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Great China, Berkeley

Craving some good Chinese, I searched some old posts for advice on choices outside of the (berift) town of Alameda. We settled on Great China in Berkeley, on Kitteridge and overall, had some good food. Based on Robert Lauristons recommendation, I made sure we ordered a small double skin. I thought it was a great mixture of flavors, textures, temperatures etc but my husband was initially off put by the appearence of the (rice?) noodles and after a perfunctory bite, passed on more. We had a fried selection plate for 2 that had wonton skins, spring rolls and breaded shrimp. Very average, more crunch than anything else. The combo fried rice (requested no squid) was good, fairly plain with lots of mixed meats and fresh vegetables. Sweet & Sour Beef (hey, we're from the Midwest) had lightly fried crispy beef covered in a flood of sweetish, vinegary brown sauce with some cabbage, thin sliced cucumbers. Obviously, we are not overly adventorous but we will go back and branch out. I think a small double skin and a Peking Duck dinner would be great but will have to wait for a different dining companion and I hate to give up my favorite date!

Lots of choices on the menu and everyone else (it was full all the time we were there) looked happy. Portions are huge and we took lots home. I am happy to report that the cold double skin makes an excellent breakfast salad ~ wasn't soggy, still had clear tastes and textures and the mild mustard dressing is easy and perky in my stomach this morning.

Any other recommendations for Chinese for the appreciator of good food but mainstream? East Bay preferred. No ultra spicy or ingredients that need to be looked up in reference books, most innards are out but not the same old Mongolian beef, cashew chicken, or shrimp with snow peas either. Thanks ~

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  1. The "double skin" noodles are made from mung beans.

    China Village on Solano in Albany and Daimo in the parking lot of the 99 Ranch / Pacific East mall complex in Richmond are my two other favorite Chinese places.

    1. For "mainstream" Chinese, Alameda isn't that bereft. Ark is pretty good for "northern" Chinese, and East Ocean is very good Cantonese and Cantonese-American food. Plus East Ocean is one of the nicest Chinese restaurants I know of to eat in -- they just redid the interior last year, and the people who run it are both very nice and very professional. Chef's Wok has some more interesting "upscale" HK/Cantonese dishes as well. Both have more-than-respectable dim sum.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        i agree.. .east ocean seafood harbor restaurant (emeryville) is really very good. my gf had her wedding banquet there. it's right on the water too and has these floor to ceiling windows, so it's really very nice.... the food is really very good. i liked the lobster dish we had. in oakland chinatown, silver dragon has been one of my favorites since the 80s... os course they have different chefs since then and it's not as good as the 80s, but i still enjoy going there. for dim sum i enjoy goind to jade villa and restaurant peony. i've never eaten at restaurant peony outside of the dim sum time frame, but their food is really actually very good, so i would naturally think that their menu items are really good too. in fremont, there is ho chow's. in union city there's roses. there are 2 roses restaurants, same owner, but i prefer the one at the movie theater when i am in town.

        1. re: kinipela

          I was referring to the East Ocean on Webster St. in Alameda. Apparently the people who founded the one in Alameda were originally associated with the one in Emeryville, but they are not under the same ownership.

          1. re: kinipela

            Oh no, not the Emeryville East Ocean. The Alameda East Ocean is the good one.

        2. If Great China is the place I'm thinking of, they're korean chinese -- that version of sweet and sour beef you had is called tan soo yuk. As I recall, they do ja jamyung (noodles with brown sauce) well, too. If you liked them, you might want to give San Tung in SF a try. I'm also a huge fan of China Village, which Robert mentioned, but be forewarned -- they can be spicy!

          7 Replies
          1. re: a_and_w

            Everytime I go to Great China all the front people speak Mandarin and all the cooks speak Cantonese. Not a word of Korean can be heard.

            1. re: PeterL

              That's true of most Korean-Chinese places since the owners are typically ethnic Chinese who spent some time living in Korea. I'm pretty sure I recall my mom speaking to someone in Korean at Great China, though it's been a while. It's not unusual for staff at such places to speak only Chinese, but the sweet-and-sour beef the OP described is a dead give-away to a Korean-Chinese influence. If you haven't tried it, definitely do so -- one of my favorite dishes.

              PS: I could swear I read that the owner of China Village is also an ethnic Chinese who spent some time living in Korea. Can anyone confirm?

              1. re: a_and_w

                Yes, the Yaos are Shandong Chinese from Korea.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Thanks Melanie -- further research reveals I originally read that tidbit in one of your posts! Incidentally, that part of the East Bay used to have a bunch of Korean-Chinese places. King Dong on Shattuck was one we used to frequent when I was growing up...great dry fried chicken. Anyone know if they're still around?

