As we arrived at Golden Harvest back in November, a young Chinese-American man was picking up a big carry-out order. Asked what it was, he said cheerily, "Ten orders of spicy squid! Got to get ready for Thanksgiving!"
Thus are traditions born. Why not? I'm thinking of making it my own favorite new tradition, Chinese on Thanksgiving. No work for me, no food coma.
But it has to be real Chinese, of course. Golden Harvest serves a mix of American-style Chinese and Chinese-style Chinese (Szechuan and Cantonese, but much more Cantonese), all together on one long menu, which makes it harder for the uninitiated. On Facebook, the owners explain, "We offer REAL traditional Chinese cuisine, Dim Sum, and also Americanized Chinese for those who want familiarity on their journey!"
(Also, "After over 30 years serving the area, we finally have a Facebook page!" — October 13, 2020. With one thumbs-up.)
If you order only from the "Special Dinner" menu and avoid anything that appears on the carry-out, especially the "Old Favorites" page, you will mostly be OK, though I don't think it hurts to brazenly ask, "Is this dish Chinese Chinese or American Chinese?" In my experience living a semester in Guangzhou, it was normal to see lots of questioning and back-and-forth between server and customer, so don't be afraid to display your ignorance.
Back in November, the waiting area gave an idea of Golden Harvest's mixed messages: the usual Buddha and lucky cat statues shared space with Christmas carousels and a crêche. The dining room is cavernous, with, unusually, little red in the décor except for one big panel showing a gold bas-relief dragon and a phoenix. Round tables accommodate larger parties, China-style, and smaller rectangular tables line the walls. On our visits the clientele were almost all Asian or Asian-American.
Your best bet economically and gustatorily is to order the Special Dinner, two dishes for $28.95, four for $59.95, and have a lot to take home.
I took home none of my steamed tilapia, though. I'm not sure what's so wonderful about this simple preparation, but it's my go-to. The steam seems to bring out whatever is best in the big fish, which is bland, while the thin salty-sweet sauce, with shards of green onion, is not. It's worth the careful decoupling of a multitude of skinny bones; if you're in a hurry, don't ask for this.
I also frequently order eggplant with garlic, which comes cooked within a half-inch of its life. This was a favorite when I was in Guangzhou and "qiézi" was the only food word I could remember in a pinch. (It's also the word people say to make themselves smile in photos, like we say "cheese.") This time it was "eggplant with garlic sauce in hot pot," which meant lots of other vegetables too: baby corn, snap peas, water chestnuts, green pepper, scallions. They were OK, but I want more eggplant; next time I would try eggplant with fried garlic or ask about "eggplant with special sauce." Remember, it's fine to ask.
The thick red sauce in "pork chop with special sauce," which is cut up into near-bite-size pieces with the bone still in (that's some cleaver), was sweetish and ketchupy, more Americanized than I think best, but fine in its own class. I preferred a seafood and chicken hot pot with snap peas, dark mushrooms, some sort of white fish steak, shrimp, tofu, and lobster in its shell.
On a second visit we were somewhat less lucky; not enough piping up. A "spicy chicken and shrimp" wasn't spicy at all, with a lot of green pepper taste and just the occasional hit of allspice. I wanted curried baby squid from the dim sum menu but it wasn't available. Beef brisket in hot pot was pretty rich, though, with big chewy chunks and lots of green onion; I like the way the fat is not trimmed away. One of the pork belly dishes would be even better if you've gotten over your fear of fat (so 1990s).
Americans love dim sum; I don't know if it's because you can sample small amounts of lots of things or because many of the items tend to be fried. At Golden Harvest that's less true than usual, with only eight of the 29 dim sum pieces fried or deep-fried. My favorite was shrimp-stuffed eggplant — the shrimp was pre-fried before entering the eggplant.
Shumai and fun kor are both iconic dim sum, with their translucent rubbery wrappings of a flour-and- water dough. The wrapping is great for holding the innards in during steaming, though flavor-free itself. I liked the smoky pork and shrimp shumai more than the plainer steamed shrimp fun kor. Chicken feet, "beef baby ribs," and various other dumplings are also possible.
The Chinese staff of life is not just rice and noodles, you're reminded when you order a steamed or baked bun from the dim sum list. I liked the glossy buns with their sweet barbecued pork, but would have preferred a higher pork-to-bread ratio.
Dim sum is available every day all day, from the traditional cart that's pushed around the dining room, with customers pointing to their selections, up till 3 p.m. After that you check off your choice on a menu. The early bird version is more fun.
I ordered coconut pudding dim sum for dessert, but when the server brought it, she announced it as "jello," and that was the consistency. No problem, the flavor was pure sweetened coconut. Otherwise, it's fortune cookies — delivered on one visit — or orange slices, delivered on the other.
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