Gourmet Chinese is familiar and filling
By JR Grant 11/17/2011
67 West Main St., Suite C
Several of my friends have recently been telling me how much they enjoy “the little Chinese restaurant by Vons” near the end of Ventura Avenue in Ventura. Having driven by it many times without bothering to investigate the food, I’ve recently added it to my list of appetizing and easy takeaway food options.
Many of us had our first Chinese food experience as small children. The kitchen countertop filled with a variety of white cardboard containers with the little wire handles filled with a dazzling array of wormlike noodly things, fried rice, curious and crunchy vegetables, the vast array of little packets of soy sauce, mustard and weird-sounding plum sauce, way too much food regardless of how many we were. Of course, the meal always ended with a fortune cookie — one’s fate being read aloud to everyone else at table.
Despite its name, the menu at Gourmet Oriental is not fancy, nor is there evidence of any nontraditional or particularly “gourmet” Chinese items. This restaurant is a great place to visit if you just want basic, old-fashioned chow mein, egg foo yung, chop suey and other such longtime favorites. The egg foo yung is quite good and fresh-tasting, lots of chopped bean sprouts and veggies (as well as whatever meat or fish you select) mixed in an airy egg base and served with glutinous light-brown gravy. Actually, the gravy is rather bland and doesn’t add to the presentation. The omeletlike dish is quite flavorful enough without the gooey gravy addition.
On the other hand, the darker, thinner and tastier gravy made from oyster sauce and soy on the mu shu pork is top-notch, and makes the crepelike dish a unique and solid palate-pleasing experience. A variation of that sauce is also found in the barbecue park with green beans. Flavorful and simple, with firm and fresh-tasting beans and thinly sliced and marinated pork bites, this dish is very memorable and always pleasing.
Again, for back-to-basic Chinese, Gourmet Oriental excels in older, familiar dishes. The chow mein is loaded with bean sprouts and water chestnuts, and always tastes freshly prepared to order. Most dishes can be prepared with either a beef, chicken, pork or tofu option. The only time I’ve been disappointed was in ordering a crispy spicy garlic bean curd. While most dishes travel well in carryout, by the time I got this dish home it was no longer crispy or visually appetizing, and the flavor was mundane and rather mediocre.
The three soups here are very much worth mentioning. I particularly like the egg flower soup: a tasty chickeny base loaded with shredded egg slivers. The wor wonton is a lighter soup but equally robust and flavorful, steamy hot with particularly flavorful wontons. To my taste, the hot and sour has just the right mixture of flavor combinations, although I would like the piquancy and hotness to be a little more intense. For most diners, however, this soup may be a preferred choice.
In Chinese restaurants, it is interesting how different chefs prepare familiar dishes in different ways. Quite frequently, one sees “paper wrapped chicken” as an appetizer offering on the menu. Usually, it is a little chunk of chicken marinated in a soy mixture and cooked in an aluminum foil packet. It is the same here, except that rather than a chunk of chicken, it is a good-sized glob of ground chicken molded into an oblong ball shape, and then cooked in the foil wrapper. Here, it is full of flavor, but the texture of the ground chicken is a bit of a surprise.
One big disappointment for me is the jumbo fried shrimp. The shellfish are pounded and flattened, and then coated with a light panko-style breading before being quick-fried. I like plump, succulent shrimp in a tempura-style batter. To me, the jumbo fried shrimp at Gourmet Oriental are almost tasteless and very uninteresting.
If, however, you are looking for a reasonable old-fashioned Chinese food takeaway (or you can also eat in at this simple unadorned location), with oversized portions and great value, Gourmet Oriental tops the list.