July 26th, 2013 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (9)
There are two kinds of people who go to Chinese restaurants. Some won’t be happy unless the food is authentic, the very dishes you’ll find in China. And the other kind replies, “who cares if the food is authentic as long as it’s good?” The food at Golden Gate is very very good. I wish I’d found it sooner. Don’t let the dumpy exterior deter you.
Ask any New Yorker of a certain age about childhood and Chinatown, and chances are they’ll have a lot to tell. About weekend outings with mom and pop and the rest of the family to the color and clamor of Chinatown — for a little boy, as foreign and strange as you can imagine. About dinner at their favorite restaurant, thick meaty egg rolls followed by a parade of impossibly exotic dishes like sweet and sour pork, dishes full of pineapple and gooey sauces. But when these New Yorkers try to find this restaurant again, they can’t. It’s gone forever. There are New Yorkers living in Los Angeles, where you’ll find perhaps the most authentic Chinese dining outside of China, and they spend their time asking people where to find those New York egg rolls. For them, it’s a Proustian gateway to their childhood. If they only knew, they’d get on a plane to Tulsa and head for Golden Gate.
And I don’t mean the food is mediocre. Far from it. It’s better than just about all those old New York places. But the food does hearken back to the days before the immigration reform of the late 1960s, when New York Chinatown was small and restricted to the descendants of immigrants who had come from the Tai Shan region of Guangdong Province long before. They prepared the simple hearty stir-fries of their homeland, and modified the recipes to cater to the burgeoning numbers of Americans who developed a yen for Chinese food. In this interaction between two vastly different populations American Chinese food was born. In that, it’s a lot like Tex-Mex. And if done right (which is hard to do) those dishes are very very good. Golden Gate, perhaps alone in Tulsa, does them right. Take those egg rolls…
Thick, with crisp outside and delicious crunchy minced filling, these are a New Yorker’s dream. (Though, if you look into the clean but very cramped kitchen, you’ll find Mexicans making them.) As we were eating them, our first dish arrived.
Golden Beef with Tomatoes ($13). Tender marinated beef mixed with tomatoes, green peppers and onions. Whoever made this has talent… or “good wok air”, as Chinese call it. Everything cooked just right, not too much sauce (hardly any at all), delicious. And yes you can find stir-fries like this in Guangdong, China, and you’d be glad to get them. Then came Garlic Shrimp ($10).
Tasty shrimp, delicious vegetables, a healthy dollop of garlic and sesame oil made this dish another winner. But it was upstaged by the General Tso’s Chicken ($12).
General Tso’s Chicken was invented around 1972 in New York City by a chef who had come from Taiwan. It’s inspired by the food of Hunan in central China. It thus has no connection at all to the American-Cantonese tradition of Golden Gate. Most Cantonese restaurants take this as a license to serve bad food, and they will offer you a goopy, insipid version. But Golden Gate takes it as license to be creative. Their General Tso’s is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. They reinvented the dish and it was wonderful. The chicken pieces are thinly battered and delicious, the sauce is sweet but not cloyingly so and with hints of spice, and those hot chilis are really hot.
As we ate, the place filled up. The people were happy (just like those old New York places) and the waiter was very friendly and knew them all (unlike most of those old New York places). “Hey you must try this soup!” a woman at the next table called to me.
On my next visit I think I will.
Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant
2620 S Harvard Ave
open daily except closed Sunday
Brian Schwartz: Author
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.