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Jun 4, 2014 01:05 PM

BHM - Great Wall Chinese - The Real Deal

Serious kudos go to Brian C for bringing Great Wall back to everyone on Yelp's attention. Like Brian notes, this is the real deal based on my experience with various Chinese cuisines (albeit in major US cities, not actually in China). Sally and I pigged out recently for lunch and we may have a new favorite (yes even over Red Pearl but not 100% yet).

The Pan Fried Buns are fantastic and served with (black) Chinkiang Vinegar. I made the mistake of opening one and perhaps it was slightly underdone but I have also learned sometimes to just eat my food and quit playing with it. They are cooked for 25 minutes so it had to be done. I also requested chili oil for dipping and they were happy to provide. 6 sizable buns for $8. RP makes nothing like this.

Next came a bunch of family style dishes split between the two of us. Yes we had leftovers. We ordered:

1. Sautéed green beans. These are excellent but lack the char one might find at RP. However, they are served with plenty of ground meat so be forewarned (this is a common theme on “Vegetable” headers for lots of Chinese restaurants). I loved them but would have liked a little more blackened skin. $7.95 and a little larger in portion size than at RP.

2. Fried Squid with Salt & Pepper. $12.95 but twice the size of the “salted crispy squid” at RP for $9.99. These were pretty amazing but I do prefer them to be a little more salty a la RP, plus RP had more jalapenos and fried cilantro which is delicious.

3. Spicy chicken which is not on the online menu but is available and amazing. The price was probably around $10.95 like the most expensive chicken dishes on the menu but this dish was fantastic. Not quite as “ma la” or plain all out spicy as the version at RP (7.99) but definitely twice the size. Plus sometimes the dish at RP gets ridiculously spicy.

4. Hot Spicy Fish Fillet with Tofu for $12.95. This dish was good but we prefer the fried version at RP. I wish RP’s had silky tofu as well though. You can’t always get what you want.

The waiter and perhaps the owner came by to say hello and ask how everything was plus really seemed cool with our baby sitting beside us for lunch telling us how she will grow up eating like us! I believe she also said their new chef of 3 months is from Shanghai so will have to look into some Shanghai favorites (Lion’s head meatballs for one, as I saw meatballs on the menu).

This was a lot of food but we also had a tab of about $62 before tip which is spendy for lunch. We typically over order at RP too but leave for under $40. Most of the time we have leftovers and we had a decent amount here even after stuffing ourselves.

The most important thing to remember here is that we now have options in BHM. RP covers the gamut while Mr. Chen’s strong suit is Taiwanese. Great Wall may focus on Shanghai options but not entirely. I also heard that the Black Pearl now has some more authentic dishes.

I, for one, welcome our new Chinese overlords and thank UAB for being around to help lure people here to town.

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  1. Man, that sounds good Dax. I definitely need to try it. Although I have not had a chance to try it either, the Black Pearl menu I reviewed online is much improved over what it was when they moved within the Colonnade plaza; the Chinese portion is more like it was before the Pablo's people bought out Black Pearl from its original Chinese owner.
    With a vegetarian wife, I was glad to see all of the interesting tofu dishes on the menus at both places.

    1. We went last night to celebrate Father's Day. I was pleasantly surprised. They're aware of the competition, so when my wife was asking for a crispy bean curd dish, they recommended Shrimp with crispy tofu (without the shrimp), saying it was just like Mr. Chen's. While different from the Fried tofu with crispy bean sauce at Chen's, the dish at Great Wall had that great combination of thin crisp coating and soft tofu inside. My wife's spring roll was stellar, too.
      My steamed bun had a thicker dough than its counterparts at Red Pearl and Mr. Chen's, leading me to hope it is house-made at Great Wall. The tendency for a few to fall apart certainly reminded me of my own feeble efforts to make dumplings at home.
      My dish of seafood and tofu in hot pot was pure comfort food, with a flavorful light sauce.
      I too have my eyes on the meatballs on my next trip. The cold dishes sound intriguing, too, especially the smoked fish.
      Thanks for the heads-up, Dax
      Now, this would be a great place for dim sum.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Bigdaddyreturns

        They are definitely Lion's Head meatballs as we went for an early Father's Day two weeks ago. Note, they are not very firm and tend to fall apart but that is par for the course.

        Dim Sum would be great but is more Cantonese?

