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El Cerrito: Happy Golden Bowl - Seriously Szechuan ... Dim sum, house-made noodles and much, much more

They opened July 1st.

Even someone like me with little Chinese food experience can tell this is something special.

The soft tofu with crab roe that I ordered is exquisite. The delicate tofu in a golden, rich, deeply crab-flavored broth with lots of crab bits ... one of the best Chinese dishes I've ever had.

I'll post some of the extensive menu in the first reply.

They have dim sum which they stressed was Schezun dim sum. On the weekends they make Chinese donuts.

These people are not afraid of organ meat. You have to seriously search that menu to find the repetative Chinese favorites like broccoli beef. I don't think there was a sweet and sour anything. However, if you do like the more common dishes, they seem to do them well. Someone ordered chicken fried rice and it looked so good.

The noodle dishes give the option of house-made noodles for $1 extra.

The prices are great.

The sign outside says Szechuan, Taiwan, Shanghai, Northern Chinese, but from my conversation, there seemse to be a focus on Szechuan.

It is nice with golden slip-covered chairs, but the tables are close together. There is almost a forest of plants with good luck banners out front and a happy gurgling fountain at the door. There's a fish tank, but no fish yet. Be PATIENT. They are JUST getting things together. However, from my experience with that crab dish, it is worth waiting for them to get used to the cash registers, etc.

Credit cards accepted only if order is over $15. The prices are very reasonable so I'm not sure if that will change soon.

Next door to Sawooei Thai Cuisine and across the street from Safeway. I hope Chowhounds with more Chinese food expertise will give it a try and confirm that it is as good as I suspect. Heck ... I don't care. That crab tofu was wonderful. I'm going back soon.

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Happy Golden Bowl
10675 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA

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  1. I had no intention of ordering. I was just there to grab a take-out menu. No take-out menus yet so I took a look at the multi-page menu. I was hooked. While waiting for my soft tofu with crab roe, I jotted down a few of the items that interested me

    Golden Bowl style fish Fillet buried in chili pepper soup ... it will be interesting to see how this compares with China Village's version.

    Boiling shrimp or crayfish

    Spicy conch

    Kushiyaki - lamb, beef, chicken, chicken gizzard, chicken heart. They said this was grilled meat

    Crispy crab dumplings

    Pork shoulder or sliced bacon-cut pork (aka pork belly) with spicy garlic sauce

    Lots of kidney and tripe dishes

    Jellyfish salad and some sort of cold jelly something else

    Shisamo with salt and pepper ... what is this?

    Pork chop soup with wintermelon

    Fish fillet soup with pickled mustard

    Chinese okra with bamboo fungus soup

    Tomato with egg white soup

    Fermented bean curd ... stinky tofu?

    Steamed pork chop in lotus leaf

    Braised Donpo pork shoulder

    Dong Beig style sauteed pork

    Numbing spicy pork kidney

    Leaf tripe with blood pudding

    Intestines with pickle

    Hot and spicy fish, pork intestines with blooding cake

    Chong Quing style chile chicken

    Sad and cry hot wings ... don't ya love that name?

    Warm pots

    Cheng do style chicken cassarole

    Spicy special cold noodle with chicken in sesame sauce

    Cabbage and shredded pork

    Shanghei stir-fried rice cake with pork

    Pumpkin pancake (for dim sum ... served all day)

    Mixed congee

    Soy milk

    Chinese donuts (weekends only)

    Szechuan sweet sesame rice balls with soup

    There were some interesting photos of ice cream sundaes with only Chinese characters under them.

    Then my order came. There's lots more.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Wow- great sounding menu ....... is this where Hong Kong Restaurant used to be?

      1. re: gordon wing

        It is where Origianal Peking was located.

      2. re: rworange

        I tried an order of the "Sad And Cry" chicken wings to go. Interesting in how they accomplish the Intense heat. It's got a very sugary coating. It seems the sweetness opens your taste buds to a savage sichaun pepper assault. Rather expensive (you only get six wings in the order). The heat builds with each wing (I can take alot of heat, but the sixth wing was a challenge to finish). The heat stays on your tongue long after the meal. I did not ask for the dish "extra spicy" or anything so this is a genuinely hot dish. I'll give you that warning in case you feel like trying it.

