Guang Zhou – Authentic Chinese Food in Tulsa

By on April 1, 2010

Finally, an authentic Chinese restaurant in Tulsa.

People sometimes ask me what I miss most about New York. They expect me to say the crowds, or the theatres, or the boundless wave-tossed sea. I always answer, Chinese restaurants. Entering a Chinese restaurant in New York, whether it’s hidden in an alley in the depths of Chinatown or way out beyond the rail yards in Queens, is to enter a secret, exotic and welcoming world, and at its best it’s like stumbling upon a genial family gathering, and for a short while being part of it. Sometimes there are secret menus, with all the best stuff on it, given to the select few. Sometimes there’s even a secret restaurant, a banquet hall hidden behind an unprepossessing noodle shop. And if you think I’m spinning a fine yarn with mostly blarney in it, have a look at two little diaries I wrote. (see the links below)

Guang Zhou Dim Sum isn’t a secret, but it’s hidden away in plain view where you’d never think to look, attached to an EconoLodge Motel way out in East Tulsa. Instead of the lengthy trip down the side alleys near the Manhattan Bridge, there’s the long ride down I-44 west to exit 235. The restaurant is a few feet from the exit but you’d never spot the unassuming white building if you weren’t looking for it. And in a way there is a secret menu. Most people go for Dim Sum, the unending cavalcade of small delicious dishes (dumplings, soups and more) best experienced with a large raucous family on Sunday at noon. (I’ve been to huge cavernous dim sum halls in New York, hundreds or even thousands of people, raucous, happy, everyone having fun.) But I didn’t go for that. I asked for the dinner menu, with elegant elaborate dishes prepared to order. At dinner, the restaurant was mostly deserted. Some kids, the owner’s children I think, sat at a corner table, supposedly doing homework but really watching Nickelodeon. Our waitress, fluent in both English and Mandarin as well as Cantonese, was probably also a relative, and perhaps that’s why she made us feel as welcome as if we were invited to a private house.

I ordered immediately. I’d been so excited about this meal that I’d had the menu emailed to me by the restaurant and had planned the meal in my mind a week in advance. I asked her to bring the dishes (two friends with me, so three dishes) as soon as each was ready, since one took far longer than the others. I’ll skip the anxious, eager, nervous, joyous wait as we glanced toward the kitchen, waiting for the dishes to come out. I’ll go straight to the dishes. All were Cantonese. (Not surprising, since Guangzhou means Canton)Cantonese food is totally unlike the food of Southeast Asia, which after all isn’t that far away. They don’t do an Emeril, say “BAM!”, and throw in handfuls of exotic spices. The sauce, the cooking method, all is designed to bring out and accentuate the basic flavor of the ingredients. Which doesn’t mean it’s simple or easy to do. It’s not. (Indeed, some of the sauces are quite complex, and a good black bean sauce, with fermented soybeans, has a rich and subtle flavor like a good wine.) And it’s not all stir-fried. In fact, nothing I ordered was stir-fried.

Perhaps my favorite Cantonese delight is a casserole. The ingredients are seared or steamed or in some fashion partly cooked, then put in a clay pot with a sauce and simmered, so the taste of the sauce is braised and steamed into the ingredients. The menu lists ten casseroles; they call them “hot pots”. I ordered one of my favorites, “Chicken and Salted Fish with Eggplant” ($9.25).

It came in a chafing dish and not a clay pot, but I’ve seen that before and it’s just fine, maybe an improvement over the clay vessel. The eggplant was the star here, perfectly cooked, with bits of chicken and salty fish and a rich brown sauce to complement its flavor. My friends loved this; one had never eaten eggplant before and now she wants to eat it constantly.

A few minutes later the waitress returned carrying a big bowl and a flat metal plate. She put the plate, which was very hot, on a table next to ours, and carefully dumped the contents of the bowl on it. A gusher of steam shot up; our meal was being cooked as we watched. You can see some of the steam in the photo.

This was the “Sizzling Seafood Combination” ($14) and though there were more vegetables than seafood, and mostly squid and fish balls at that, the light salty sauce, redolent of the tang of the sea, brought out the essence (or Platonic ideal, if you don’t like Aristotle) of seafoodness and made those humble fish balls taste better than the finest shrimp. The essence of Cantonese cooking defined in a dish.

