On Wednesday night a barebones scouting party of Ruth, chibi, her husband Justin, and I trekked to Milpitas to try this Teochew restaurant. The Teochew people (aka Chiu Chau, Chao Chou, Chinjew or Trieu Chau) originate in southern China in the areas around Swatow and Fukien. Their migration throughout Southeast Asia has carried this cuisine to Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Golden Island first blipped on our radar screen as a possible candidate in our hunt for the elusive Teochew-style lo sui goose in the Bay Area. An advance call to the restaurant revealed that this dish is not offered, but as a personal favor to our friend Limster who longs for some of the Teochew dishes of his homeland, we decided to push ahead anyway. We didnt have a reservation and at 7pm walked right in.
Chibi and I scoured the menu picking out the well-known Teochew dishes among the various Cantonese seafood dishes and other offerings. A table card printed in Chinese only with a price of $88 for a family menu also looked interesting. Our waiter explained that the family dinner for four includes four individual servings of sharks fin soup, plus a choice of five dishes from the list, and dessert. Many of the dishes are on the regular English language menu but are less expensive ordered as part of the family menu. He recommended this as a way to have more variety at an economical price, adding that the sharks fin soup was very good here. This turned out to be as good a deal as he promised.
The sharks fin soup turned out to be a serious effort, not just an add-in. I was amazed as I stirred through to check the quality of the contents a giant piece of dried abalone, whole intact pieces of young bamboo pith, julienne of Virginia ham, and a surprising amount of quality sharks fin. The golden brown broth was rich, concentrated and perfectly clear. Addition of a touch of red vinegar at the table brightened and heightened the long and deep flavors. We felt that this was the equal of soups typically sold for $15 to $20 per person, making our dinner a true bargain.
While theres no Teochew goose here, the lo sui duck made in the same style was excellent. Braised in master sauce until mahogany colored and tender, the sliced duck pieces were served warm with the traditional dipping sauce of white rice wine vinegar with minced garlic. The flavoring permeated the flesh, and had all the complexity and depth of a well-aged master sauce. Most of the fat had been rendered from the skin, which is difficult to accomplish in this braised preparation.
The oyster omelet was nicely browned and crispy around the edges. This version did not have any chewy rice flour balls or fun noodles imbedded. The oysters were small and whole, frozen or canned rather than fresh which made them less intense in flavor. Served with a thin fish sauce, I would have preferred the green chili sauce Ive had elsewhere as a counterpoint to the oyster flavor rather than echoing it. Ruth, who does not like mollusks, was a sport and gave it a taste. I was sorry it wasnt a better example to introduce her to the genre.
The most disappointing dish was the pair of deep-fried small whole pomfret. Chibi and I had been checking out some earlier at the fish market, and she told me that this is one of her favorite fish. The version here was none too fresh as well as overcooked and dried out. The accompanying light soy sauce with ginger and scallions could not revive it and we left most of it behind.
The next winner was the braised tofu with minced pork and Shanghai cabbage hearts (shang hai qing cai). Sounding and looking deceptively simple, this was a good example of how masterful a Teochew chef can be with tofu. The rectangles of tofu were deep-fried and then braised. While there was still a creamy soft core, the pieces had a thick exterior of spongy chewy bean cake that soaked up the concentrated meaty sauce and juices. The qing cai were tiny and tender, perfectly cooked, and the porky bits were hand-minced with garlic lending an irregular texture and toothsomeness.
The pork ribs with prune sauce was also excellent and a new one for me. Chibi explained that this style of sauce is traditional to Teochew cooking. Hacked pieces of thin-cut blade pork chops were battered and deep-fried, then coated with a sticky and jammy yellow plum sauce spiked with ginger and chilis for a sweet-sour-spicy-salty effect. When chibi was oohing over how tasty this dish was, I nodded my agreement and remarked to Ruth that theres a reason sweet and sour pork is so popular. (g)
Accompanying our meal was a German Riesling I brought 1997 Prinz Salm Kabinett from the Nahe. Showing some age, yet still brimming with tropical fruit and apricot. Corkage was $10.
Dessert was a hot soup of almond puree with tapioca pearl and bits of taro root. As Im typing this, I just realized that we were not served the tiny cups of strong tea after our meal that is the traditional close to a Teochew meal.
While not every dish was successful, the price was right and there was enough talent in the kitchen that Id certainly return and try more from the extensive menu. We noticed several tables enjoying claypot dishes and items from the live seafood tanks. Chibi pointed to the white snow crabs and hypothesized that they might be cousins to the one that formed a relationship with our chowfriend Joe on his Vancouver dining adventure. (g) There were also several specials listed on the Chinese signboard outside the entrance including some swimming fish preps.
Afterwards we took a look-see walk around the shopping center on this balmy night. Next time were checking out Darda, a popular Islamic Chinese restaurant.
Golden Island Chinese Cuisine
282 & 285 Barber Ct.
Sat-Sun & Holiday, 10:30am-10:30pm