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Mar 25, 2012 10:06 AM

Happy Golden Bowl in El Cerrito - Good Sichuan Eats

Went to Happy Golden Bowl AKA Old Sichuan (in Chinese) in El Cerrito across the street from Safeway and Marshall's last night. Was quite surprised with the food there and it's pretty darn good not to mention uber cheap and authentic. We ordered the following:

1. Green onion pancakes for the kids - Good
2. Water boiled fish - Very good
3. Fuqi Feipian (Couple's sliced lung - sliced beef and beef tripe in spicy sauce) - Very good
4. Sliced beef tendons - Good
5. Chendu plain jello - Meh, it was okay, tasted too much like the previous two dishes
6. Cross the bridge rice noodles - Excellent
7. Sliced lamb in iron pot and hot rocks - Good
8. Pocket tofu - Very good
9. Stir-fried A-chai with garlic- Excellent
10. Five inner stew - Not that good
11. Steam rice for 6 adults and 2 kids

They also had sesame bread, but since we had rice and green onion pancakes we did not partake. The highlights were the Water Boiled Fish which was more like a soup than your usual Water Boiled Beef which is oily and saucy. It had soy bean sprouts with lots of fish slices and peppers. It's enough to serve 10 people. The Cross the Bridge Rice Noodles were also excellent. It's a soupy rice noodle dish with very rich and dense pork bone broth with Chinese chives, thinly sliced Virginia ham, pork, and shrimp. The Pocket Tofu and A-chai with garlic was also good.

The cold dishes: Husband and wife, plain jello, beef tendons all had the same type of Sichuan chili oil sauce, so it was only okay as I've had it so many times now that they all taste the same after awhile - spicy and numbing. The Five Inner Stew pot was my least favorite, a little too gamy and not enough spices. The sliced lamb in iron pot and hot stones was more of a gimmick to me than a really good dish. Sort of like rebirth of sizzling platter 2.0 for ooohs and ahhhs. Also, the dishes were a little too salty, but that's Chengdu cuisine for you. I would ask for less salt next time.

Overall the food was really good and only $120 out the door with tips and tax included which I thought was very cheap for authentic Sichuan cuisine. The service was prompt and portion was good as well. Oh yea, Sichuan pickles and red bean soup dessert included in the meal.

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  1. What does lung taste like?? Or more importantly, what is the texture?

    5 Replies
    1. re: arktos

      Sorry, the name in suggest "Married Couple's Sliced Lung" in Chinese, but it's really just sliced beef and tripe. It was actually tripe and not lungs.

      1. re: theSauce

        that's a pretty extensive menu they've got. but i'm surprised i didn't see mapo dofu on the menu? I'd go for the cold spicy garlicky pork and tan tan noodles alone. but i need to expand my sichuan palate, so, thanks for this!

      2. re: arktos

        I've been told it's illegal to serve lung in California. The way they prepare it in Tuscany you might mistake it for a portobello mushroom.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Not just California.
          "In 1971 the US Wholesale Meat Act was amended to declare lungs unfit for human consumption. "

      3. The address is 10675 San Pablo Ave near Moeser Lane. That Safeway has been closed and moved to the Rolls Royce Safeway north of Potrero near the BART Station.

        1. I had a wonderful dinner there tonight:

          (1) a fluffy layered sesame pancake that blew the breads I've had at China Village out of the water and whose crust's flavor reminded me of a sesame bagel fresh out of the oven. The rice flour based dough is baked then fried and had no tough bits, just fluff and crunch. Not at all greasy.
          (2) a delicious complimentary pickled cabbage
          (3) a dan dan noodles with preserved vegetable, chili oil, and a subtle amount of sesame paste. I never had China Village's, but this was the best version I've eaten in the Bay Area. Not enough chile oil (I forgot to specify), but the overall dish was well flavored.
          (4) duck with chili oil and soy beans. The soybeans give this dish a very fresh edge. Well prepared and homey, but no "wow" factor.

          One dish that caught my eye was the chicken with taro, but they were out of taro. I declined the substitution suggested by the server, potato, and told her I had a bad experience with that substitution a few years back. Heh, reading another thread, I'm realizing that that bad experience was at the owner's former restaurant, Great Szechuan.

          13 Replies
          1. re: hyperbowler

            I don't know why HGB doesn't get the love that CV receives. Perhaps the dishes are inconsistent at times. I.e. no taro when you're about 5 min. Away from 99 ranch.

            1. re: theSauce

              One difference is the lack of chalkboard specials at HGB, which were quite numerous at China Village. I also asked the server if there were any seasonal specials, and she said no. Most of the negative reports were from a few years ago, so I would like to hear if they've improved over time, or if maybe if I lucked out.

              Heh, since they didn't have taro when they were next door to 99 Ranch, I wonder if this dish might be an eternal carrot (or more purple root) dangling in front of me.

            2. re: hyperbowler

              Somehow it has always been closed when I have happened by and was hungry (though their webpage says they're open 24 hours), but the sesame pancake picture has motivated me to reprioritize this one. I've noticed on the online menu has a few home made noodle dishes (which I'm taking from the characters to be cut noodles). Has anyone had these?