        On another trip I tried their Ma Po Tofu (sp?). It was very well done. The Green Onion Pancake was also very nice. The Conch dish (one from the House Specialties list) was just ok, not someting I'd order again. (I'm not used to conch so I might be misjudging this dish).

      3. Wonder if this is where the chefs from the closed Great Szechuan in the 99 Ranch center landed?

        For search purposes, Sichuan, Szechwan.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks. I went with the spelling the restaurant is using.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Yup, I heard it's the same owners. Can't wait to try it, thanks for the review, Rworange!

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Yeah.. the person I spoke to said they sold Great Szechuan and opened Golden Bowl. They also own Chika Ramen in the Pacific East Mall.

              Not bad.. had the Shanghai stir-fried rice cake (a little small), Chong Qing Chicken, Pan fried Pork buns and Braised Beef Noodle Soup w/ House made noodles.

            2. I thought I recognized a couple of faces from Great Szechwan... but I am not sure- a female owner/manager, and maybe a cook/chef.

              I agree with RW; they are definitely still working out the kinks both in the service and in the kitchen. However, I think it has promise. I thought the "Spicy Combination" aka "Husband and Wife" aka "Fu Qi Fei Pian" was quite good, though I would have liked more of the tendony bits. Oddly, they don't seem to do the Ma La Tendon.

              I don't want to say more until I've had a chance to probe more into the menu, but I hope they will find a good and credible groove.

              They offer lunch specials, but I'd recommend ordering off the menu, as the prices are $1-2 lower than comparable dishes at China Village, while the specials are in th $6-7 range.

              1. Seven of us had a nice dinner here, Sunday July 5, just a few days after it opened.
                I will make a number of comparisons to China Village (CV), where we have eaten a number of times in the past few years. We ordered several of the same dishes that have been our favorites at CV, deliberately to make a valid comparison.

                We ordered #2 on the specialty page, Golden Bowl Style Fish Filet Buried in Chilies. This was the same preparation as CV's West Style Fish ($14.95), and the same large quantity (serves ten easily). There were two major differences:
                a) At CV, the waiter tweaks out every last chili and deftly serves the noodles and fish. At GB, many of the chilies were left in the soup, and we were left to our own devices to wrangle the slippery glass noodles. So CV wins this round.
                b) The broth at GB is much richer and darker than at CV. It had flecks of red pepper flakes in it, but it was not overly spicy. Perhaps it was meat-based. I liked it better than the CV version, and so did a majority. However, a minority preferred the CV version, which we agreed was more delicate.

                For cold plates, we ordered:
                #4, Pork Leg slices with spicy garlic sauce ($5.95). Thin slices, each about three inches in diameter, of gelatin, meat, tendon, encased in a roll of skin. The sauce was rich and not too spicy. This was a definite hit.
                #10, Savory Chicken Gizzard ($3.95). Very spicy (green jalapenos), ginger, cilantro, sesame oil. Thin slices of gizzard. Good, but too spicy if you happened to bite on a green chili or its seed.

                We tried the Sesame Bread (on the Dim Sum menu, #2.50). It was flat, greasy, and a very poor comparison to CV's version.

                On the Beef/Lamb page: #2 Cumin Lamb ($7.95). Rather salty; CV wins this one.
                On the Veg page: #1 Green Beans ($7.95). Appeared to be meatless. The beans tasted sweet. Very good. We do like green vegetables. I asked for Ong Choy, now in season, but they had run out; A-choy was listed on the menu.
                The Chicken/Duck page contains nary a duck dish; the waitress admitted it was "busted". She said they had Peking Duck but we weren't interested.
                On the Warm Pot page (not to be confused with the Hot Pot page): #9, Eggplant in Clay Pot ($8.50). Tasty but oily.
                On another page: #23 Intestines with Pickled Vegetable ($7.95). Very tasty; the version at China First (on Clement Street) has black beans and a sweet/sour aspect, this did not -- just salty and tart from the pickled Bok Choy. The intestine was less funky than the one at China First. I like both versions.

