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Phone 1: (513) 489-2388    Fax & Phone 2: (513) 489-3616

A feast for Chinese food fans
Johnny Chan Banquet at Harper's Point offers high quality at a reasonable price

Platters from Johnny Chan 2, from top clockwise, are Bo Bo Platter (for two) , twin lobsters with ginger and scallions and orange flavored beef.

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The latest trend in Chinese restaurants is a craze for buffets, where it's easy to get lots of food for a little money.

While some buffets offer good value, the food at many is mediocre. And because it's hard to resist an all-you-can-eat offer, one tends to eat indiscriminately.

I've discovered another high-value Chinese food experience. It's more expensive than a buffet, but a more refined and delicious meal. It's the banquet menu at Johnny Chan 2 at Harper's Point in Symmes Township. For $155.95 (not including tax and tip), six to eight people can dine on eight courses of beautiful food, including Peking duck, lobster with ginger and unusual dishes not found on most Chinese menus.

First on Fields Ertel

Johnny Chan 2 is the Chan family's second restaurant (the first is Johnny Chan on Fields Ertel Road). Chef/owner Tony Chan has moved to the new location, while his wife, Nancy, is supervising things at the original. Their daughter Suzanna and her husband John McCollough also own the new place. It's located in the large, glass-fronted location that was Cheng 2.

The regular menu at Johnny Chan offers some above-average Chinese, plus a sushi bar. But first, come to this banquet with me.

I reserved Set Dinner B from the banquet menu two days in advance and rounded up a group of six. We were seated at a nicely set table in a room a few steps up from the main dining room.

The area is decorated with Chinese fans in a glass case and an aquarium with exotic goldfish.

We started with "eight-delight" melon soup. The most noticeable delights were large chunks of crab and shrimp in a white broth. Cubes of melon and ham added contrastingly sweet and salty flavors.

Then came a plate of savory fried shrimp balls, closely followed by clams with black bean sauce. These were big, two-bite steamed clams on the shell, with a chewy texture and oceany flavor, dabbed with a smooth black bean sauce.

Each dish was presented by the maitre d' so we could appreciate the artistic presentation and garnishes, then served (ladies first) with the help of another waiter. Seconds also were served by the waiters.

This style of service is part of what makes this a banquet rather than just a meal. Dishes, chopsticks and silverware came and went with each course.

Peking duck banquet

Peking duck was presented disjointed on a platter, then served in classic style, rolled up in mandarin pancakes, with a scallion and hoisin sauce.

The legs were served separately, and I took great pleasure in the one I ate, its mahogany skin cooked to a crispy, rich crunch (Note to my doctor: I m working on the cholesterol thing. I ate only one.)

Then came, "three treasure vegetable" a beautiful mosaic of broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choi was displayed to the guests.

The lobster was served at the same time. Two small lobsters, stir-fried in the shell, were served cut up with a fresh ginger sauce. It was first-rate lobster, especially the large chunk of meat I extracted from a claw, and the fresh steamed vegetables in a light sauce were the perfect non-competing accompaniment.

Next served were Shanghai rice cakes, a dish I'd never had. These are traditionally served on New Year's. Slices of rice flour "cakes" are something like noodles, with a bland flavor and slightly chewy texture. They absorbed the flavors of other ingredients in the stir-fry: bamboo shoots and small slices of pork (almost the only meat we had all evening.)

A sizzling platter of rice with perfect sweet little shrimp was brought out next, along with a stir-fry of huge fresh shrimp, snow peas and other vegetables.

By the time a plate of simply sliced melon and oranges were served for dessert, I felt well-fed, but not uncomfortably full.

The dishes had been light, with little deep-frying, and there was little rice to fill you. None of the dishes was very spicy.

The feast had taken a couple of hours, though there was almost no break between courses. It was a good pace for a weeknight dinner, though on another occasion I might like more time between dishes to drink more wine and eat into the night.

There are two other set dinners to choose; both include many of the dishes we had.

For six people, the banquet works out to $26 each, the price of one entree at some upscale restaurants.

And there was plenty of food for eight, which would amount to just under $20 per person.

Above-average dinner.

Another evening, I had an above-average meal from the regular Johnny Chan 2 menu.

Scallion pancake ($2.75) is a nice starter, a change from egg rolls and pot stickers. It's a flaky, fried bread round of many layers with scallions in between.

Kung Pao Delight in the Nest ($10.95) stood out. A stir-fry of beef, chicken and shrimp with vegetables and peanuts is served in a crisp-fried basket of noodles.

I also enjoyed curry chicken ($8.50), with its mild, creamy and sunny-yellow sauce on white chicken, carrots and snow peas.

The moo-shu pork ($8.50) is done well, with plenty of shredded, crunchy vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, skinny pork slices and hoisin sauce wrapped by the waiter in flour pancakes (almost exactly like flour tortillas).

I didn't try any, but Johnny Chan 2 has kept the sushi bar that Cheng 2 had added. It's in the small lounge at the front of the restaurant.

Johnny Chan 2

Food: Excellent

Service: Good

Atmosphere: Good

Value: Good

What: Upscale Chinese with banquet menu, sushi bar.

Where: The Shops at Harper's Point, 11296 Montgomery Road, Symmes Township.

When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday

Recommended dishes: Banquet menu, including clams with black bean sauce, Peking duck, jumbo shrimp on sizzling plate. From regular menu: moo-shu pork. curry chicken, lobster with ginger and scallion.

Vegetarian choices: Many, including Vegetarian in the Nest and Eight Treasure Vegetarian hot pot.

Prices: Banquet that serves 6-8: $155.95. Regular menu: appetizers $1.50-$4.50, entrees $8.25-$11.50, lunch specials $4.80-$5.50.

Paying for it: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners, Discover.

Sound level: 70 decibels (Most restaurants range from 60 decibels, a dignified calm, to 90 decibels, a din).

Reservations: Taken. Banquets must be reserved two days in advance.

Miscellaneous: Wheelchair-accessible, smoking and non-smoking sections, takeout and delivery, full bar.

Phone:  (513) 489-3616.