              1. re:

                They are closed Tuesdays now. Their hours seem to be roughly 11-9, 11-10 depending on the day...later on weekends.

                I was there for lunch yesterday and had a very good dan dan mian and great twice-cooked pork. Can't complain!

                1. re:

                  Their web site says:

                  Open 7 Days a week Sun – Thu 11:00 Am – 9:30 Pm Fri – Sat 11:00 Am – 10:00 Pm

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Can't rely on the website. I was there yesterday. Handwritten sign in the window says they are closed on Tuesday. I've driven by at least a couple times on a Tuesday and noticed they were closed.

                    I promise this is true!

                    1. re: sambamaster

                      I was responding to "their webpage says they're open 24 hours."

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Ha, I think I was trying to put too many thoughts together when I said the website says they are open "24 hours". I knew I'd been there on a Monday mid-day and they hadn't been open, as well as the Tuesday mentioned by sambamaster. The current signs on the door clear it up--closed on Tuesday and from 3-4:30 every day. Anyway, I finally made it to Happy Golden Bowl. The menu is extraordinarily long, the sections confusing, and the English translations not that descriptive. There seem to be a lot of interesting choices with only a one section nod to "Classic" American Chinese. The former China Village waiter who is the expert in serving the West Lake Fish soup (with 1000 chilis) as he can cut the glass noodles with chopsticks was the waiter here. I ended up ordering the spicy fish with soft, house-made tofu from the first section of the menu and the sesame bread. I thought this would be a ma la dish in chili oil, as I'd had that preparation elsewhere, but after ordering the waiter walked halfway across the room, turned back, and warned me that it was a soup. I confirmed that it was okay with me. It turned out to be Suāncài Yú which Fuchsia Dunlap describes as a new-style dish, created in Chongqing in the 1980's. This version had carp, soft tofu, and preserved mustard greens in a chicken broth with a lot of sichuan peppercorns, some chopped pickled chilis, and some slightly charred ginger and scallions. The broth was tasty and a bit thick. Good, but the sichuan peppercorn taste was fairly strong so it is the sort of thing that might work best as a small bowl at the start of a meal (though the portion is huge--better bring a while table). The sesame bread is a bit different than China Village's. Mine seemed freshly fried, and quite fluffy, while the China Village version I remember as denser and from the oven. This sesame bread had a really good crust around the outside and was surprisingly sweet. I thought I would get sick of eating it due to the sweetness, though that turned out not to be the case. I'll be back to explore more of the menu.

                  2. re:

                    The hand-cut noodle dish (probably the seafood chow mein) I had was uneven. Literally--some of the noodles were overcooked and some were undercooked. It might have been an off day, though. Try them and report back!

                    1. re:

                      we went for the first time this Sun, because the menu has one of my spouse's favorite dishes, Shanghai rice cakes, and had a hunch we could get one of our favorite dishes from China Village if we requested it off-menu. minutes after getting seated, our waiter came by and we realized he was a long time regular staff from CV, having just recently started work here. verified they had fresh crab, and made our off menu request which was immediately accepted. the waiter then mentioned that their chef formerly worked at CV.

                      the other dishes we tried included veg chow mein with the hand cut noodles, and pea shoots sauteed w. garlic.

                      Ma Po doufu crab, the off menu request, had had some inconsistencies in execution over the years at CV, but this version was at least as good as any we've tried, perhaps better because of the spicing. it was light on the ground pork, and what set it apart was the 'toastiness' of the spices ; their complexity was better developed with a nutty note.

                      the hand cut noodles were irregular in shape and thickness, as one expects with this technique, but were cooked uniformly enough. what made the dish less than ideal was the amount of oil -- borderline excessive -- and two green veg's a bit overcooked, giving them less color, crunch, flavor than the ideal. perhaps the cook was too liberal with the bean sprouts, which diluted and steamed the other veg. the Shanghai rice cakes were also on the oily side, especially compared to those at Bund Shanghai that we use as a benchmark. the pea shoots were well prepared.

                      Sichuan Fusion in the Pacific east mall has a menu pretty similar to Happy Golden Bowl, and overall we probably prefer the cooking there, which has a lighter touch. we'll return however the next time we're in the mood for Ma Po doufu crab, and try some different dishes.

                      1. re: moto

                        Had the Ma Po plain on the lunch menu. Met my spiciness level with quite moist bald spot, my heat meter.

                    2. re: hyperbowler

                      You were lucky that they checked with you on the substitution. I was there Thursday and ordered the iron pot (sort of a chafing dish apparatus) of smoked ham, green beans and potatoes. When the iron pot was served the waiter said he hoped I could eat seafood because they substituted shrimp, squid and snow peas for ham and green beans. There were potatoes in there. It was OK, especially the sauce. Also had an order of potstickers which were pretty good later cold with hot sauce which is like China Villages chili puree with black beans, but not quite as good.

                      The next day I had black bean sauce fish at Little Hong Kong down the street and frankly, I enjoyed that a lot more than HGB. Little Hong Kong seems to be the bastion of Cantonese comfort food and retiree group luncheons.

