The way the Chinese like their restaurants translates as "hot and noisy" — a bustling feel with lots of racket and a high energy level. During my recent four-month stint in Guangzhou (Canton), the only non-hot-and-noisy restaurant I came across was run by Buddhist monks.
By the hot and noisy standard, Golden Harvest fails miserably. It's quiet, and the decor is mainly soothing blue, not excitable Chinese red. It's one big room, a former catering hall in an unlikely spot on 12 Mile Road across from the GM Tech Center.
Western diners may appreciate the peace, but such details don't matter when the food is authentic. A number of readers recommended Golden Harvest to me both for its specialty, its seafood, and its daily dim sum, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Several mentioned their experience dining in American Chinatowns on the coasts, but the best clue is that a big majority of Golden Harvest's patrons are Asian. The chef came from Hong Kong long ago, and the dishes are advertised as both Cantonese and Szechuan (an inland province).
I went for a couple of dinners, so I didn't get to try the dim sum, but the management assured me that chicken feet are one of the lunchtime offerings. The Chinese believe in displaying, rather than disguising, the "yes, this was once an animal" origins of meat, so don't get scared if you see a platter of bony claws on their way to a neighboring table. In Guangzhou markets, the chicken's head is often displayed alongside the feet, comb and all. And in restaurants, fish are kept live, swimming in a tank, until a diner requests them.
Golden Harvest too keeps live fish (and lobsters). You can get steamed sole — a fish not often available except at very high prices — for $19.95, and my party is still gnashing its teeth that ours never arrived due to a failure of communication.
But soft-shell crabs and "assorted seafood with spicy salt (hot)" were both excellent, with thin, pepper-flecked crusts and a satisfying crunch. Clams in XO sauce were cooked with plenty of the pungent, salty sauce made from dried seafood, garlic and chilis, invented by Hong Kong chefs in the 1980s. An appetizer of deep-fried shrimp kau was more ordinary, but sported a creditable, tasty shell.
Very popular in China, especially in the cold months, are hot pots, which are kept warm on the table with a burner. A hot pot of shrimp, squid and fried tofu was satisfying, and we enjoyed the unusual shapes of the squid, again, anatomically correct.
One of the most popular dishes at Golden Harvest is walnut shrimp, which I never would have ordered if I'd known what a worker later revealed, that the slightly gummy white sauce contains mayonnaise. Nonetheless, it's delicious. Broccoli is a big part of the dish too; the walnuts taste a bit candied and are coated with sesame seeds. When I dined alone in Guangzhou, waitresses often recommended a broccoli dish with a similar-textured sauce, apparently thinking it popular with the "round eyes." But Golden Harvest's version is better.
Other seafood entrées abound, though the "live frog" on the menu is reportedly not available.
Eggplant lovers should not miss deep-fried stuffed eggplant with black bean sauce. The small, thin-skinned Chinese eggplants, whole or split, are cooked within an inch of their lives, stuffed with tiny shrimp and served with a deep, rich brown sauce — two deluxe flavors in one dish.
A house soup comes with dinner, though the menu doesn't mention this, and you may need to ask to make sure you get it. However, neither the hot and sour nor the wonton was much good on the night my party tried them, with the wonton wrappings way too soft and the hot and sour more sweet than anything else.
Next time I'll bring out my little notebook, where friends wrote my favorite dishes in Chinese characters, and ask for the Szechuan "tiger skin peppers" or an equally fiery "fried green beans" or "eggplant with fish taste," which means a hint of anchovies. These aren't on the menu, but if anyone can deliver the real deal, I'm betting that Golden Harvest can.
Note that if you request a menu by fax, you'll get only the carry-out menu, which is dominated by such American-familiar items as almond chicken and sweet and sour pork, and therefore does not do justice to the breadth of the Golden offerings.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].