                  1. re: a_and_w

                    yes, king dong is still around, and for some reason my favorite dish there used to be the tomato beef chow mein with thin noodles (you have to request the thin noodles)

                    1. re: a_and_w

                      Actually, I've been noticing a lot more spots everywhere that might be Korean-Chinese. The hint is a marquee that promised "Mandarin, Szechwan, Hunan", none of which are K-C but the menus have a lot of made-up Americanized dishes with hot chili peppers next to them indicating spicy. Usually there will be an extensive noodle and dumpling section too. But for whatever reason, we've heard about few of them here. There may be unsung dumpling and noodle masters out there waiting to be discovered.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      Yep, we went a few weeks ago based on comments from this board. My wife is Korean, and I lived there for 3 years. Great China is Korean Chinese. The double skin dish which they are known for is a chinese restaurant standard in Korea, although the name does not translate well from korean, and we did not know that was what we had ordered.

              2. Alameda berift of good Chinese???!!! You went to Great China and didn't order Peking Duck???!!! That's pretty much the only reason to go the Great China (double skin is very good too, but mostly it's all about the Peking Duck).

                Alameda has at least two, probably more very good Chinese restauarnts. East Ocean (not the one in Emeryville) is one.

                4 Replies
                1. re: PeterL

                  Great China's tea-smoked duck is also very good.

                  1. re: PeterL

                    Yes, I say berift, maybe not to your taste buds but to mine. Of the current crop, I have tried the Ark, Harbor View, Chef's Wok, China House, Van Seng, Panda. All of these seem heavy and gloopy, maybe because I mostly eat there for lunch. Even soups have an excess of cornstarch. I have not tried Gim's or Bamboo Hut. You mentioned East Ocean, what else do you think is good? Or sorry, Good???!!! (g)

                    I like the XLB at Ark but the poor service irks me and I don't go much. The newish Ching Hua is ok but more expensive and in 3 visits, I have been brought the wrong entree all 3 times, tricky since the choices are limited. I have eaten at East Ocean and while dim sum is usally good, most of the entrees and all the noodle and stir fry dishes have too much oil for me to enjoy. I like to eat Chinese leftovers and while I would be the first to admit this is not a critereon for judging food quality, greasy leftovers leave me (no pun intended) cold.

                    Thanks also for your comment about missing the duck but my husband wouldn't enjoy the duck so as I said, I would order it with another dining companion. I also noticed the Korean slant and asked the server if the kim chee was made in house. She said it would so I know I'll be back!

                    1. re: foodfan

                      Hmmmm ... I've never thought of the food at East Ocean as being heavy, gloopy or oily. Or at Chef's Wok, for that matter. But then, I guess it depends somewhat on what you order -- I don't order a lot of stir fries, and I don't usually order noodle dishes at Cantonese restaurants.

                      At Ark, I think the noodle dishes are the best. The cumin lamb is also good, although not as good as China Village. I would never recommend China House, Van Seng or Panda -- all pretty bad. I don't know Harbor View. Bamboo Hut I avoid -- I just assume because it's been there for a million years that it's probably very much in the same Americanized Chinese food vein as China House. The one thing that tempts me is that China House still has almond pressed duck on the menu -- I might have to get that one day. Another restaurant some people like is Kapok Seafood House on Webster.

                      I have a fondness for Gim's, but it's definitely gloppy and oily -- to me, that's a form of comfort food! It's also really uneven depending on who's cooking. Sometimes it's better than average and sometimes it's almost inedible.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Generally I would agree with the noodles at Cantonese but East Ocean has so many that it seems they are a feature. I have had a good duck with preserved vegetable noodle dish that was good there, but only fresh (not for breakfast) and way too much for one person, one sitting.

                        I'll try the cumin lamb at the Ark. Come to think of it, I don't think I have been since the old chef left and the fusion banner went up ~ XLB still good? I think they called them juicy dumplings.

                  2. Double-skin, or Liang Zhang Pi, is made from Mung Bean noodle sheets, a specialty of Shandong cuisine and a dead giveaway that it is a Korean-Chinese style restaurant run by Chinese of Shandong descent.

                    Great China is known for its Peking Duck dish (though not a Korean-Chinese specialty). One of the few and best places around bay area for it. Another nice item is the Crab meat and egg dish in lettuce cup (sorry, don't remember the exact name). Generous portions of hand pulled crab meat and egg whites lightly sitrred together creates a marvelous flavor. These are probably the best dishes there. I would not even endorse their noodle dishes even though it is a specialty of Korean-Chinese genre. Their versions are not that well done.