        1. re: Dax

          The very enthusiastic woman running the front said the meatballs contain some kind of grain, if I recall (she bombarded us with information). I kept thinking of kibbe when she described it (only kibbe is not steamed like the Lion's Head).
          My mother treated us for my birthday on Sunday and I continue to be mighty impressed with Great Wall. Obviously they are proud of what they are doing and glad when people take a chance on something unusual. She confirmed that the steam bun is house-made (which I suspected, given the heft of the wrapper).
          I ordered spicy beef tendon and tripe. Ma la heaven. The meat was less tendon, seemed more like tender, which is the usual mistranslation for this dish on menus. The honeycomb tripe added a pleasant crunch. Sichuan pepper oil made this dish so good.
          Salt and pepper squid was crisp, lightly coated and not at all greasy. Following the woman's recommendation, I tried a spicy hot pot with fish fillet and tofu. I was glad I listened. It had a great pepper bite.
          The woman boasted of the quality of ingredients, too -- red snapper for the whole fish instead of tilapia, for example.
          I'm putting this restaurant into my rotation. When Mr. Chen's opened, Red Pearl really stepped up its game. Now that Great Wall is in the mix, here's hope that Mr. Chen's and Red Pearl (with new space about to open) respond in kind.
          As for the dim sum/Cantonese conundrum: Fantasy should never be shackled by reality.

          1. re: Bigdaddyreturns

            Those buns are definitely made in house. I should have clarified that on my first post and thanks go out to Yelp for that info which is part of what got me in the door.

            Also, welcome back BD.

            1. re: Dax

              Good to BE back, Dax. Thank you, Brian C. and Yelp.

              1. re: Bigdaddyreturns

                Should have given some props to Chowhound but otherwise a great article as always Eric.


                The bun dumplings that I tried there were not XLBs, or at least nothing like I have tried in NYC and Boston. Very little broth at all. Maybe they have multiple options?

                1. re: Dax

                  Thank you very much, Dax. I wasn't sure how much I could get away with name-dropping but wanted to follow your lead in the original props department. Also I'm in this odd situation as an outted Clark Kent on this board. Not that anonymity was realistic as a former newspaper reporter whose photo ran with every post (Do you like my current red fork?). But still, it gave me pause in deciding whether to mention Chowhound as well.

                  As for the bun, I had some at lunch today and got some soup by scooping a steamed bun it in a spoon and doing the old chew and suck thing. You're right, probably not as much as I've had elsewhere. I do like that thick wrapper, but I've noticed it can be leaky at times on the bottom.

                  I plan to clear up exactly how they're made in a future issue of a glossy publication connected to the above media outlet (Do the rules allow me to name names?)

                  1. re: Bigdaddyreturns

                    Wait, people did not know that was you on this board before I posted that link? If so, I did not mean to out you here. I assumed the few remaining BHM CH regulars had met you in real life and knew who you were. Oops. We can flag these posts and CH will likely delete if you wish.

                    The bun at GW are unlike any XLBs I have ever had and assumed they were a different animal. Luckily, I'll be in NYC for a few days next month and can confirm via trying multiple options there.

                    1. re: Dax

                      No. After some CH gatherings, it was pretty clear who's who in general, so you did not out anyone. And like I said, any motivated restaurateur can easily figure out who I am (it doesn't help that I don't blend in a crowd). Now that I write food articles on the side, anonymity is even more elusive. And I refuse to dress up like Ruth Reichl (I'd look awful in drag).

                  2. re: Dax

                    One more thing: I have developed a fondness for dishes at Great Wall that are seasoned with dried shrimp. I had the tofu and dried shrimp today, which was a hotpot with a broth enriched with the dried shrimp and containing slivers of baked tofu and ginger, along with sliced scallion. Not for everyone, but it sure was good.
                    They also do a cabbage dish seasoned with dried shrimp that I want to try. I friend ordered it and loved it.

          1. re: curej

            Sorry, that would help. It's been around awhile, but reopened recently with major changes after a fire closed the place for about a year. It's on Valley Avenue at Palisades Boulevard. There's a Taco Loco in the plaza. If you measure by old landmarks, it's where the Starz Comedy Club and Machu Picchu restaurant were.706 Valley Avenue for those who prefer GPS.

          2. I wish we could get good Szechuan in the 'Ham. I think the closest place is in ATL.