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Dim and then sum

Thereís something about an authentic Chinese restaurant that lends itself to good conversation. Maybe thatís just a Western perception, but the evening seemed to slip away as we sampled the menu at Chanís Chinese Cuisine. My guest and I were lulled by the languid surroundings and soft music, and rather surprised when we got up to leave and noticed that two full hours had passed.

In retrospect, I would do a couple of things differently if I revisited Chanís. It would have been better to visit at lunch, when a dim sum service is offered and waiters stroll through the dining room with carts filled with dozens of varieties of dumplings, spring rolls and assorted delicacies. Customers choose and pay by the item, dressing up their selections with hot pastes, warm mustards and sweet sauces.

We were somewhat disappointed to find that this service isnít offered at dinner. Ordering from the appetizer menu, we were only able to sample a couple of varieties. But we liked what we tried, particularly the steamed dumplings stuffed with pork ($4.95), and dumplings filled with plump shrimp, minced vegetables and nuts ($5.95). They looked mysterious, wrapped in translucent pastry sheets and crimped shut to seal in the savory flavors, almost like a tray full of jellyfish. But they were delicious.

The won ton soups were fairly flavorful as well. My guest had the conventional version ($1.50), a clear brown broth and won ton noodles stuffed with pork. I preferred the "wor won ton" ($4.50), a heartier variety with shrimp, pork, snow peas, water chestnuts and ears of baby corn.

After such a promising start, we were somewhat let down by our entrees. Although beautifully presented with bright vegetables, the flavors simply werenít interesting. My guest had Chanís cashew nut chicken ($7.95), served with plenty of nuts and vegetables in a brown sauce that was quite boring. My braised duck with assorted meat and seafood ($12.95) was a disappointing stew with slippery, fatty meats. The crisp, stir-fried broccoli, carrots and mushroom caps served with our entrees were much more appealing.

Chanís did such a good job with dim sum, they must be doing something right. If you order from the dinner menu, steer away from dishes that involve sauces and gravies. My best advice: Go at lunch, the better to affordably sample a wide range of offerings.

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