By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
A good dining plan, I agree, except for one problem: The Chinese appetizers could use some improvement. All of the ones we ordered arrived dripping with grease. Shrimp tempura was soggy, the shrimp lost in sticky breading. Chicken wings with oyster sauce were slick with oil. The skin of the egg rolls, where it wasn't limp, oozed pockets of liquid fat, and the cabbage-pork-shrimp filling tasted old. We fared best with the sliced roast pork tenderloin and the barbecued spare ribs, both of which were meaty where they weren't marbled.
We gave the egg rolls a second chance at another meal, but again it seemed as if they had been preprepared -- cooked twice. Pork fried rice, served with the main courses, was cold, lumpy, and lifeless both times we tried it. An entree of pork lo mein was more invigorating, the chunks of barbecued pork bursting with flavor. And an appetizer of plump steamed spinach dumplings was a great way to dodge the artery-hardening stuff. Soups, however, were disappointing. Only two mushroom slices drifted through a bowl of lukewarm mushroom egg drop soup. As for the house special, won ton soup, it contained one jumbo shrimp and one slice of roast pork; the more plentiful won tons were doughy, and the broth was insipid.
The Continental main courses reminded me of a time when people here knew only two Chinese dishes, chow mein and chop suey, and diners were offered a choice of dinner rolls or rice with their entree. I skipped over the filet mignon with bearnaise sauce in favor of the steak kew (the same cut of beef); it was cubed and stir-fried with bamboo shoots, black mushroom caps, water chestnuts, snow peas, and bok choy, then served in a rich brown sauce. We were impressed by the medium-rare meat. (I've often found lower-quality, gristly beef in dishes such as this one.) Christine Lee's doesn't cheat here. On the other hand the cooks could use some practice differentiating between pork fat and pork. Imperial pork chops were thin-sliced and then deep-fried and coated with a glaze as red as a fire engine. The sauce successfully masked the fact that some of these pared-down pieces were all suet and no meat.
I often crave good Cantonese fare, which its detractors call bland but its proponents consider subtle. Shrimp with lobster sauce was a terrific example of the difference. A handful of jumbos, succulent and tightly curled, were dressed with a ground pork sauce rife with swirled egg. The shrimp easily stood out from the sauce, which in some restaurants can be garlicky and overwhelming. And I'm all for lemon chicken when the white-meat poultry is battered and deep-fried rather than stir-fried. But Christine Lee's version didn't work. Though the chicken itself was exceptionally pliant, the coating was sodden and leaden rather than crispy and light. The lemon sauce, served on the side, was too sweet, more like orange marmalade than a sophisticated citrus accent. Actually the lemon sauce could suffice as a dessert of sorts, an alternative to the current and uninteresting choice between ice cream and pineapple chunks.
Unlike the dessert menu, the wine list is sophisticated and varied, with vintages from California, France, Italy, and Chile. But I question how the wine is being stored. Our Chilean Caliterra chardonnay was spoiled, and the replacement we ordered, a Round Hill chardonnay reserve, was on its way out. As is Christine Lee's -- literally. In about eighteen months the restaurant plans to move yet again, this time to the Diplomat hotel in Hollywood. No doubt the loyal clientele, which has trailed the restaurant like Deadheads from locale to locale, will follow. And for Christine Lee's good steak and fast, efficient service, I'd consider doing so myself. But if we're talking only about the Chinese fare, then I guess it's just a little too far to push a stroller.
17082 Collins Ave, North Miami Beach; 305-947-1717. Lunch and dinner Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. till 11:00 p.m. Dinner Saturday and Sunday from 4:00 till 11:00 p.m.
Egg rolls (2) $3.50
Steamed spinach dumplings $5.25
Lemon chicken $12.50
Shrimp with lobster sauce $16.95
Sirloin steak $27.