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Great China (Berkeley) still great

Late lunch today, just a couple of hours after its 11:55am opening. Could not order some favorites (like Double Skin) due to non meat eating dining companion, but everything we had was as good or better than the pre fire renditions. Walnut Prawns were great, as were the Oyster Mushrooms with Golden Chives and the Guo Ta Tofu. Best development was, however, the Fish and Vegetable Dumplings, which were much improved. Noodle wrappers were more tender, lacking the gumminess that could be an issue at times in the past. Welcome back to an old friend!

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  1. Isn't the whole point of Great China the Peking duck?

    6 Replies
    1. re: PeterL

      maybe not if your dining companion is a " non meat eater"

      1. re: PeterL

        The Peking Duck is good, but it's not my favorite thing at Great China. Other standouts include the Double Skin (amazing combination of hot and cold, crunchy, chewy, and slippery ingredients topped with a spicy mustard sauce), the Crab Buns, the Tan Soo Yook (Korean Chinese sweet & sour beef), the embarrassingly tasty Walnut Prawns, and the Shredded Pork w/ Dried Tofu. Of course I was limited to veg and seafood for this outing, but I plan to do a better job next time.

        There are several new additions to the menu that I am excited to try as well. I don't remember seeing Cumin Lamb or Cumin Beef in the past. Same goes for Wok Braised Beef Shank, Five Spice Braised Lamb Shank, Shredded Pork & Lions Head, and one of my all time faves, Mei Cai Ko Ro (braised pork belly with fermented greens). There are also a few attractive new desserts, but they are a low priority for me.

        1. re: lexdevil

          The mei cai kou rou was one of my favorites at the old place. They had cumin lamb on the old menu as well.


          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I don't know how I missed them, as many times as I ate there. Probably just too fixated on the Double Skin.

          2. re: lexdevil

            I went as part of a party of 10 last night. We asked for a wine pairing with some of our courses and had some of the best pairings I have ever had for any Asian food.

            I really enjoyed the Tang Soo Yook, the crab buns, and the surf clams. We debated our duck preferences while eating the tea smoked duck. Their version was the moistest I have tried, but is still a bit too dry for my taste. Others at the table felt that standard Cantonese roast duck is too fatty and prefer the drier tea smoked version where much of that is rendered out. I did appreciate the delicious skin and the penetration of smokey flavor throughout the duck.

            The one dish I would not order again there is the mei cai ko ro. The non-fatty parts were dry and the dominant flavor was soy sauce. Shanghai restaurant has a much better version, which I am eating tonight.

            For dessert we tried the tofu flower, which is a gelatin-based tofu dessert. Because of the gelatin, the texture is more like almond jello than soft tofu. I really liked the palm sugar syrup. Many Chinese desserts are an acquired taste, and I don't think my dining companions enjoyed this dessert as much as I did.

          3. re: PeterL

            I always preferred the tea-smoked duck.

          4. Old favorites:

            "double skin"
            stir-fried mushrooms with cabbage
            sautéed crab meat
            fried oysters
            steamed surf clams
            fish & vegetable dumplings (never had gummy ones)
            Chung King crispy chicken
            wok-braised lamb
            Mandarin lamb
            tea-smoked duck
            pork belly with preserved vegetable (mei cai kou rou)
            duck bone soup

            1. I've had the chicken curry (more spicy) and the ma po tofu for lunch the last 2 days and both were as I remember and excellent.

              Price for lunch has gone up a dollar and they have been very busy until 2 or so.

              1. I went there last night, and everything ran out even for takeout. No liquor license yet so we couldn't even hang out at the bar. The son of the owner(?) was very polite and apologetic to us. The decor is so drastically more modern and western than the old place. My suggestion is to wait a bit before visiting them for dinner.

                2 Replies
                1. re: vincentlo

                  I took out lunch again today. I had never had their eggplant chicken and it was very good.

                  It does seem that the demand at lunch is taxing the kitchen. At 2, they were suspending takeout and quoting a 20 minute wait. Too much of a good thing? This is, after all, a soft opening. They are entitled to take some time to iron out the wrinkles before the students come back.

                  I'll be working next week and living over there at lunchtime! So glad they are back!

                  1. I went with a party of 6 last night and we had 7pm reservations. I had never been to the restaurant pre-fire, but it was my husband's favorite Chinese place. We were able to order everything we wanted, except for alcohol. It was too bad we didn't know this ahead of time, as our group could have easily brought several bottles of good wine for the dinner.

                    Overall I thought the food ranged from good to great. The dishes that I would order again are the walnut shrimp, the shredded pork with golden chives, the loofah squash, and perhaps the double skin. The Peking duck, fried oysters, and ginger scallion crab were good but did not stand out from other renditions, whereas the other dishes did.

                    I was told that the Peking duck pre-fire was served with buns, and they are now served with pancakes. While the skin was crispy and well separated from the meaty parts of the duck, the dish overall lacked duck flavor, the deboned meat underneath was not juicy and instead slightly dried out. It could've been mistaken for chicken thigh.

