Monday, February 11, 2008

Prime Chinese Restaurant - Phoenix

Friday night Tara was in the mood for Chinese food. I'd had a craving for it as well since last weekend. We decided to try someplace new for us, and I suggested Prime Chinese Restaurant at Central and Camelback in Phoenix. We'd heard predominantly positive things about it on both Chowhound and local foodie sites. We hopped into the car and headed down the 51. Prime is located just west of the C&C intersection, tucked into a small strip mall. We'd seen it driving by many times, so we had no trouble finding it.

We arrived and found a spot right out front. From the things I'd seen, I got the impression that Prime had been around the area for a while and expected a the typical Chinese restaurant look (think Super Dragon, for those who have been there). Instead, it was a modern-looking rectangular space, with a concrete floors, two or three huge 8-12 person round tables in the center, a line of booths along the east wall, and two and four top tables lining the remaining walls. A large number of paintings hung on the walls, all of which appeared to be for sale. All the tables were empty, but most of the booths were taken. We were shown to an end booth.

The menu is very expansive. We took several minutes to look over the choices. We'd seen mentioned that the appetizers aren't anything special and to generally skip them and get a third entree instead. The soups looked fairly substantial, with a large number of ingredients listed for each one. Tara wanted to try the egg flower soup ($3.75) and I wanted some hot and sour (4.75). For the main course, we stuck with two we'd read rave reviews for, the pecan chicken for Tara and sesame chicken for me. I also ordered a pot of tea ($1.00).

There seemed to be only two people waiting tables, an older lady and a younger guy. They didn't have assigned tables and each waited on any table.

After a short wait, our soups arrived. We both expected much larger portions for the price. The bowls might have been eight or ten ounces, if that. They were both overflowing with meat and veggies. Tara initially said her soup was a bit bland, but after she added some salt, she said that made all the difference. She said it was a great soup, even better than the version at Super Dragon, primarily because they used fresh vegetables at Prime. My hot and sour was good, but not great. The ingredients were all top notch and I even had a whole shrimp. However, the hot/sour ratio was not quite like how I prefer it. It was light years ahead of the horrible soup at Gourmet House of Hong Kong, but not as good as Super Dragon. I have a feeling that hot and sour soup is a somewhat personal preference, so I'm sure others will love this version. Our biggest quibble was the quantity. At Super Dragon, their egg flower is $1.25 and hot and sour $1.50 for portions not much smaller than we received here. It didn't help that at lunch I had a huge bowl of pho at Da Vang for the same $4.75.

Our entrees arrived a bit later. The Pecan Chicken held white pieces of chicken with broccoli and candied pecans. I tried a piece and tasted... nothing. It had no flavor whatsoever. I tried another piece. Same thing. Tara tried it and had the same impression. I tried a pecan and it was incredibly sticky and mushy. I'm not sure how they got it mushy, but they managed. The sticky was the Acme Super Glue sticky where you felt you'd lose a filling if you weren't careful. I tried a piece of the broccoli, and finally got some sort of flavor they had from the sauce. I didn't like it at all. It almost tasted like it was a wine or sherry flavor, but whatever it was, it wasn't to my tastes. We both wondered if this was somehow prepared different from the version that got a rave review from a friend of ours.

My Sesame Chicken fared much better, albeit not quite what I was expecting. A dish of nicely golden fried pieces of chicken was under a nice orange sauce with a liberal sprinkling of black and while sesame seeds over it all. It was very well prepared, but was a much more savory dish than I was expecting. I was hoping for something with a lot more sweetness. Tara really enjoyed it, as her tastes run on the savory side, while mine tend towards the sweeter side. If you like savory dishes, this would probably be perfect for you. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it; it just wasn't my cup of tea. There was nothing left on the plate when we left, as Tara also ate some.

My tea came in a very small pot and was a bagged jasmine green tea. It was good but I tend to drink a lot of tea and like the large pots you usually get at restaurants, like Super Dragon and Golden Buddha use.

Service was hit or miss. At one point late in the meal the waitress vanished and only the waiter worked the room. Despite us being obviously finished, he never brought the check and we had to ask for it. We noticed several other tables get their checks and he never went to pick them up once they put their card on them. I did see tables earlier when he grabbed it. We waited to see how long my card would sit on the edge of the table and eventually we just gave up and paid at the counter.

That provided the capper of the night. After I paid him, the waiter said "Have a good night, miss" to Tara as we left. Nothing for me, though. I was sorely tempted to knock the tip down a bit.

Will we go back? There were a lot of items on the menu that we would like to try, so we will probably give them one more chance. We ended up going to Super Dragon last night because our Prime visit didn't satisfy our craving. SD hit the spot, with really good crab puffs, great soups, and addictive orange chicken.


David SB said...

My assessment of the Prime is similar to yours. I think the restaurant does a lot of things right, but I wish they'd turn up the flavor on some of the dishes. I do like what they've done with the decor. The brushed metal tables are relatively new and update the place nicely.

Yankee1969 said...

One thing we noticed looking at Seth's review is that our Pecan Chicken didn't have any water chestnuts and his picture shows visible sauce. Ours essentially had no sauce. The kitchen might not have consistency on some dishes.