                    For more information on what Korean-Chinese is, please see:
                    http://eat.tanspace.com/index.php?s=k...

                    -t

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: tanspace

                      Hey Ed, thanks for popping in for your once-a-quarter posting!

                      1. re: tanspace

                        Thanks for the tip on the crab in lettuce cup, I'll have to try that next time.

                        I like their tea-smoked duck even better than their Peking duck.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Not sure, but I think that the crab was served with soft buns the time I had it.

                      2. A friend tipped me to a couple of other dishes to try: guo ta tofu and wok-braised lamb (which she says you should order with kimchi, which option is not on the menu).

                        I recently discovered that they have one of the best wine lists in the East Bay. Wide range of wines and low markup (generally 25-50% over retail). Bottles from $12 to $2500. Wine list and menu are both on their Web site and appear to be updated monthly.

                        -----
                        Great China Restaurant
                        2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          That's funny, I was just at Great China on Friday and ordered the wok-braised lamb. It was good. The lamb was very tender and had a nice taste to it. It's braised for awhile before it's charred in the wok for color.

                          I also considered the guo ta tofu but didn't order it because it is fried and I try not to eat a lot of fried food. But this is a common dish on many Cantonese restaurants where the soft tofu squares are topped with some minced shrimp and pork and then fried, and then it's served with a soy-chili dipping sauce. If done right, the skin of the tofu would be nice and crispy and the soft tofu inside would be nice and warm.

                          Overall, I thought Great China had decent Chinese food but comparable to some places in San Francisco. I don't know if it's the best in the East Bay, but definitely the best Chinese restaurant in Berkeley.

                          1. re: singleguychef

                            Their "double skin" and tea-smoked duck are the best versions of those dishes I've had.

                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Who would have thought that a small family-style Chinese joint like this would have several 1st Growth Bordeaux on their wine list?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Got takeout from here today--decided to try the tan soo yuk (sweet and sour beef) mentioned by the original poster. It was very good--crisp, flavorful beef and a sauce (served in a separate container so the meat wouldn't get soggy) that was sweet and tangy, but not sickeningly so. Loved the pickled vegetables that were in the sauce, especially the thin slices of cucumber.

                              I don't know anything about Korean-Chinese food, but this is the sort of thing you get a hankering for every once in a while if you ate a lot of (mostly bad) Chinese takeout in college. Of course here, it 's done with a much lighter touch, and you actually don't feel gross afterward.

                              I guess that's my overall impression of Great China--that a lot of the dishes you'd think would be kind of generic (like a plate of bok choy I had a couple months ago--usually a vegetable I'd never go out of my way to order) are prepared with more thought and care than is necessary.

                              Also had the pork dumplings and the ong choy (apparently in season now?) with fermented tofu, both good. Portions are very generous.

                              1. re: abstractpoet

                                We tried the tan soo yuk last night, too sweet for me.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Did you eat it the Korean way, i.e., dip the tan soo yuk pieces in a equal mixture of soy sauce and vinegar before eating? It helps to cut the sweetness.

                                  1. re: cvhound

                                    No, that might have helped. I'm not sure they gave us a dipping sauce for that dish.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      The sauce is not something that's served separately. It's been a while since we've eaten at Great China, so I don't recall whether they provide soy sauce and vinegar on the table. Generally, the sauce is DIY using the condiments available on your table like at Chef Yuyu's and Koryo Zza Zzang.

                                      1. re: cvhound

                                        The dish was swimming in sauce, so it didn't occur to me to make it even wetter.

                                        Chef Yu's doesn't need any more vinegar, at least, the chicken one doesn't.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          We use the soy/vinegar sauce for the tang su yuk, not the gampongi. Every Korean person I know eats their tang su yuk that way. You pour a little soy sauce and vinegar on your plate, mix the two together, and then dip your tang su yuk in the soy/vinegar sauce before eating.

                            2. We tried the fried oysters last night--best I've had since Hana closed. They bring in wild oysters from China.

                              Great wine suggestion of a La Viarte Tocai Friulano ($15) with the double skin. Really went well despite all that sharp mustard. Also had a great 2000 Ch. Manieu Fonsac ($20?) with the braised lamb and tea-smoked duck.