                    The loofah squash, on the other hand, was a humble dish that impressed me. The pieces were juicy, silky, and flavored with high quality dried shrimp and golden chives.

                    The service was excellent - everyone was very attentive and they did a great job of transferring our partially eaten dishes to smaller plates to make room for new dishes coming out.

                    I can't wait to return to try more dishes on the menu.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: felice

                      BYOB is illegal in California if the restaurant does not have a liquor license.

                      1. re: felice

                        I was told that the Peking duck pre-fire was served with buns


                        Not true. It was always with very thin wrappings.

                      2. Went there last night (a Friday) in a party of 6. A two-hour wait, but overall I thought they managed it pretty well. They called us when our table was ready (we put our name down at 6pm, they called at 8pm), we returned to the restaurant, and that was that.

                        I'd never been to the original location, but I have to say, the experience was pretty fantastic. We had the Peking duck, the double skin, the crab bun, the snow pea leaves, and the Westlake soup. All were either outstanding or very good. The service was quick and efficient -- if they have any new-location kinks to work out, I didn't notice them.

                        I'd happily go back there, but maybe not with a two hour wait. I am guessing that the crowds will die down a little after the reopening frenzy is over, or so I hope, anyway.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: dunstable

                          FYI, I think Great China has always done reservations for parties of six or more, but now you can make those reservations online too...


                          1. re: abstractpoet

                            They posted on Facebook that they're not using SeatMe. Phone or email with confirmation only.

                            Waits were always long this time of year and on weekends.

                          2. re: dunstable

                            Went Monday after 8:00, was just starting to empty out, probably waited 20 minutes or so.

                            Double skin, king oyster mushrooms with cabbage, steamed surf clam, all great as ever. Fried oysters were delicious but the batter was a little thick, that's not an easy thing to make perfectly so maybe one of the new fry cooks needs more practice.

                            The new five-spice braised lamb shank was good. That's a sort of fusion dish, James Yu said they don't cook lamb that way in Shandong but it's his favorite cut so they patterned the dish after red-cooked beef.

                            No fish and vegetable dumplings.

                          3. My lunch this week was good, but service was ... chaotic.

                            First I was seated, then I was asked to move to a different table. (Ok no problem, it's a communication error.)
                            Then I ordered a prawn dish. After a long wait, (understood, they are busy) the server placed a chicken dish in front of me. Again, a struggle to get someone's attention. Mistake was acknowledged. I chose to keep the chicken instead of waiting for them to prepare the correct dish. Different price, agreed.
                            Never a refill on water. The bill, when finally received, had the higher price for the prawn dish that I didn't get to enjoy. I paid it nonetheless cause it was too hard to get someone's attention.
                            Overall impression: they are overwhelmed. Conclusion: I will wait a while before I go back, and allow them time to make adjustments to the new restaurant -- it's quite a huge shift in scale from the old location. I hope they can improve the service to match the quality of the food.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: escargot3

                              They had things under control Monday night. Maybe the lunch shift is more of a work in progress.

                              1. re: escargot3

                                I walked in just before 2, ordered Ginger Scallion Prawns to go, sat down to read the paper and was out the door just after I started a 2nd section. With the increased space and larger tables, they do have more large groups. Maybe that is affecting service. Working this week under deadline pressure and their lunches have kept me going. At 2, the place was 2/3's full with no wait.

                                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                  We went just after 2:00 on Saturday. Can confirm that there was no wait and that the food is as great as ever.

                              2. Still no fish and vegetable dumplings last night, but the pork and seafood dumplings were great. Eggplant with hot garlic sauce, nappa with dried shrimp, snow pea leaves with garlic, and kung pao tofu were all really good.

                                Got there a little after nine and were seated immediately. They said yesterday was the least crazy since they opened, but they're totally booked through NYE so it was probably a momentary lull.

                                1. From an e-mail I got from 'Great China' this morning...

                                  "We’ll be closed Tuesdays from January 7th onward for a bit to give us time to adjust our staff and processes to the increased business. It’s a good problem to have."

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: slew

                                    One of the sons told me Saturday, that it would be Mondays that they would be closing next week. Your email must be an update on that issue.

                                    While trying to meet an hellacious project deadline this month, I have now eaten lunch to go from Great China 7 days. I've had chicken curry extra spicy once each of the last 3 weeks. It was excellent every time and exactly the same as it used to be. I had beef chow mein Saturday and it was richer than I remembered. If it wasn't for those lunches, not sure how I would have approached meeting my deadline.

                                  2. I went last night to celebrate a birthday. We had a reservation for 9--we were in the restaurant from 7:30 - 9:30 or so on a Friday, and while it was pretty crowded the whole time, the wait didn't seem like it would be totally unmanageable if you showed up without a reservation.

                                    Just a heads up, even though they still list several set-menu dinners on their website, they are no longer listed on the printed menu. I asked and they were able to accommodate the Great China Dinner for 8 at a cost of $20 per person, but it didn't seem like they were planning to do this regularly.

                                    The food was all exactly as I remembered from many grad school visits--I'd forgotten how good the walnut prawns were. No wine yet, but they're working on the licensing.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: tripit

                                      We walked in Sunday night around 8 and the wait was around an hour.

