DOUBLY GOOD The Clams in Black-Bean Sauce is listed twice on Great Taste's menu. Either choice is a safe bet, with terrific clams, ginger, and lots of garlic.
After a series of unimpressive Chinese restaurants (and one Korean place) had vacated the premises, this odd double-storefront reopened with a silly name — and actually delivers on it. All the food we had did taste great! (Good thing, because if the restaurant failed in this department, the jokes in this column would practically write themselves.)
In addition to an overly long and perhaps misleading bilingual dinner menu, there are black board specials in Chinese only,
GREAT TASTE BAKERY AND RESTAURANT | 61–63 Beach Street, Boston | 617.426.8899 | open daily, 7 am-10pm | MC, VI | no liquor | up threshold bump from sidewalk level | no valet parking; validated parking discount in shoppers' garage
a separate menu of dim sum on mornings and weekends, and bakery cases loaded with treats — which no one even offered us with dinner, and we were too full to protest. Our best guess for mining the complicated menu was to stick with southern Chinese specialties.
The appetizer list was rather short, so we went right to soups, and were delighted with "Orange Flavor with Clams and Chinese Parsley" ($6.25/small; $9.95/medium; $14.95/large). The medium portion served about eight to 10 bowls. This soup has a clear, light stock like the chicken-pork "superior stock" used in almost all Chinese restaurants, but was aromatized with bits of orange peel and lots of fresh cilantro. Small calico clams served in the shell are easily picked out with chopsticks or a fork.
For our real appetizer we had an entrée order of Stir-Fried Squid with Spicy Salt ($8.95). It had a good balance of seasoning, and came to the table very quickly, as is so important with fried food. You could probably likewise split the Clams in Black-Bean Sauce entrée ($8.95) as an appetizer. The English menu listed this dish twice, each backed by different Chinese characters. After some discussion with the waiter, we decided on the second one, reputed to be spicier. This was a terrific plate piled with little-neck size clams in the shell, bits of pork, garlic, ginger, garlic — did I mention garlic? — and a little bit of hot pepper, in easily managed rings. But the black beans and/or black-sauce it was named for were indiscernible.
More substantially, a Steak Fillet with Chinese Broccoli in Oyster Sauce ($13.95) is the kind of dish Chinese restaurants have been serving to beef-hungry Anglo-Americans for 150 years, but was much improved here with wonderfully sweet Chinese broccoli and lots of black mushrooms and a few carrots, all in a dark, savory sauce.
Duck was out of stock, so we went with an order of Chicken Chunks with Snow Peas ($8.25). Again, this is a Chinese-American classic done impeccably. The chicken-breast meat was still juicy in a slight white sauce with entirely crisp snow peas and straw mushrooms for contrasting texture.
An order of "Yu-Hsiang Eggplant" ($8.50) — not listed on the English-language menu — was a bit of a surprise. Yu-hsiang ("fragrant like fish") dishes are typically ginger-garlic-chile-enhanced Szechuan stir-fries, but this turned out to be a southern-styled hot pot. It was the first dish we ordered and the last to arrive, since all hot pots here (listed under "casserole specials") are made to order and take 20 minutes. It was worth the wait, though, as this was a rich eggplant offering, perhaps too mushy in texture for some people, but with a flavor made more complex by a bean paste (maybe even a fermented-shrimp paste) that didn't dominate and added layers of complexity.
The chef's Mixed Seafood Chow Foon ($7.95) didn't have the wok-char of the greatest chow foon I've ever tasted. Then again, I've never sent back a plate of these soft, broad rice noodles. Plus, this one had a very interesting stew of scallops, squid, phony crab (a Japanese invention), and slices of distinctly Japanese fish loaf, in another fresh white sauce with crunchy veggies and soft mushrooms.
The complimentary tea looks strong but quaffs well, and water was refilled frequently. There is also a refrigerator of sodas and drinks. The white rice is great: aromatic, yet sticky enough to eat with chopsticks even if you came to chopsticks late in life.
Compared with another small Chinatown restaurant, the Gourmet Dumpling House, recently reviewed in these pages by MC Slim JB, I found Great Taste to be less openly exotic — and lacking in most of the Taiwanese dishes featured at the Dumpling House. I suspect Macao might be the reference point for Great Taste, as several things were described as being Portuguese.
That said, for a party that wants to mix real southern Chinese food with Chinese-American favorites, you could hardly do better anywhere in Chinatown. Service was quite quick on an early weekend night, with the concomitant random arrival of dishes as they must have come from the kitchen. Certainly the freshness of each dish as it arrived was exemplary.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.