Chinese adventure

Hayden Lowrey noodles around at Golden China.

Hayden Lowrey noodles around at Golden China.

Photo By David Robert

Chinese food is usually either cheap or good, rarely both, but Golden China is an exception to that rule. It rewards both the frugal and the adventurous. The menu is expansive, the food memorable—and the lunch special, including an entree, soup, egg roll, chow mein and fried rice is only $4.25. Plus, the restaurant plays some of the strangest, most exciting music you’re likely to ever hear in the background of a public setting.

Though the inexpensive lunch deal is one of the big draws, we went for dinner. The service is very friendly, with a rather informal mom-and-pop vibe—but still courteous and prompt. The problem (and it’s not really a problem) is that the menu is so extensive and detailed that one needs a few extra minutes to peruse it. There are a few different dinner specials, plus daily specials, soups, rice and noodle dishes, mu shu and endless entree permutations. We had to send our waiter away three times. It’s a bit of an information overload, but my friends Dan and Leah and I were eventually able to assimilate it all.

The place has a comfortable family environment, and, as Leah said, “This place is worth visiting just for the music.” It has a fantastical, magical sound that’s sort of like a fantasy video game soundtracked by a Chinese Philip Glass. It’s strange and exciting and makes a simple meal feel like an epic quest.

The menu has all the standards—chow mien and kung pao chicken—as inexpensive dinner specials, but, with the music heightening our already adventurous dining spirit, we sought out the hidden gems, including a jellyfish appetizer with chicken, celery, carrot and sesame oil ($6.50).

Before we ordered it, Dan admitted he was a little afraid of his mouth getting stung, but we all agreed that it was surprisingly good. Leah, always one to draw favorable comparisons between new foods and familiar tastes, noted that it tasted like a gourmet seafood Cup of Noodle Soup with a jelly texture.

We also had turnip cake ($2.85)—fried, sweet and scrumptious and much better than it sounds—and a veritable zoo of entree dishes: roast duck with veggies over rice ($5.75), the very spicy pork with spicy salt and pepper ($7.95) and, my favorite and a chef’s special, veal ribs with satay sauce in a real, well-worn, crusty clay pot ($8.95).

Our entree dishes with three distinct meats, all prepared quite differently, made for an unusual but pleasant combination of tastes. The veal was rich and succulent, the pork spicy and vibrant, the duck slippery and sweet. That’s a nice thing about family-style dining—you get to enjoy a wider variety of dishes than if you were just to order for one. And considering how difficult it was for us to narrow it down to three entrees, I don’t know how you could order just one. There were some things that we had to pass up, but I’m sure to go back to try more.

The wild mix of flavors, combined with that strange, dramatic music made me feel like I was on a magical, golden journey—quite the opposite of the pedestrian affair of most run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants. Come for the cheap lunch, but you’ll stay for the adventurous dinner.