But then the third dish came and I forgot about the other two, in fact abandoning them to my friends and hoping they wouldn’t notice I was eating all that third dish. It was a whole fish, head tail and all, and in my view a whole fish is perhaps Cantonese food’s greatest glory. Most elegant Cantonese restaurants in New York or Canton or wherever have big elaborate fish tanks and you’d think it’s a pretty ornament, look at all the lovely fishes, but if you point at one of them, the waiter will get a net and catch it. I didn’t see tanks at Guang Zhou but when I ordered our fish, the waitress ran back to the kitchen to tell the chef to get a fish from the tank.

Actually ordering the fish was a story in itself. On the menu it said, “Crispy fish with brown sauce — Seasoned Price” and when I asked she said $22. I must have looked sad, because the Chinese characters next to the name said not brown sauce but red-cooked, which is my favorite Shanghainese fish preparation (and might be the oldest recipe in the world, since a recipe for red-cooked pork is contained in a poem written by superstar poet Su Dongpo sometime around the year 1150). So then she said, oh we can let you have a tilapia for $9. So with glee in my eyes I asked for that. And the fish that came was bigger than any Tilapia I’ve seen (except for one I saw in Uganda that weighed 200 lbs, but that’s another story) Here it is. Doesn’t it look good?

It was not, as the menu promised, red-cooked. And perhaps that’s just as well, a Cantonese chef wouldn’t have done justice to a Shanghai recipe. It was steamed, lightly coated in batter (perhaps using potato flour) and seared. Again, the essence of Cantonese. The fish was perfectly cooked — tastes like it just came out of the river, one of my friends said — the flesh soft, the outside crunchy, and I ate every bit, head eyes belly tail and all, leaving a little heap of dry bones.

After that, everything was anticlimax. We left the secret world of China and drove home.

Guang Zhou Dim Sum
11630 E Skelly Drive Tulsa
(near exit 235 of the I-44)
http://www.guangzhoudimsum.com/
11 AM till 9 PM but Closed Monday and Tuesday

Guang Zhou Dim Sum on Urbanspoon

Secrets of Chinatown: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/328296

Eating in Chinatown: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/342344

About the Author:
Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford (Meaning cow crossing a stream in Chinese) at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately.

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.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

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.

0 Comments

  1. Stefan

    April 1, 2010 at 8:16 am

    That fish looks good! Were the bones even crispy and tasty? I can’t wait to try this place!!!!! Thank you!

  2. leah

    April 1, 2010 at 8:58 am

    I gotta try that seafood combination!

  3. sarah

    April 1, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Finally a good Chinese place in Tulsa!!!! I hadn’t found one yet!

  4. Kristie Moon

    April 1, 2010 at 9:11 am

    OMG! The food looks devine. I’m gonna have to gather some friends and go one night soon.

  5. Joey Mechelle

    April 1, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Brian, when I was doing reviews for a local Tulsa magazine, I tried this place. We had dim sum and about 10 other dishes from the menu (a few not on the menu). I tried them for what they were – found most of the dishes flavorful. But have to admit, most were not suited to my tastes. Authentic Chinese isn’t my thing, I guess.

    Great review, by the way!

  6. Steve

    April 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Wow – I’ll never order lo-mein again. I’ve been missing the good stuff.

  7. Nicole Nascenzi

    April 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I have been meaning to try this place for a long time and after reading your review I am adding it to my weekend to do list!

  8. Dhevi

    April 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

    As much as I like Guang Zhou, try Asian Cuisine restaurant on 31st & Mingo. It’s an authentic chinese restaurant with fresh seafood right from the tank. Lobster, crab, clams…I tried once and I always eat there every week since.
    Try the Sweet & sour fish, a whole crispy fried Sole fish with sweet & sour sauce, it’s to die for.
    My other favorite dishes is assorted meat hot pot, beef flat noodle (dry), salt & pepper shrimp, chili Lobster/Crab, clam with garlic & ginger sauce.

    • Brian Schwartz

      April 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm

      As soon as I read this I collared a friend and we headed over to Asian Cuisine! It was definitely authentic and very good and I’ll be writing about it tomorrow! (The blog won’t be posted for a few days probably.) So THANK YOU!!!