                Served last, and my favorite: #6 on the specialty page, Soft Tofu with Crab Roe ($10.95). A dramatic presentation: a hot ceramic bowl brought to table, bubbling sounds within, opened to reveal -- aluminum foil. Within the foil: tofu, resembling the most tender scrambled eggs with a rich taste of the sea. I could not get enough of this dish. Some found the texture off-putting. Many thanks to RW for the recommendation.

                Complimentary dessert, red bean soup with a rice ball. Not very good.

                Service was fine. The young waitress was very cheerful. A plethora of busboys. Total bill was $83, before tip. Plus we got two $4 coupons for future use.

                The clientele was mostly Asian. As we were finishing, I was recognized by a family dining nearby -- a previous connection. As we chatted I saw they had ordered pea leaves (not on the menu). They also were sucking on the bones of a duck, which was not the Peking Duck, so maybe there is a secret Chinese menu. We are all of the Caucasian persuasion.

                A previous comment says the current GB chef is from Great Szechwan; we had a chowdown there some time ago.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/531718

                A few other things:
                1. CV has brown rice, which we prefer; GB does not.
                2. CV charges $8 per bottle corkage, GB does not charge corkage; however, GB does not have wineglasses (we brought our own).
                3. We were seated at a round table suitable for eight, which was fine, but we often dine in larger groups. GB seemed to have no larger table; at CV, we have comfortably fit fourteen around a large table.
                4. The menu at CV is numbered consecutively, the GB menu is renumbered on each page; this led to some confusion in the ordering.
                5. GB is a bit of a schlep for us, further away than CV.
                6. Several of the items appeared overly salty.

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                China Village
                1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                China First
                336 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                Great Szechuan (closed
                )3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: Joel

                  Thanks. Will have to order that crab dish in the restaurant for the presentation. It just comes in a plastic deli container for takeout.

                2. Decent enough lunch of dry-fried chicken wings today; they were a little less spicy than the version at China Village. When you sit down they bring a small dish of excellent spicy pickled cabbage to nibble on. Notable about this place is that lots of the more unusual Szechuan dishes appear on the lunch combo menu, unlike at CV where the lunch specials are more, um, "classical". Prices seem to be $1-2 lower here.

                  1. Wifey and I gave it a try this evening, Mapo dofu, orange peel beef, Singapore noodles and ostensibly salt and pepper shisamo as an appetizer. First to the table was the mapo dofu, very good version of this dish annd plenty of it. Next came the orange peel beef, My wife likes thisso we ordered it as a reference dish, tasty and competently done. The Singapore noodles arrived next, a good version of the dish and again quite a large portion. After we were well into the meal the appetizer finally arrived, crispy fried beef?!?!?!?. Our waitress insisted it was salt and pepper shisamo but it was in fact thin strips of beef breaded and fied, No complaints about the dish, it was well worth eating, just nothing to do with small tasty fish.

                    All in all a good meal for 28 bucks pre tip, we'll be back.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: rworange

                        No, my wife has a thing for singapore rice noodles so we went with that. We
                        usually order more adventurously but it was late and we didn't want to go too spicy.

                        I guess we weren't the right ethnicity to qualify for the kimchi freebie, no dessert soup either.

                      2. re: Scrapironchef

                        We've been back a few times since the last posting, working our way through more of the menu, The good news is that we haven't hit a clunker yet out of 15 or so dishes and the service is improving. The downside is the concept of starting a meal with the appetizer is still foreign to them, they consistently come last. It seems the kitchen starts with the easiest thing to cook first and works their way up the ladder on your order.

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                        Happy Golden Bowl
                        10675 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA

                        1. re: Scrapironchef

                          I usually experience this when I go to an Asian restaurant -- they attempt to bring everything at once, and often what we ordered as a first course comes last.