                                    2. OMG, so very happy fish dumplings are back!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Crabpaws

                                        Had Great China's fish dumplings 3 times in the last couple of months.

                                        First time: Dough too thick. No better or worse than any dumpling place.

                                        Second time: Excellent, but not ethereal.

                                        Third time: Quite good, a cut above, but not excellent.

                                        So, it looks like fish dumplings are back to normal. Definitely worth ordering.

                                        (Didn't they used to come on a bed of chopped lettuce or cabbage? They don't anymore. I miss the garnish, it helped drain the water.)

                                        Great China's wonton soup is not worth ordering -- very stingy on anything but broth. Order only if you want a nice bowl of broth.

                                        PS You can generally walk in at lunch.

                                      2. Has anybody been to Great China recently? Melanie Wong reported that the beer and wine license came through in January--was wondering if they have a program set up yet. Also wondering how difficult it is to score a table these days!

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: tripit

                                          I poked my head in last Friday around lunchtime, and it was packed. (I ended up at Build instead.) Hard to imagine a weekend dinner has gotten much easier, if at all.

                                          1. re: tripit

                                            Good wine list. Hour-plus waits at peak times. Reservations for parties of six or more only.

                                            1. re: tripit

                                              I have noticed several times that lunchtime on Wednesdays, the day after they are closed, isn't that crowded after 1:30 or so. Most days, even by 2, it is packed.

                                              1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                I went today for the first time since they re-opened. I got there at 11:22 and they open for lunch at 11:30. There were still lots of seats available at 12:15 when I finished.
                                                In short: disappointing.
                                                I ordered the lunch special (I know, hard to get a good judgement of a place this way). But I ordered one that was marked "house special" Shredded Pork with Hot Garlic Sauce $8.49.
                                                Soup came first, Hot and Sour Soup, excellent (no meat). Perfect balance of flavor. The main dish was too sweet, too gloppy, not spicy, not much garlic. There was a nice bowl of micro-green salad. The egg roll was doughy and I could not eat it. Serving size was fine, service was very good -- lots of servers and busboys.

                                                1. re: Joel

                                                  Too bad. I had the Shredded Pork with String Beans & Mushrooms off the lunch menu a couple of times and it was excellent -- like grandmothers make.

                                            2. Got in around 6:15 last night after about a 15 minute wait. It was our first visit since the reopen.

                                              Ordered the double skin, surf clam, walnut prawns, and the tan soo yook. Made the mistake of ordering two sweet, and battered & fried dishes.

                                              The double skin was good but I would ask for more mustard next time.

                                              The surf clam was new to me and was pretty good although a bit oily.

                                              Walnut prawns and tan soo yook were okay, but I wouldn't bother ordering them again. The batter on the prawns was too thick, and the sweet cucumbers in the tan soo yook was just too odd to me.

                                              Nice large portion sizes though.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                                I think tan soo yook is the only dish I've had at Great China that I haven't liked better than Chef Yu's version.

                                              2. Tried the spicy squid, it's barely spicy but quite good.

                                                Finally got there when they had not run out of fish dumplings. Delicate and wonderful.

                                                They currently have a lovely 1988 Mosel Riesling by the glass. Get some while you can.

                                                It might be a little quieter than usual at lunchtime this week because Cal is on spring break.

                                                1. Walked in Monday night around 7:30, busy but not full, got seated immediately.

                                                  Tried the twice-cooked pork, very good, that goes on my short list.

                                                  Had Ants Climbed the Tree for the first time since the fire, great dish.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Due to the rain Monday, at about 2 there were very few people in the place. I walked in and they finished preparing my beef chow mein in the time it took me to eat a bowl of soup.

                                                  2. There was an off-menu special of king trumpet mushrooms with garlic scapes the other night. Tasty and different. Short season.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      For a first timer party of 4, I'd welcome a list of "must haves" and "don't bothers."

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Heh, I guessed you were just going to link the entire thread.

                                                          1. re: Civil Bear

                                                            The permalink is easier than "see my post of Dec. 13, 2013, above."

                                                    2. I tried this place for the first time today... Living in Saratoga, where i can easily hit Cupertino and Milpitas, I assumed this "random" resto inBerkeley had to be all hype. Of course, I hadn't sone any reviews as my in laws who are cal. Grads sprung this on me at the last minute.

                                                      Anywho, I won't cover the crab buns or gua tuo tofu, which have been well covered. However, the duck soup, which uses sour cabbage, is the best rendition I've ever had and the stir fried beef cheek was a pleasant surprise, with rich fatty chunks of beef in a flavorful and not too salty brown sauce. In retrospect, i should have ordered the surf clams but didn't ask and the menu isn't very descriptive. But now that ice had a chance to read the online reviews, it sounds right up my alley. The big surprise for me was the Chinese chicken salad... I know, totally an Americanized dish, but the chicken was nicely fried, still tender with a light batter coating and the dressing had just enough mustard kick to balance the sweetness. I really enjoyed this version.