  9. Grace Varghese

    April 6, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Oh my goodness, the moment I saw the first few sentences of your pst — I put my trust in you. I’m from New York too, and that is relatively my response to that question. Thanks for putting this up!

    • Paul Genese

      April 7, 2010 at 3:35 pm

      A transplanted NY’r. I am going to try it on Friday.

  10. Brian Schwartz

    April 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I wanted to thank everyone who commented. I check the page several times each day to see if there are new comments! As I wrote in my bio, “the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.”

  11. Paul Gensee

    April 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I love New York, and the Chinese food is the best experience ever in Chinatown. the Stak is fab too.

  12. michelle sifuentes

    April 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Ed & I will try both restaurants ASAP! I’ve never eaten dim sum & we are adventurous eaters but any suggestions for a first timer are welcome.

  13. Ceci

    May 3, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I went to Guang Zhou on Saturday (1 May) for lunch. I had read good things about it on this blog, and also from a friend. I went with my parents and we started off with dim sum, and I decided I wanted to try some of their regular dishes as well.

    The dim sum was only mediocre. The turnip cakes were mushy and the dumplings were nothing better than the items I can get in the frozen food section of any Asian grocery. The tripe was okay, and the ribs were the smallest serving of ribs I’ve ever seen in my life (yes, I realize this is dim sum, but still). The bbq pork bun had close to no pork in it.

    As for the regular menu items, my dad ordered Mongolian beef. Bad idea. The beef had been overly tenderized, so it was mushy. I ordered the sesame chicken and it was worse. First, it was breaded, which is a disappointment since I thought this was “authentic” Chinese, and the sauce was just not good. It was watery and too sweet and just not good.

    In all fairness, I think the restaurant suffers from bad location and not having enough customers for high turnover of their dim sum items. Thus, the dim sum just sit in their sad, little steam pots and get cold while waiting for someone to come along. They should also reduce the number of items on the menu and serve only what they specialize in and what, I presume, they make the best. Thinking about it now, since they were speaking Cantonese, I should have ordered Cantonese style food. But oh well.

    Oh, and I’m not a picky eater…the fact that I even feel the need to write about this is to warn others that this place is not all it’s hopped up to be. I think it benefits from the fact that it’s the only game in town for dim sum.

    If you want good dim sum in Oklahoma, go to Grand House in OKC.

    And I agree with Dhevi. Asian Cuisine at 31st and Mingo is very good. Get their fried garclic shrimp. So tasty you can eat it with the skin and everything. Yum!

    Anyway, thanks for letting me leave my comments.

    BTW, I didn’t grow up eating the great Chinese food in NYC but I’m half Chinese and mom’s kitchen is where it’s at!!! :)

  14. BrewBurger

    August 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I see they have opened a new location at 11th and Pittsburg in the old McDonalds. I am looking forward to trying their food.

  15. Brian Schwartz

    August 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    YES! A SECOND LOCATION AT 4003 E. 11 STREET halfway between Harvard and Yale. Just got back from there, had two fine hot pots, chicken with ginger and onion ($9.25) and Eight Treasures (assorted meat with tofu) ($11), both authentic, both great. Same menu as the old branch (which of course is still open), same great food. Telephone 835-7888

  16. Johnny McClanahan

    September 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    I just got back from lunch at the new 11th street location. Great tasting Hunan chicken on their lunch menu for $5.25! Very fresh vegetables with a nice presentation of little flowers on my plate created out of cucumbers and carrots.

  17. Kash

    October 28, 2010 at 11:30 am

    FYI, it is not a 2nd location, rather their new restaurant. The old location is closed.

    • Johnny McClanahan

      October 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm

      When I was at the new location on 11th street just west of Pittsburg street the cashier stated they still had both locations. Guess they changed their minds.
      I have went four times for lunch and once for dinner. Always great chinese food! Very fresh. Thanks to the author Brian Schwartz for sending me there with this excellent review.

  18. Brian Schwartz

    February 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    In addition to the 4003 E. 11 location, they now have a second branch at 2115 South Garnett, telephone 438-8878

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