                          So I prepare my strategy.
                          I order only what I want as a first course. They usually say "that's not enough", and I politely tell them I will order more later. Sometimes I have to reassure them that we will indeed eat more.

                          If I know what I want, I write it out in advance on separate sheets and give them the first sheet -- then when we get the first course, I give them the second sheet. Makes it easier. We even had this problem at China Village -- they'd bring everything at once. I think they've wised up , or perhaps they just know me by now.

                          I wonder if they think this is what Caucasians want -- some friends who are not used to Chinese restaurant dining will load up their individual plates with a portion of each item on the table before they begin to eat. So maybe it's assumed that we want everything at once.

                      3. Went last night to check it out. Ordered the spicy shredded tofu appetizer, tan-tan noodles, and the last item on the vegetable menu (bean curd sheets, soy bean, and cabbage). We also had the complementary szechuan kimchi (very good) and red bean soup for dessert. While we really enjoyed our meal and plan on going back, there were also a couple of issues... The appetizer never came, but was on our bill at the end (they took it off with no problem). The noodles were fantastic, but there was potential issue with our other entree. I don't eat meat, and asked ahead of time if this had meat. When it came out, it looked like meat and (according to my husband) tasted suspiciously like meat (according to my husband), but they insisted it was tofu. I've had some convincing mock-meats, but this was close enough that I couldn't eat it - my husband was happy to take care of it for me. Being an adventurous 'hound, meat sometimes happens when you don't expect it, but it might be important to double-check the seemingly veg items if 'accidental meat' might upset someone.

                        1. I went Golden bowl last night for dinner. Over all I would say it was very good.
                          We had the Szechuan Won Tons, Cucumbers with Garlic sauce, Chong Quing Chicken and A Choy with garlic.
                          The Won Tons had a nice filling and were cooked well but the sauce was to sweet and the hot oil not very hot or fragrant.
                          Cucumbers with garlic sauce were right on. Cut and peeled nice smooth garlic flavor. Light salt and heat.
                          "1000 chili chicken" was very well prepared. Crisp and near grease-less, but lacked the perfume I normally associate with this preparation. The Chilies needed a bit more oil roasting and I think some ginger and scallion added to the oil would really make the dish sing.
                          A Choy with Garlic was very good. It was properly salted, tender crisp, not swimming in oil. Greens with garlic are not really rocket science but is surprising how many restaurant screw it up.
                          I think with a little tweaking Golden Bowl can give China Village a real and local " run for it's money" especially if CV does not get back up to their old par.
                          I will definitely return to Golden Bowl and check out some of their more complex dishes.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: chefj

                            I went yesterday with a group of 10 for lunch and all of us were thoroughly disappointed. My uncle pre-ordered so I didn’t get to look at the menu and I only know most of the dish names in Chinese but here are some I think I can translate:

                            Chinese Donuts – very doughy and oily. Five Happiness in SF makes this much better.
                            Salty Soy Milk – no flavor at all, plus I heard it was not homemade
                            Sweet Soy Milk – okay, nothing special
                            Sesame Pancake – hard and doughy, not flakey at all
                            Spicy Beef Slices – the appetizer version, more numbing than flavor unfortunately
                            Tofu and Seafood Claypot – good but seafood not very fresh
                            Braised Pork Leg? – (I actually have no idea what this is called in English but in Mandarin it’s Ti Pang). This was the most disappointing dish because it’s usually my favorite and supposed to be braised for hours but instead tasted like it was just boiled and sauce was poured over it so the meat had no flavor.
                            Double Skin – no flavor at all, far cry from Great China, but I guess a little unfair to compare since Great China makes there own from scratch
                            Seafood HK noodles – this was actually my favorite, which is sad because it’s a standard dish at most Chinese restaurants

                            We had a few more spicy dishes but overall, I think the dishes were more numbing than flavorful. However, I’m not going to write this place of just yet. I think we’ll try it in another month or so. Hoping maybe the chef was off or something. I crave their green onion pancakes and spicy boiled beef from the old place.