                              1. We had a wonderful banquet with wine pairings last night, and tried some dishes I hadn't had before.

                                Sautéed Crab Meat: this was simple and delicate, just a pile of Dungeness crab meat very lightly dressed, served with steamed buns to make sandwiches. (I don't see the aforementioned crab and egg in lettuce cups on the menu.)

                                Lobster salad (not on the menu): a big pile of lobster meat dressed with a sauce made from its roe. Delicious. It was presented with the five? seven? empty, intact lobster shells on top, very impressive.

                                The usual fried oysters were served with a shredded salad in ginger-scallion vinaigrette, I liked that combination a lot.

                                Steamed surf clams, wow, this was a spectacular dish, maybe the best clam dish I've ever had. The sliced meat was served on the half shell with a soy vinaigrette. The clams came with a bowl of delicate fried rice to spoon into the empty shell and mix with the remaining vinaigrette.

                                The remaining three dishes were old favorites: double skin, tea-smoked duck, and pork belly with preserved vegetable (mei cai kou rou).

                                This was a memorably great meal, which raised my already high impression of chef Yu. His son James did a great job with the wine pairings, too. I want to go back to drink some more 1996 Joseph de Bucy Chassagne-Montrachet, a great value at $35. I found it a little too delicate for the lobster, I might try it with that crab and egg dish.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Thanks for these updates. I remember that crab meat dish well from some years ago, shall have to return to have it again. Shandong cuisine is known for a light hand with seafood, but we see little of it around here. I'm pleased to hear that Great China is excelling in this. And now you understand why I order surf clams (aka queens clam or concubine clam) whenever I see them as a special or spot them in a tank.

                                2. Tonight they had a special of Live Red Tilapia, either steamed with ginger and scallion or hot braised with brown bean sauce. My husband was interested in the braised version, but the waitress urged us not to waste the opportunity to savor the sweet, delicate, fresh fish in its simplest preparation. The fish was indeed lovely, and at the end they made us a bowl of very flavorful soup out of the bones with lemon and tomato. Sweet-potato leaves stir-fried with garlic was another real treat from the specials list. I had no idea this was such a serious restaurant! We can't wait to return and do more exploring.

                                  1. Last night they had a little seasonal specials card clipped to the front of the menu. We had matsutake stir-fried with cabbage, which was great, and a soup of king oyster mushrooms, scallops, and egg whites that paled a bit by comparison. (They also had that soup with matsutake, which would probably be great.) Those and an order of double skin made a nice change from days of holiday season gavage.

                                    1. I have found this place to be the most underwhelming over hyped chinese place.

                                      Most of the food is lacking flavor and the quality of the meats are dubious.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pepper

                                        What did you order? I can't imagine anyone finding the steamed surf clams, tea-smoked duck, or wok-braised lamb bland, but there are lots of Chinese-American standards such as "vegetable delight" that could be pretty boring.

                                      2. Tried a new-to-us dish, the Chung King Crispy Chicken. Seasoning reminded me of the wok-braised lamb, five-spice plus who knows what. The chef says they marinate it in the rub, fry it, steam it, and refrigerate it, then when you order they fry it again. Delicious, crunchy skin, flavorful meat.

                                        Also tried the Mandarin Lamb. Thin-sliced lamb, velveted and stir-fried with some chiles, green onions, and fresh herbs. Really nice with one of the great cheap old red wines they have on the list.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          That sounds like the Sichuan dish Chongqing la zi ji (Chung King = Chongqing), which you may have tried at China Village or Z & Y buried under a blizzard of dried red chile pods. Is it made with chopped sections of chicken wing or another part?

                                          -----
                                          Z & Y
                                          655 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            It was a chopped half chicken. Or maybe a whole chicken. There was a lot. No blizzard of chile pods. It was flagged as a house special.

                                        2. I found out about a new dish that's not on the menu: duck bone soup, made from the bones from the Peking duck. Really flavorful but very light, great way to end a rich meal. James said anyplace that has Peking duck should make it whether they put it on the menu or not. I've had it once before, as part of the "three-style" Peking duck (crisp skin, then stir-fried meat, then bone soup) at the Daimo in San Leandro, but it wasn't great there.

                                          The wine list continues to amaze and delight. We had a 1996 Maison Joseph de Bucy Chassagne-Montrachet that paired very well with the fried oysters and the king oyster mushrooms with cabbage, and a 2006 Dom. de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil “Les Alouettes” with the pork belly (mei cai kou rou).

                                          http://www.greatchinaberkeley.com/GCW...

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            You can request the duck carcass and spare bits at many places that serve Peking Duck. Peony in Oakland use to have a discount Peking Duck day for something like $15 bucks and they'd pack the carcass to go on request. You can do quite a bit with it, even toss it in to help a gumbo base.

