Food essayist and funnyman Calvin Trillin lamented in his book "American Fried": "I often have to sit in a Chinese restaurant helplessly while a tableful of Chinese businessmen across the room are stuffing down succulent-looking dishes that were obviously ordered off the wall."
That's kind of how we felt at the Golden Gate Noodle House, where the specials list was written in Chinese. We watched as two young women shared a plate of glistening Chinese broccoli, and what looked like a country-style stew served in an iron pot. Neither was on the regular menu.
We could have asked our waitress to decipher for us, but she had a brusque, no-nonsense style. Other tables were waiting in the Towson restaurant, painted a deep magenta and adorned with crystal beads hanging from the ceiling.
"You're not ready, right?" she asked, before turning quickly on her heels.
On two visits to Michael Yeung's restaurant, which opened in January, we did our best to order a mix of familiar and unfamiliar dishes. Some of the unfamiliar, such as the Sichuan pickles soup, a too-salty broth with bits of pickled vegetables, I wouldn't order again. But others I'd recommend, especially the shrimp and squid with spicy salt, coated in tempuralike batter with seasoned bits of scallion and chilies.
In a place with a name like Golden Gate Noodle House, we figured noodle dishes would be worth sampling. A lunchtime plate of chicken and square-edged lo mein noodles picked up the dark, smoky flavor of the wok. That smoky flavor was exactly what we missed in the beef and broccoli chow fun. Tender slices of beef in mild brown sauce were simply ladled on top of the wide, milky-white noodles.
The Hunan chicken represents what this restaurant does best. Velvety pieces of chicken were stir-fried with tender-crisp bites of broccoli, snow peas and Chinese cabbage. At $4.50 for a small plate that could easily serve two, it was a deal.
There are many dishes under $6, including Sichuan shrimp, in a fragrant, bright red sauce that's more sweet than hot, and vegetable moo shu, a tangle of shredded cabbage, black mushrooms, baby corn and broccoli served with four thin pancakes and hoisin sauce. Dishes are served as they're ready, so be prepared to share one dish as you wait for the others.
There's a whole section of Hong Kong-style noodle soups on the menu. We liked the fresh, springy egg noodles in our shredded pork and cabbage soup, but the long pieces of pork were fatty and too big for easy handling. You can order hot and sour soup with noodles or without, as we tried it. It was mild and full of mushrooms and vegetables.
Other than soup, we didn't have much luck with appetizers: heavy egg rolls made with too much dough; steamed dumplings with a mealy vegetable filling; and the combination platter with items like greasy shrimp toast. But stout pork dumplings, called "pan-fried buns," are worth a try.
Golden Gate Noodle House
6-8 Allegheny Ave., Towson
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover
Prices: Appetizers, $1.25-$4.95; entrees, $4.50-$11.95
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 6/11/98