As a resident of Greenfield, I’m often surprised by the number of decent restaurants that can be found in our small town. For each type of cuisine there is a restaurant that does it well and often fabulously, whether it’s Mexican, creative American fare, wood-fired pizza, or pub food. This goes for Asian cuisine as well. We’ll focus on a landmark establishment: China Gourmet.
The low-lying building near the Route 91 traffic circle tends to blend in with the rest of the urban landscape at this southerly approach to Greenfield; the chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations offer a rather generic welcome. But behind the dusty red awning at China Gourmet, tables full of happy customers can be seen through the roadside windows. What brings them there?
As a new resident in Greenfield three years ago, I wondered the same thing. After a grueling moving day, my dining partner and I decided to investigate. On that hot summer night we were immediately welcomed into a crisp air-conditioned dining room alive with the cozy hum of a well-filled restaurant. The rows of tables occupied two large rooms, stretching back to the open sushi bar. The multitude of waitstaff zipped around in their matching red vests.
After sampling a few dishes like the chicken with spinach, served with a pile of lightly steamed spinach and large chunks of garlic, the shredded pork with black bean sauce that offered a dark, perfectly salted dressing for its tender meat and vegetables, and the alluring sushi, we were hooked. We’ve gone back dozens of times since then, from Christmas Eve meals to rainy weeknight dinners to take-out treats at home. It’s become a standby.
When I think of Chinese food, I often picture mushy meat and floppy vegetables in brown sauces, the flavors overly sweet or salty. That’s not the case at China Gourmet. I’m sure there are options that fall into the “just okay Chinese” category, but of the dozens of choices, there are many that will leave you pleasantly surprised.
It’s advisable to leave one’s preconceived notions of Chinese food at the door here and be adventurous in your ordering. If you must have traditionally calorie-heavy Chinese food, try the Hot Lover’s Triple Treat; the chefs here make a great version with lightly sweet sauce and moderately fried meats that take it beyond the usually greasy presentation. When you leave aside the fried or salty dishes for more healthful options with fresh vegetables, you are sure to be pleased.
On a recent visit, I ordered the sea scallops with garlic sauce, having no expectations whatsoever. Scallops are known often to be overcooked and chewy, so it seemed like a risky move. The pleasure was all mine: I found tender, sweet scallops served over a bed of crisp, lightly blanched vegetables and a pungent sauce that did not overwhelm the dish. In fact, it soaked in perfectly. The meal was complemented by the House Special Wonton Soup, a favorite that serves up enough crunchy vegetables, soft pork wontons and shrimp in a clear broth to feed at least three (or enough for lunch the next day).
Other favorites that come to mind are the wontons with hot sesame sauce, which pack a spicy punch (careful, it grows hotter as you eat!), the salt and pepper calamari (lightly battered and fried calamari with a simple seasoning), any of the Hot Pots (piping hot vegetables, chicken, or tofu with unique seasonings and broth in a hot clay bowl), or any dish with the house garlic sauce (you can order any item with any type of sauce, if you’re in the know).
The sushi offerings are so plentiful that there is a separate Japanese menu with everything from seaweed salad and teriyaki to sushi and sashimi. The roll and sashimi options are many, and it’s especially fun to sit near the open bar and watch the artists at work. Several local sources have claimed to travel from far and wide for China Gourmet’s sushi. It tastes fresh and fabulous, comes in a beautiful presentation, and goes well with a few tropical drinks and a bowl of miso.
The restaurant has been in existence for over 15 years, but changed hands about three years ago. The current owner, Sam Chant, seems to have made some changes for the better. The chefs offer their own versions of traditional Chinese food and even make some original dishes on the Gourmet Specialties menu.
The quality of the food is not news in Franklin County: on weeknights the tables are substantially filled, while on weekends and holidays the space is often packed with hungry families and couples. A waiting line can collect near the door and a large crowd hovers at the front counter for pickup orders throughout the evening.
Next time you’re in Greenfield, or even passing by exit 26, check out what the red awning has to offer. It may look a little dilapidated, but what’s inside should not be missed.?