                                            1. re: ML8000

                                              They still have 1/2 price duck day on Thursdays. Fridays is soy sauce chicken. Tuesday and Wednesdays are crab and lobster (forget which one is which day)

                                              1. re: kc72

                                                Thanks! I didn't know about that. Love the duck.

                                                1. re: kc72

                                                  "They" meaning Peony or Great China (re 1/2 price duck day on Thurs, etc.)?

                                                  1. re: sundeck sue

                                                    Not Great China.

                                                    -----
                                                    Great China Restaurant
                                                    2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                                    1. re: sundeck sue

                                                      Peony has the half price duck on Thurs as KC mentioned. It's definitely a good deal. I never knew about the crab night...that's an excellent tip.

                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                        Pretty sure Tuesday or Wednesday is the crab special -- there's a thing on the table that lists the daily specials but I can't read Chinese. Each night also has a fish special.

                                                        Also, I believe these aren't limited to nighttime, I've heard of people ordering the duck and soy sauce chicken(regular and yellow hair) during dim sum/lunch and taking leftovers home.

                                                  2. re: ML8000

                                                    I'm with you on the gumbo base. Good roasted poultry carcasses really add that thing. I thought to do that with my leftover tea-smoked duck, but I waited too long. Has anyone tried tea-smoked duck leftovers as a stock ingredient?

                                                2. Tried a couple of new things from the seasonal specials insert last night.

                                                  Roast Dungeness crab, $15.95 for a good-sized one, delicious. Messy to eat so dress accordingly.

                                                  #2 matsutake mushrooms stir-fried with napa cabbage ($12.95?). These were so intensely flavorful that I can't quite imagine what the #1 ($19.95?) would be like. Generous helping. They also have king oyster mushrooms. All three are also offered in a scallop soup.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Finally got a chance to try Great China last week. The double-skin was one of the oddest things I have had. Lot's of weird chewy textures. It tasted pretty good but I don't think I would order it again. Loved the tea-smoked duck though.

                                                    -----
                                                    Great China Restaurant
                                                    2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                                  2. They recently updated their menu, adding some things that used to be off-menu, such as the duck bone soup. There's now a page or two of recommended wine pairings, which could be helpful when James isn't around to make suggestions.

                                                    I don't know why this place doesn't get more attention for its wine list.

                                                    http://greatchinaberkeley.com/wine-list

                                                    1. Last night we had sweet potato leaf. Similar to snow pea leaf, but with a distinctive aroma and a texture a bit more like ong choy. Also had a cold chicken salad with cucumber, very light and refreshing.

                                                      Drank a great 2004 Vacqueyras from Kermit Lynch for $20. That was the last bottle but the list has lots of other bargains.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Ah, I'm a big fan of sweet potato leaf. Very popular in Taiwan. I didn't notice it on Great China's regular menu when I was there on Friday - I assume it was a special?

                                                        1. re: abstractpoet

                                                          Yeah, not on the menu, I always ask if there are specials.

                                                      2. Tried some new-to-me dishes. They recently revamped the menu, maybe there are some new items, or at least some newly flagged with the "house specialty" dingbat.

                                                        Fish & vegetable dumplings, delicious, perfectly cooked. The chef really has a delicate hand with seafood.

                                                        Nappa with dried shrimp, nicely braised cabbage with a lot of crunchy/chewy dried shrimp. Don't order if you don't like dried shrimp.

                                                        Bean sauce noodles, I think this is their version of zha jiang mien, more interesting than most, not swimming in sauce.

                                                        1. Tried three new-to-me dishes last night.

                                                          "Hot Braised Fish Filet, fried tilapia filet covered in tangy and spicy sauce with diced peppers, mushrooms and water chestnuts": really good, only slightly sweet, nice earthy touch and crunch from the water chestnuts.

                                                          Green beans with lamb: good, slices of lamb rather than ground as I was expecting. Delicate, not spicy.

                                                          " Ant Climbed the Tree ... Mung bean noodles with diced shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, and water chestnuts": really nice light noodle dish, subtle. Spicy. Nothing like the versions I've had before.

                                                          Also had the fish dumplings and drank a fine white Burgundy. Perfect light meal for a lull between holiday pigouts.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            I love their "Ant Climbed the Tree". It's one of my fave dishes there.

                                                            1. re: escargot3

                                                              That's one of those dishes I grew up with on the east coast that I see rarely anymore. Good to hear of a good version.