                            Service was surprisingly attentive despite them being pretty busy. The head waitress was friendly and apologized for the kitchen delays (they burned our sesame pancakes the first two times so didn’t come out until the end of our meal.)

                            1. re: calalilly

                              I was a couple of tables away from calalilly yesterday, as it turns out (I saw the big pork leg bone on their table as I was leaving). I was also mildly disappointed. The first time there a few days ago, I saw someone eating little deep-fried dumplings, asked the hostess what they were (crab and cabbage dumplings), and yesterday asked for the same thing. What was delivered was basically crab rangoon: fried wontons stuffed with cream cheese and crabmeat, very greasy. I'll write that off as my own misunderstanding. I also had the seafood clay pot, which had decent ingredients and flavor but was much too gloppy from cornstarch. I'll let the dust settle for them and give them another try in a few weeks.

                          2. They had a banner that said 'Grand Opening 30% off for 4 Days Only' today

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: kc72

                              Did they close and reopen? Change of ownership? Different menu?

                              1. re: rworange

                                The discount is now 15%. I had lunch there today, and asked whether the ownership changed. They said no, but the menu had. They also changed the layout to allow more tables, eliminating the barrier at the front door, so maybe they did close for a while.

                                The only difference I could see on the menu was that they seem to have dropped some of the more exotic items. The first page no longer has the list of specials like soft tofu with crab roe, and the page of frog dishes is gone. But the chong qing chicken was the same as before, thoughtfully served on the wicker tray to allow the grease to drip, and you're still greeted with a bowl of kimchee with your tea and menu.

                                1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                  Dinner for one, crisp delicious dry sauteed green beans and twice cooked (bacon cut) pork with red and green jalapenos with leeks. Lovely texture and taste and not too hot or greasy considering all the red oil on the plate Left overs for breakfast tomorrow.

                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    My sister brought food home from there the other day, our first time. She absolutely hated the cold bacon cut pork in the spicy garlic sauce, which we've loved at China Village and Z&Y Garden, but i adored it. The other things they ordered were for my mom and dad and a picky girlfriend - so "regular" Chinese items - beef broccoli, a sweetish breaded fried chicken, maybe sweet and sour?, fried rice, both shrimp and chicken. I thought these items were fine enough versions, but based on that pork dish i'm going to go back to get more of the szechuan items. Do they have mapo tofu, does anyone know?

                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                      It's on the menu scan on their website from '09. I would think they'd still have it available - pretty standard.

                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                          What was different about the cold bacon cut pork that caused GF to hate it?

                                2. Stopped in to pick up some to go last night, while the food was good they're still suffering from the same hit and miss service standards I've seen in previous visits.

                                  The bacon cut pork was fine, cumin lamb spicy and tasty, Singapore noodles as good as ever, but the 1000 chili chicken? Turns out when we got home all that was in the dish was 6 deep fried unseasoned chicken wings. Seems like they got halfway done with the dish and decided the rest didn't matter. I can't give them the out that it was busy, it was 4:30 in the afternoon and only one table occupied.

                                  This is a pattern I've hit on almost every visit, mostly great with one outstanding screwup. Anyone eles have this experience?

                                  1. Sadly, this place really dropped off of our radar since the last few times we were there. The don't have some of the the things I loved when they opened, like the soft tofu with crab roe, as was already mentioned here, and the dongbei pork. The remaining authentic dishes seem to have been watered down, and they told me they were not able to sell many of the hard-core dishes, which is why they had to drop them. It's unfortunate that the SF Chron reviewed them after the menu change, which, I'm sure, didn't help. Also, the prices went up.

                                    We were also turned off by their advance-purchase card program, which gave you a built-in 10% discount. They started selling these right before they changed things, after which they had this almost perpetual restaurant-wide discount, and we were told we could not use the card we bought during those times. There's more to the story, but it was a real turn-off. We felt like it was a bait-and-switch.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: akitachow

                                      They pitched it to us at the table also, it felt unseemly. I'm pretty sure it changed hands right about the time they started it, nothing I could put a finger on but a lot of coincidental changes.