By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Jun 12, 2007 at 5:19 AM Photography: Zach Karpinski

Earlier this year China Gourmet, 117 E. Wells St., uprooted itself from its home in the Park Plaza building and moved to the long vacant location that formerly housed Tula’s, and many years before that, Wells Street Station. 

China Gourmet, well known for its Friday and Saturday $13.95 all-you-can-eat dinner buffet, obviously made the right move if the busy lunch crowds are any indication of success.

The $8.95 lunch buffet features 10 rotating items including choices like shrimp in lobster sauce, pepper steak and garlic chicken, and two appetizers: crab rangoons and Shanghai spring rolls.  The buffet starts at 11:30 and the restaurant nears capacity shortly thereafter.

In addition to the weekday lunch buffet, China Gourmet offers a regular lunch menu which is a mini version of the dinner and carryout menu with more than 100 selections, many in both small and large portions.

The horseshoe-shaped bar area and open kitchen remain, now decorated with lovely flowers, plants and Chinese-themed touches to make the space seem more ethnic without invading the clean, airy feel of the large restaurant.

Service is friendly and somewhat casual, but many servers are still trying to familiarize themselves with the dauntingly large menu, so we found it difficult to find out about some of the less intuitive options, like Chinese bread, which our server thought -- but was not certain -- was some type of a roll.

Two dine-in experiences and one carry out at China Gourmet yielded better than average Chinese food, with fresh vegetables, generous servings and fairly reasonable prices.  Because of its Downtown location, you can expect to pay a few dollars more for some items than at your neighborhood Chinese stop, but if you are trying to grab something quickly before a show or on your way home late from work, it may be well worth it.

Hot and sour soup ($1.95) was subtle in flavor and deliciously traditional.  Crab rangoon (8 for $5.50, 4 for $3.95) varied in quality and flavor from visit to visit, with the best versions found on the buffet.

We liked the chicken with snow pea pods (small $6.96, large $10.95) and the steamed vegetables delights (small $6.50, large $7.95), neither of which was robust in flavor, but succeeded in showcasing extremely fresh vegetables perfectly steamed crisply tender.

Mongolian beef (small $7.75, large $11.95) was also very tender, but only average in flavor.  Crispy chicken ($11.95) too was average in taste, but large in portion size, with an entire boneless half chicken.

China Gourmet reserves the right to substitute vegetables, which ensures you will get something fresh, but you may also get something you do not care for, so be sure to tell your server if there are vegetables you dislike.

There is also a fully stocked bar with complimentary appetizers during happy hour, and a fairly decent non-alcoholic section, including ginger ale which made one of my dining companions extremely happy (many establishments these days do not carry ginger ale at all or rely on “bar ginger ale” -- white soda with a splash of cola).

As a “new” Downtown lunch and pre-theater spot, I expect China Gourmet will do very well in its new home, and it has all the pieces in place to really make a mark. 

Along with the lunch and dinner buffets and happy hour specials, China Gourmet offers carryout and delivery, which can be ordered directly on its Web site with a 10 percent discount.

Sunday brunch includes Dim Sum, which is nearly impossible to find in the Milwaukee area aside from Peony.

And very wisely, Chine Gourmet touts its disdain for M.S.G., the main deterrent for many who avoid Oriental food.   

China Gourmet is open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to10:30 p.m., Saturday 5-10:30 p.m.  

Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.

The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.

Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to