                    3. After my solo meal last weak, I returned for lunch with a friend. We found out that there's been a new chef for the past few months.

                      They had a short specials board in English at the front of the restaurant, and a longer list of specials in Chinese at the table that the server translated for us. I hadn't seen this last time I was there, so maybe they only do this on the weekend or I arrived too late the other night. The specials included a crab dish, two types of pork shoulder, and an eel dish.

                      The pickled cabbage was again great.

                      Finally, I got taro! The beef stew with walnuts and taro was a special and was fantastic. A good range of meat bits, including a few great pieces of al dente tendon for lack of a better term. Taro and walnuts paired nicely. It's topped with cilantro.

                      The hand shaved noodles are hidden on the bottom of the noodle section of the menu, so thanks to "tm" for alerted us to them. We got the chicken hand shaved noodles and this dish was better executed than the equivalent I've had at Darda and Sichuan Fusion. The noodles were more consistently sized than at Darda, and slightly longer on average than at Sichuan Fusion. They were about as evenly cooked as I would expect for this preparation. "ernie in berkeley" did you have your uneven experience recently, or was that with the previous chef?

                      The chicken in the hand shaved noodles was the most tender stir fried chicken I can remember eating. Very flavorful too for white meat. The dish overall wasn't as greasy as the equivalent at Sichuan Fusion, but definitely not light on the oil.

                      This was our first time eating twice cooked pork outside of an Americanized Chinese preparation, and we both preferred it. Some of the bacon slices were a bit tougher than others, but none too much, and we enjoyed their contrast to the leeks. I'd like to try this again with more spicing.

                      The chinese celery with pressed bean curd provided a fresh and mild side dish to balance out the heavier fare.

                      The beef with fresh chili and tofu also was great. The beef was flavorful and very soft and served above thin squares of soft tofu.

                      The servers checked in multiple times to make sure the level of spice was okay (my friend wanted things flavorful, but not too spicy). With eight dishes down, any one of which I'd happily get again, I've actually had better luck here than my few times at China Village.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: hyperbowler

                        Yes, I last had the noodle dish a few years ago.

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          Visited yesterday and had the hand-shaved noodles with pork. They are my opinion.

                          Also had, from the blackboard specials, something they called "Sichuan Roasted Lamb" or something to that effect. It was actually quite good, and a bit different. Sort of a "dry fried" approach, no sauce to speak of, lamb slices nicely stir fried with chiles, sesame seeds, crunchy garlic, a tiny bit of cumin, mounded on a pile of barely cooked green onions. It was delish! I'd order it again.

                          This place needs more love and attention, folks! Go check it out...

                          1. re: sambamaster

                            That sounds great. Did it look like a deboned/deskewered version of this dish from Z&Y?


                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              Not exactly...the lamb was thinly sliced, extremely tender while a the same time verging on being a bit crisp! But not quite. And not that much garlic, just enough. I'd say very balanced and extremely yummy. ( I mixed the leftover lamb with the leftover noodles and had an amazing second meal, but don't tell them, please!)

                          2. re: hyperbowler

                            My wife and I had dinner there last night. We had Chong Qing Chicken, Cumin Lamb, Sesame Bread, and braised Bok Choy and mushrooms.

                            The Cumin Lamb was very tender, not gritty from the cumin which a less careful prep can be, but because its wok cooked and not grilled, it doesn't get the charred bits. There's almost no heat to this dish. Could be that they altered the prep because we're not Chinese. Nice but would have been better had it been more Uigur style or had fresh green chiles in the stir fry. Still, excellently done in a technical sense.

                            The Bok Choy came out next and it was still bright green, tender and not overcooked. The mushroom caps were juicy and flavorful. The dish was good, too salty on its own but maybe this was so to serve as a contrast to the sesame bread.

                            The Sesame Bread is a guilty pleasure. As has been noted previously, there are layers in the bread and its blandness but nice soft interior contrasted to the outside surface and its toasted sesame seeds is nice. What it is good for is the contrast of texture and blandness against the more intense flavors of the other dishes.

                            The Chong Qing Chicken came out last and that's basically chicken wings cut into little pieces deep fried and served with a garlic, ginger, green onion, sichuan pepper, dried red chiles and rock salt mix. The fry technique is perfect and the spicy salty condiment is really nice. The piney scent of the sichuan pepper is present in every bite. We mopped up the spice mixture with the bread. The crunch of the rock salt is fabulous.

                            This was a large amount of food, excellently prepared, and it was about $50 with tip.

                            I do think that they have toned the impact of the chiles to meet their normal customer base. We told the head waiter that we liked chiles and that my wife is Mexican but I don't think it availed us much. Several years ago, the first time I had water boiled beef at China Village, it was a painful pleasure. Now its good but not a whack you over the head take-no-prisoners sort of dish, and maybe that's happened at Ancient Szechuan too. The chiles are more show than go - cooking them whole adds some flavor but little heat and to my mind diminishes the dish. Probably to most, the reduced use of chiles is a good thing.

                            In any event this is a worthwhile place to go.