaaaneeeee, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old Swaaaaneeee," wailed the over-bejeweled, over-mascaraed, way over-enthusiastic, and way, way over-forty Bunny, aided by a competent trio of Gaslight regulars (including pianist Maria Velasco). She sang her little heart out to a congregation of enthusiastic friends from the Old Testament and still had the energy for an on-stage change of costume. (Bunny transformed from a blue-sequinned nightmare to a black-sequinned horror faster than you could say "My Way.") After a lengthy and pretty devastating assault on Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll," Bunny offered a medley that included songs by Burt Bacharach and Michel Legrand, much to the tear-wiping delight of the long-in-the-tooth spectators. But the socko finish was coming, and it came in true old showbiz fashion. (Bunny was obviously reared on a steady diet of the Hollywood Squares.)
The pianist tinkled the introductory rhythm of "New York, New York," and Bunny got to work. She thanked all her performing friends on the ships of Florida, all her friends in the Catskills, the trio, the waiters, and maybe God, too. This homily went on for a good ten minutes, and I wondered whether the pianist, who somehow kept the tune going, might develop acute carpal tunnel syndrome. Then, Bunny warbled, "Start spreading the news/I'm leaving today/Right to the very heart of it/ New York, New York." This after-dinner serving of the performer's craft was becoming about as palatable as a bottle of Immodium A-D. And just as I could contain my laughter no longer, this indefatigably cheery Borscht-belter beckoned me -- and another guest -- on-stage, at which point we ran out of Christine Lee's like Quincy Watts at the end of the 400-meter race in Barcelona.
It was either that, or goodbye, walnut chicken.
CHRISTINE LEE'S GASLIGHT
18401 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 932-1145. Open daily from 4:45 p.m. to midnight.