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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Mon–Fri 10:00am–midnight
Sat–Sun 9:30am–midnight

Bar Beer, wine
Credit cards Visa, MC
Reservations Accepted

Far East Portland
1818 SE 122nd Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 777-3399
Gold Garden Seafood
Flopping fresh seafood in an authentically Chinese space

This excellent Cantonese restaurant, which relocated from the space now occupied by the also-excellent Ocean City, suffers from the classic plight of Chinese food in America: segregation between the English-speaking minority and the Chinese-speaking majority, and the resulting obfuscation of the kitchen’s best work from those not in the loop.

Gold Garden’s cavernous modern room is standard for the genre, with fish tanks full of lobsters and crabs, big round banquet-style tables, and gaudy (by American standards) displays of gilded dragons and purple felt. The staff doesn’t speak much English, but they’re friendly enough. Dim sum carts roll around even on weekdays.

The problem is, if you come for lunch, you’ll be handed a totally lame English-language menu full of Chinese-American dishes that (for good reason) aren’t even translated into Chinese. Turn your attention, instead, to the secret Chinese menus that (for no good reason) aren’t translated into English; these are posted on the back wall next to the fish tanks and on an easel to the left of the door when you walk in. You’ll have to ask the staff to translate for you, and they’ll probably do so poorly.

But hidden treasures await there. The day’s offerings might be headlined by a dish of duck’s blood congealed into deep brown rectangles of slightly metallic, offal-y goodness, offset by scallion and generous slices of fragrant garlic; or stir-fried lobster from the tank, served atop big, thick rolls of tightly wound rice noodle. The dish isn’t perfect; the rice noodles have a slight vegetable-oil sheen, and the lobster’s glaze is a bit glutinous (too much cornstarch in the dredge?), but the meat is wonderfully tender and the price is beyond reasonable. You might also find pork casserole with pickled greens; abalone and mushroom with vegetable; or Dungeness crab from the tank covered with mountains of deep brown fried garlic slices, as it is often served in Hong Kong.

The printed menu is so extensive that you never know what’s fresh or what’s available, but at least it’s translated, and it’s full of hard-to-find treats as geoduck two ways (the first course steamed, the second braised with garlic or XO sauce); braised pigeon; jellyfish with soy sauce. Winter melon, fish maw, pork intestine, mustard greens, and salted egg all work their ways into the spectacular array of soups. An entire half-page of the menu is devoted to conch, a half-page to duck; and yet another half-page to sea cucumber and abalone.

Not all of this is good, but Gold Garden is a rare treat in the Portland area—a chance, for a night, to eat as the Chinese do.

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