Subject: Sang Kee's -- reviews
A couple of reviews:

I've been going to this restaurant for years. Back a couple years ago this place was a dive, but they renovated it and it's better than ever (if that's possible). Well, now that I got your attention, I'll give you my review piece by piece.

Food: The food here is some of the best Chinese food I've ever eaten. The only down side is that the presentation needs a little work. Soup here is a must have - especially the wonton soup. Also, a hidden treat is the ice cream (its shocking how good it is). I'd give you some recommended dishes, but everything is so good I'd hate to restrict your choice. NOTE: There is a vegetarian section in the menu. Price: Unbeatably a bowl of soup for 4 is only $2.25-8. Appetizers are from $1.15 - 8.75. A dish for 2 is $5.95-10.50 (except for some duck and seafood).

Decor: Depending where you sit, the decor can range from fair to very good. There are 4 rooms to sit in and 3 of them were renovated. The dishes and silverware aren't anything special. It's a little noisy. Service: The service is pretty good. The people are really nice, but sometimes it's hard to get a waiter/waitress when you need one. I left best Suited For field empty because it's good for families, friends, and large groups.

OVERALL: If you want Chinese food in Philadelphia, Sang Kee Peaking Duck house is your choice.

(Author unknown)

Center City (West of Broad St.),Chinatown 238 N. Ninth St. (Vine St.) Philadelphia, PA, 19107-1822 (215) 925-7532 51 N. 12th St. Philadelphia, PA, 19107 (215) 922-3930

A mixed, vibrant young crowd commends the best food for the money in Chinatown (incredible dumplings, to-die-for noodle soups) at this Ninth Street Chinese; now remodeled for the next millennium, it boasts a double-digit decor rating for the first time ever; N.B. the Terminal Market location opened post-Survey.

Sang Kee in Chinatown. Its crispy Peking duck and wonton soup were always more than enough to lure a devoted league of adventurous diners. They saw beyond # yes, even relished # the plain white walls of its dingy 40-seat dining room, as unadorned and anonymous as any other Chinatown storefront.

Even owner-chef Michael Chow (Sang Kee means Michael's Restaurant in Chinese) recalls with a certain measure of satisfaction how people used to say it was a hole in the wall.

But Sang Kee is a hole in the wall no more. Erase the word dive from its description. The 19-year-old retaurant took a big step up from low- brow last November when it spent $70,000 to expand into the building next door formerly occupied by a tarot card reader.

Its fortunes now look brighter than ever. Not only has the restaurant doubled in size, to 120 seats including banquet seating upstairs, its new dining rooms are cheery, with dangling halogen lights, exposed air ducts and even some art on the egg-shell colored walls.

With a surprisingly large team of pleasant servers roaming the floor, their teal shirts embroidered with a friendly duck in a chef's hat, the restaurant comes alive with a diverse clientele # Asians, Caucasians, businessmen, students, grandmothers and men in black fedoras.

None of whom, as far as I could tell, seemed to pay much attention to the big TVs on each end of the room, which broadcast financial news tickers and cable specials on famous natural disasters (mudslides, hurricanes, etc.). I could have done without the TV.

But once the warm weather arrives, I won't have to. The restaurant's broad cafe windows will open to the street and some of Chinatown's first sidewalk seating.

Xando comes to Chinatown? Not quite. But with a tranquil view of Winter Street and the Chinatown wall, the prospect of nibbling Peking duck pancake rolls al fresco has me pleasantly intrigued.

Of course the duck will be delicious no matter where you eat it. It deservedly remains one of the best reasons to visit Sang Kee. Served in two courses, the first brings breast meat sliced into boneless strips along with moo-shu pancakes, crunchy scallions and sweet, dark hoisin sauce # the complements for a perfect roll. The second is a generous (albeit bland) stir-fry of duck and vegetables.

The meat was moist and tender, infused with five-spice, soy and ginger. And to my taste, the crackly strips of burnished skin that clung to the breast meat sandwiched just the right pad of duck fat in between. I can't say the same for the Hong Kong roasted duck, which was served on the bone in a bath of melted grease. Perhaps that last minute deep- frying for the Peking duck did the trick?

It is one of the cautionary truths about eating at Sang Kee, although it could be said for many of the restaurants in Chinatown: Order carefully, or you may well be disappointed.

We stumbled across a few such unrecommendable items. There was the lemon sesame chicken with a day-glo yellow sauce that reminded us of Lemon Joy. The steamed whole sea bass was so puny, so boneless and so overcooked, it looked as if it had collapsed from exhaustion before it got to the table. And I only blame myself for ordering rubber lobster at a duck house.

Thankfully, though, Sang Kee's other virtues are grand, with noodles, soups and dumplings that I would cross town for, as well as a great General Tso's chicken.

The big bowls of wonton soup come teeming with little pork and shrimp dumplings wrapped in crinkled, fine skin wrappers. It can be dressed with a nest of noodles, roasted pork, duck or meat. But I love the soup plain so I can taste the broth that is seasoned so subtly with dried plums and a dash of sesame oil that glistens on top. For $3.25, it is practically a meal alone.

The seafood corn chowder was also delicious, thickened like eggdrop soup with corn cream and tender seafood that doesn't overwhelm the flavor. Sliced chicken and shiitake mushroom noodle soup was full of perfectly velvety meat, threadlike noodles and chewy, whole mushroom caps.

Noodles in all forms are a Sang Kee specialty, whether wrapped velvety thick around the springy steamed dumplings, or tossed into stir fries and soup. The steamed dumplings come drizzled with an addictively sweet dark sauce and a crunchy shower of scallion rings. The deep-fried dumplings, though, were a pass; they looked unappetizingly greasy.

Manager Kwok Chow says the restaurant serves no fewer than seven varieties of noodles # small round egg noodles, green spinach noodles (used for the good vegetarian dumplings), flat chow fun rice noodles, thin mai fun rice noodles, thick ropes of udon noodles, and others.

The thin egg noodles were great both in soup and tossed cold in a sesame- peanut sauce. Although like many other items marked spicy on the menu, such as the kung pao and garlic-sauced chicken, they offered only a weakling heat.

I loved most the E-Fu long life noodles, rich twines of chewy egg dough that soaked up the earthy flavors of a dried scallop and shiitake mushroom sauce. The dried scallops had dissolved into the flavor of the rich tan sauce, but thick slivered mushrooms surfaced with every turn of the chop sticks.

Venturing off the path to Peking duck and noodles can be iffy, but a few selections turned into happy finds.

Steamed Chinese greens were always excellent here # their chlorophyll crunch seemed to cut through all the dough and meat and broths.

And Sang Kee's General Tso's chicken is a stand-out for those who can't resist a good version of any deep-fried/sticky sauce classic. The kitchen uses chicken breast, not the usual thigh, and a rice flour batter that is very light. The sauce, less cloying than most, had interesting twists of red vinegar and sesame oil.

Sliced rounds of eggplant stuffed with ground shrimp and pork were another winner, the faintly smoky black bean sauce was filled with plenty of garlic and a citrusy anise whisp of dried orange skins.

Sang Kee isn't very creative for desserts, save for the usual fortune cookies and ice cream. But there's always Ray's Cafe &Tea House down the street, where a surreal maze of glass beakers, test tubes, vacuum syringes and Bunsen burners produced one of the best cups of coffee I've ever tasted.

At $8 for a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain, it was also the most expensive. But you might have plenty of money left over after a meal at Sang Kee, which remain s a stupendous value. The old duck house may be a snazzy cafe now, but affordability is one of the best attributes that this beloved dive did not renovate.

Doug Weller Birmingham, England