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Diner knows why she likes this takeout

(ran SP edition)

There are a lot of things I like about Florida. But the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet _ a thing I never met until I moved here _ is not one of them.

Something about that steam table _ and how it renders anything placed upon it uniformly mushy _ has sent me packing to my favorite Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.

But a friend had been telling me about Dragon Phoenix and promised that it didn't have a buffet. And so on a recent evening we stopped in for some takeout.

We quickly looked over the long menu and settled on a selection of old favorites and things that just looked interesting. We got the steamed dumplings, the House Special Soup, Mixed Vegetables in Garlic Sauce, and Lemon Chicken Szechuan Style.

We were told it would be about 20 minutes, and since it was a nice night, we waited on the bench outside. If the weather's bad, I'd call ahead, since Dragon Phoenix seems a popular place. On the night we were there, there wasn't a spare table to be had.

After about 30 minutes, the food was ready _ neatly packed into foam containers and all tied into a plastic shopping bag for the trip home.

Lucky that they tied a good knot in the bag, or the dumplings might have been devoured on the way. That dipping sauce can get so messy.

Even after a 15-minute drive home, the dumplings ($3.75 for six) were warm, tender and tasty. We ate all six, despite earnest nuzzlings from Gibson the hound, who knows good food when he smells it.

The soup was the hit of the evening, and almost a meal in itself. The menu said it was enough for two, but those would be two big servings. The soup arrived home steaming hot in a reusable plastic container. It was full of small shrimp, chicken, wontons, snow peas and carrots in a flavorful chicken broth.

After that promising start, we weren't nearly as ravenous. Still, we were eager to try the entrees, which came with a generous quantity of rice, always important in Chinese takeout. The Mixed Vegetables ($6.75) were nicely cooked al dente, and had a garlicky tang. The chicken ($8.75) smelled heavenly, with lots of lemon, and was pretty with all the celery, baby corn and green peppers mixed in.

The sauce and veggies were tasty, but alas, the chicken had been left in the deep fryer for maybe a minute too long, and was hard. Gibson got a couple pieces, but no more, as he is watching his waistline. Or at least, his humans are.

Portions were generous, and there was more than enough for the next day's lunch. I'll definitely try Dragon Phoenix again, especially since I've had time to peruse the menu more slowly. I'd forgotten what good reading Chinese menus can make and can't wait to try I Don't Know. ("You don't even know why you love it so much," the menu promises).

PINELLAS TO GO

Dragon Phoenix

9621 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg

Phone: 399-8646 (399-TOGO)

Fax: 397-4126

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Consumers: Two adults

What we got: Steamed dumplings, house special soup, mixed vegetables in garlic sauce, lemon chicken Szechuan style

What it cost: $25.68

Delivery: Free within 3 miles, $8 minimum

Pay with: Cash, local checks, major credit cards

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