Peking Duck at Great China in Berkeley
It is well known in the bay area that when you wanted good Peking Duck, (北京烤鴨; Beijing KaoYa) the place to go is Great China in Berkeley. But what else can you get here that is special and wonderful? That’s what I wanted to find out a couple of weekends ago.
Great China is actually a Shandong style restaurant owned by a Chinese from Shandong by way of Korea. It brings cuisine that was popular in Korea’s Chinese restaurants to the US, hence this type of restaurant is also known as Korean-Chinese style restaurants. For more information on some of the popular dishes in this genre, please see Korean-Chinese posts on this board.
We started off with fish dumplings (魚水餃). Supposedly the waitress tells us we got an extra one because we waited so long for our orders to arrive. (Wohoo!) The skin was good standard hand made skin, but was not spectacular. The filling was mainly fish and I think grounded up lettuce. The texture was very soft and you could just make out a bit of the fish flavor, but it was not overwhelming. Overall it is a good version, but I would rank it below Cafe Yulong in Mountain View and Tong Soon Garden in Santa Clara. (A-)
After a long wait, out comes the huge plate of Peking Duck meat with skin on top. The meat here is pre-shredded and boneless so it is convenient to put into the pancakes. The sauce is the standard sweet bean sauce (甜麵醬; Tian Mian Jiang). The scallion shreds were plenty, but not thin enough on the knife work. The pancake was pretty good – it uses the standard thin style, almost crepe-like flour pancake. There were at least 20 pieces of them. They held up well and did not break, and yet were not overly chewy.
Usually I eat them by putting in a piece of the duck meat, a slice of skin, and little bit of scallion and some sauce all on the pancake and wrap it and then stuff the whole thing in my mouth. And that’s exactly what I did, and did, and did. It doesn’t look it at first, but there’s plenty of meat. Sometimes I would eat just the skin by itself, which is a taste of heaven. They’ve captured the essence of Peking Duck by removing all the fat from underneath the skin and also making sure the skin stays crispy. This is great and what Peking Duck is all about. (A)
After we got stuffed with the duck, the second dish finally arrives. This is another Shandong specialty that is not only rarely found in most Chinese restaurants, but is even rarely found in Shandong style restaurants here. The name of the dish is Sai Pang Xie (賽螃蟹; Sauteed Crab Meat). It is made with real crab meat, stir fried with beat-up egg whites, and then topped off with the remaining egg yolk. And when it is brought to your table, it is all mixed together. The way to eat it is to pry open the small white bun (xiao mantou) and stuff some of these mixed crab goodness into it and eat the bun like a baozi.
The usage of the real crab meat (though I suspect there are some from cans/jars) is the major plus – no imitation crab sticks here. The saucing is very light so the main flavor is some savoriness along with the taste of the crab itself. (A)
At this point we’re almost all stuffed. However, there are two more Shandong dishes to go. First up is Liu San Si (溜三絲; Shredded Pork with Shrimp and Sea Cucumber). The name of the dish describes the Chinese cooking method of “Liu” (溜) where at the last minute the sauce of the dish is thickened with corn starch. It is mainly made of julienned (hence the word 絲) pork, sea cucumber along with either cuttlefish, shrimp and/or scallop and veggies. It is a very difficult dish to make well and I’ve seldom tasted a great version.
Great China’s version is acceptable but not great. The 3rd ingredient here was the shrimp, and there’s no cuttlefish or scallop. The sauce for the dish was too dark and salty. But the worst part was the usage of (probably) canned bamboo shoot slices that really overpowered the rest of the flavors. (C+)
Last but not least is the Gan Pong Shrimp (乾烹蝦; Mandarin Style Prawns). The version here has a little bit too much sauce. And the sauce itself is also too sweet. It should be more savory and garlicky instead. The version at Cafe Yulong a much better. (B+)
We chose not to order any Shandong noodle dishes as I’ve tried them before already. I think I vaguely remember that their Zha Jiang Mian (炸醬麵; Bean Sauce Noodles) was good but not so the Chao Ma Mian (炒馬麵; Special Combo Soup Noodles). We also did not order the Liang Zhang Pi (Double Skin) but it was popular with the other tables.
So all in all it was a great meal. The duck and the crab were the real standouts and is probably worth coming for by themselves. The other Shandong dishes were good but not the best. There are better versions elsewhere in the bay area.
Great China (豐年)2115 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704