When you cruise up to a Chinese mall restaurant on a deserted stretch of Venice Boulevard way past the noon hour and find the restaurant still hopping, you know you've come to the right place.
I enjoyed the chicken noodle soup served in a huge bowl filled with good noodles and vegetables on a day when I was watching my diet. The soup was psychologically the perfect diet lunch, because the broth in most Chinese restaurants is defatted. As for the calories in the noodles? OK, so it's equivalent to a slice of bread. Maybe two.
But that's not a good enough reason for dining at Golden China, which I noticed had won a California Restaurant Writer's Assn. award in 1988.
You go there because the menu is incredibly varied, even for a Chinese restaurant. At Golden China you are offered 150 items from a surprising grouping of foods: appetizers, soups, earthenware pots, rice, chow mein (soft noodles), chop suey, egg foo yong, cold dishes, chef's specials, a la carte entrees, sizzling plates, seafood, poultry, beef, pork and lamb dishes. There are loads of vegetables and even dessert (both fried and candied bananas and apples).
Have you seen many earthenware "sand pots" around lately? I haven't. I don't even know what a sand pot is, and nor could anyone I asked tell me, but I can't wait to find out on some chilly night next fall when a steaming clay pot filled with meat and vegetables (I think) would hit the spot.
What about separate categories for chow mein and chop suey? I haven't seen those since I was a little girl in New York, where the only Chinese food you got in those days was chow mein and chop suey. These vegetable-meat stir-fries introduced to the American palate, when the American palate couldn't discern a bamboo shoot from an arrow, are back and I'm glad.
At Golden China chow mein, made with soft noodles, is available in many guises to remind you of days gone by. The chop suey, a vegetable stir-fry, can be served with rice.
What about sizzling platters? Ever see those spelled out in any great detail in many Chinese menus? Golden Dragon serves sizzling beef, noodles, scallops, shrimp and seafood in combinations with beef and chicken. All worth a try.
If that is not enough, then you are invited to take a look at their Buddhist dishes--all vegetarian--made with a vegetable protein from soybean, which is molded and flavored to resemble meat, fish, chicken, pork. You get things like sweet-and-sour chicken, almond chicken, lemon chicken, garlic chicken, Mandarin beef, Mongolian beef, Hunan beef, orange beef--all of which taste like beef or chicken, but are not.
Looks Like Chicken
I ordered the kung pao chicken with peanuts, in which chicken is the soy product cut in cubes, with faint chicken flavor added. Not spectacular, but really quite tasty for what it is. Frankly I did not find any of the dishes I tasted distinctively high in flavor, but they were tasty and varied enough to satisfy my Chinese food palate. You'll notice immediately from reading the menu that no MSG is added to the food, which may account for the more subtle flavors.
You can stick to real vegetarian food, if textured protein seems too alien. There are Szechwan Chinese cabbage, kung pao Chinese cabbage, broccoli and bean in many forms , with and without sauces, and eggplants with hot garlic sauce and black bean sauce to choose among. Buddha's feast, which is the same as mixed vegetable in the regular menu and vegetarian's feast on the vegetarian menu (both consisting of steam-fried Chinese cabbage, carrots, broccoli, snow peas, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and mushrooms), are served with either fried or plain rice. A residue of oil added for flavor during the cooking made the dish. Flavor would simply not be the same without oil.
Except for the vegetarian fare, lunch combos come with soup (hot and sour, or won ton--thick but OK), Chinese chicken salad (a small nondescript plate with a few strands of fried won tons, disappointing shreds of chicken and free-form lettuce--nothing special) and, if ordering from the regular menu, paper-wrapped chicken appetizer, which is excellent.