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Feb 4, 2011 12:41 PM

Gourmet Kingdom (Authentic Chinese in Carrboro) -Follow-up

Since I was the one who started the first thread just over a year ago, I thought I should do a bit of a follow-up. Buckle-up, ya' could get bumpy. And before I continue - a happy Year of the Rabbit to all of you! Since yesterday was Chinese New Year, I decided I had to have some real Chinese food, so off to Carrboro we went. It had been a while, but I can report that yes, it's still authentic. Authentic, however, is not always fantastic. We got there early because we knew the place would fill up and it did. I ordered way too much food, but after all, it was the new year and you're supposed to do that. The servers were very friendly and one even remembered me and gave me some good tips on what to order. They actually serve beer and wine now, which is great. With the exception of one spectacular dish and one rather good dish, the rest was so-so to awful. It was a lot like being in a not very good restaurant in China. The rice. I shouldn't even go there. While the steamed rice in most American Chinese restaurants is not soft enough because they're going to use most of it to make that atrocity they call fried rice here, the rice at GK was of the quality that would have thrilled only the peasants in the Chinese countryside during the Great Leap Forward under Mao when millions starved. It was the lowest grade rice one could hope to find in China. The quality of the ingredients was pretty sad overall. I could taste how bad the oil was that they had used for the stir-fried the lotus and twice-cooked pork (?yu xiang rou si). I love lotus root - where else could you get kung pao lotus root around here, but it was not great. The Tian Jin dumplings were such a huge disappointment on New Year's especially. I know this is a Szechuan place and it's not their specialty, but they were inedible and.... grayish and gross. I'm having painful flashbacks as I write. We barely touched them. The strange thing was that there was one dish which was spectacular and I ordered it by mistake - thought it was something else I had had there in the past which was also great. Szechuan-style deep-fried fish slices. It was light and amazing and sprinkled with just the right amount of ground Szechuan peppercorns. Truly outstanding. We had a few other dishes which left me seriously unimpressed. I don't know if I'll be back or not. While I love authentic Chinese food and I know a place like that isn't going to source local veg and happy chickens, there's a certain level of quality of ingredients that just has to be there.

Gourmet Kingdom
301 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510

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  1. Every restaurant has a bad night. I hope that's the explanation and not something more serious like a change in commitment to authenticity.

    I had carryout from GK a few weeks ago. It was very good. Better than I've had from there before. I ordered Chairman Mao's braised pork for the first time. I really liked it as an alternative to twice cooked pork. If you order it, be aware, it's fatty that's the way Mao liked it apparently.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Tom from Raleigh

      Chinese new year is a crazy day, so maybe that's it. It was their 1st one....
      I was there last week had Ma Po Tofu, and fresh pea shoots (the waiter told me they'd been delivered fresh that morning) sauteed with garlic. It's was great. Their tofu is homemade & has a custard texture, really good & the place is packed with Chinese people. I'd say 90%

      1. re: Rory

        We did come early because knowing it was Chinese New Year, I figured there would be a lot of people. I also thought that there would be some good dumplings. There was not excuse for putting those gray dumplings on a plate and on our table. For me not to eat a dumpling, it's gotta be really bad.

      2. re: Tom from Raleigh

        Hmm, Mao's braised pork I think is made of fatback/pork belly. Really easy to make at home if you're interested Tom!

        1. re: Tom from Raleigh

          It's not the commitment to authenticity I put into question, but commitment to quality. I'm really glad to hear you had a good experience. The thing is I'm really not that picky about having everything perfect and I really really want them to succeed. I felt like I had to write this because I had been one of their biggest cheerleaders. Admittedly, I haven't been very frequently - if I lived closer I probably would go more often. Let's hope it was a bad night.

        2. I'm not an expert on Chinese food and it sounds like you are. But I've been going back at least once a week for the kung pao lotus root and green onion fried tea-smoked duck.
          I wouldn't recommend the dumplings either, and the sauce just tastes like vinegar and soy sauce. But the quality of those two entrees is so good every time I go there it will always keep me coming back. Just thinking about them is making me want to go get some right now.
          I'm excited to try these fried fish slices you refer to.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rajeevofcarrboro

            I've had those fried fish slices and they really are great. But while I'm thrilled to hear that they now have beer and wine now, I'm really disappointed about the quality (especially of that lotus root - I loved that dish). Re-used oil is gross. Can you smell the oil coming from the place when you go by?

            1. re: LulusMom

              For me, okay lotus root is better than no lotus root. Unlike the dumplings, it was still edible. No I couldn't smell the oil coming from the place, but it was pretty clear that the oil that was used in a couple of our dishes was not the best. But considering everyone else's response to my criticism, let's just hope that I just happened to be on the receiving end of some not so great dishes.

          2. I have to disagree with my experience which was also on Chinese New Year. My co-workers and I actually sat just a table down from Suse and I spotted her on the way out. I had the Kung Pao Lotus Root and the Twice Cooked Pork and found both to be good. We had one lady from China with us and she also said it tasted good. She laughed when I told her all the things I've tried (and about eating the eyeball). She said I have tastes similar to her culture. We also had a duck dish and an appetizer special. I don't know the name because the owner and aforementioned co-worker ordered it in Chinese. We had a whole fish dish which was in a reddish brown sauce that was.. tangy. I want to say the name was phonetically like Lao Tse Ho Woo, but don't hold me to that. We luckily ordered an even number of dishes but it was all good at our table. We were told that the original chef did leave and then it had a down period, but that some people came after to cook traditional food and so that was why we may have seen reports about it all going downhill for bit. Can't tell ya anything else except, Suse, I hope the next time is better.

            3 Replies
            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              Thanks. It was nice to run into you, B. I'm glad you stopped me as I dashed by and that you guys had a better experience. At least they're sticking with the Szechuan menu. I think I'll eventually make it back there, but at least I know now not to order the dumplings. I do think they have some good stuff, and the first two times we went I thought it was really good, but my husband agreed that it was not what it had been quality-wise this time around.

              1. re: suse

                Yeah thank goodness. I'd fuss and fight over having to go all the way to Cary, but I'd still do it just not as often as going to a place near work. Yes the KP Lotus Root is one of my faves. I suggest it to anyone who isn't use to that type of cuisine as a good introductory dish because it isn't overly spicy but it is still different.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  I was there last night, Chinese food isn't my area so I won't comment on authenticity-quality. But I can report the place is still packed 90% Chinese: students, young families.. And there was no horrible used-oil flavour in our food. My father had the Mao's pork belly & loved it so thanks.