Great Taste Chinese Restaurant had opened up a couple of months ago in the spot that used to be home to the MBA BBQ Noodle House in Chinatown. When I had heard from my coworkers that, Great Taste serves up some decent spicy food, I was intrigued and wanted to check it out. Looking at the menu, Great Taste serves up a vast variety of regional Chinese fare such as Shanghainese dishes, Szechuan dishes, Beijing-style dishes, and even some Cantonese ones. I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical at first as I always am when I see a restaurant with such a vast menu of dishes from all different regions. To me, the menu has a bit of an identity crisis as I wonder how a restaurant could excel at cooking all these different regional cuisines since the cuisines are so different.
At Great Taste Chinese Restaurant, they offer menu of Lunch Special Combos on weekdays only in addition to their regular menu. All these Lunch Special Combos are priced at $8.95. These lunch sets are divided into two categories. The first category consists of main dishes (smaller versions of select dishes from the regular menu) and they are served with rice along with a choice of either the daily soup or a drink such as hot/cold coffee, milk tea, or soymilk, lemon coke, or pop. The second category of Lunch Special Combos consists of fried noodles, fried rice, and noodle soups. For this second category both the daily soup and a choice of drink such as hot/cold coffee, milk tea, or soymilk, lemon coke, or pop are included as part of the combo.
On my first visit, there were six of us and we ordered a bunch of dishes to share. Our first dish was one of the lunch combos – Dan Dan Noodle Soup ($8.95) and it came with both the daily soup and a choice of beverage. The daily soup happened to be Seaweed Egg Drop Soup. For me personally, with respect to the Seaweed Egg Drop Soup, I could take it or leave it. It wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either. As for the Dan Dan Noodle Soup, it was delicious. I really liked the sesame and nutty flavours in the soup base and the noodles were perfectly al dente. I also liked the contrasting textures from the shredded cucumber and ground peanuts. For me, I enjoyed this version of Dan Dan Noodles much more than the one that we tried at Szechuan Restaurant awhile back. If you don’t want to order it as part of the combo, you can order the Dan Dan Noodle Soup (aka Noodle in Spicy Soup) by itself on the regular menu for $5.95.
Our second dish was another one of the Lunch Special Combos – the Singapore Style Fried Vermicelli ($8.95). Again, it came with both the daily soup, which was the Seaweed Egg Drop Soup, and a choice of beverage. The Singapore Style Fried Vermicelli is one of those dishes that one would typically find at a Hong Kong-style cafe or Cantonese Restaurant. The curry-flavoured fried vermicelli noodles tasted ok but it wasn’t exemplary. Included in the noodles were julienned red and green bell pepper pieces, slices of fried egg, and bean sprouts. Again, if you don’t want to order it was part of the combo, you can order the Singapore Style Fried Vermicelli by itself as part of the regular menu for $11.95. I’m sure the portion would be larger given the price although I thought this portion was already quite generous.
For the third dish, we had the Lunch Special Combo consisting of Stir Fried Sliced Pork with Spicy Sauce ($8.95). This combo came with a choice of either the daily soup or a drink such as hot/cold coffee, milk tea, or soymilk, lemon coke, or pop. This pork dish is often known as Twice Cooked Pork or Huí Guō Ròu (回锅肉) and is a classic Szechuan dish. The dish is called Twice Cooked Pork because the pork belly is first simmered and then sliced into thin pieces, almost like bacon. It is then stir fried along with cabbage and red and green peppers. I was curious to see how this version compared to the one from Szechuan Restaurant. Personally, I found the pork belly slices to be cut too thick in this version and the pork was a little bit chewy. Flavour-wise it didn’t have the complexity of flavours and smokiness that the version from Szechuan Restaurant did. Also, I didn’t find this dish to be spicy enough. I definitely thought the version from Szechuan Restaurant was better executed. Again, if you don’t want to order it was part of the combo, you can get the full-size order of the Stir Fried Sliced Pork with Spicy Sauce as part of the regular menu for $12.95.
Our fourth dish was the Lunch Special Combo containing Stir Fried Eggplant with Spicy Sauce with Rice ($8.95). Again, this combo came with a choice of either the daily soup or a drink such as hot/cold coffee, milk tea, or soymilk, lemon coke, or pop. This eggplant dish is better known as Fish-Fragrant Eggplant or 鱼香茄子 in Chinese and is a classic Szechuan dish. Despite its common name in both English and Chinese, it actually doesn’t contain any fish. Though the dish has the same name in Chinese, it seems the preparation varies greatly from restaurant to restaurant. This dish did not resemble much like the versions that I had at Delicious Country or Szechuan Restaurant. But the one thing that confused me the most about this dish was the sweetness. It was not that spicy at all but was quite a bit sweeter than all of us had anticipated. If I had tasted this dish alone with no prior knowledge of what the dish was called, I would never had guessed that this was the Fish-Fragrant Eggplant dish. My personal favourite in Calgary for this dish so far is the version from Szechuan Restaurant as I found the flavours to be a lot more complex. Like the other dishes, this Stir Fried Eggplant with Spicy Sauce dish can be ordered on its own from the regular menu for $12.95 as a full-size order. One thing to note is that on the regular menu, this dish is actually listed as Braised Eggplant & Minced Pork instead of Stir Fried Eggplant with Spicy Sauce though the Chinese name is the same on both the regular and Lunch Special menus.
We also tried the Fish Fillet in Chili Pepper Soup ($15.95). This dish is better known as Water-Boiled Fish or Shuizhuyu (水煮魚). The English translation varies from restaurant to restaurant so it’s sometimes hard to decipher on the menu if they don’t have pictures. I was really curious how this dish compared to the versions that I tried at Szechuan Restaurant and Delicious Country. I had already anticipated that this version would be stylistically different from the one at Han’s Restaurant as the version from Han’s is Taiwanese-Szechuan whereas this version is classic Szechuan. I would say this version from Great Taste Chinese Restaurant is pretty much on par with the version from Szechuan Restaurant. I definitely liked this more than the version from Delicious Country as I thought the flavours were more complex in this version. One interesting ingredient in this version is the addition of wood ear fungus to the soup which I’d never seen before in other versions of this dish. My coworkers really enjoyed the crunchy texture of the wood ear fungus.
Lastly, one of my coworkers wanted to try some of the dim sum items. All of the dim sum items at Great Taste are Northern Chinese/Shanghainese dim sum items. We ordered the Pan Fried Shanghai Pork Dumplings ($5.95 for 6 pieces) and the Pan Fried Chive Cakes ($4.95 for 3 pieces). I thought both of these dim sum dishes were very well executed. I liked the pork filling a lot in the Pan Fried Shanghai Pork Dumplings though I found the wrapper to be a bit thicker than I would have preferred. I was most impressed with the Pan Fried Chive Cakes. The wrapper was flaky and light while being perfectly crispy on the outside. I would say this version of Pan Fried Chive Cakes (often known as Chive Pockets) is probably the best that I’ve ever tasted and this even includes the versions that I’ve had at various places in Vancouver. The chive filling was really flavourful but did not taste grassy like some not-so-well-executed versions that I’ve had in the past. These Pan Fried Chive Cakes were definitely a winner and a must order if you love Chive Cakes.
I was so impressed with several of the items that we had on this first visit that I was craving them again a few days later. I went back a second time for lunch that week with more coworkers in tow as there were several items on the menu that had piqued my interest.
Again, we ordered the Dan Dan Noodles ($5.95) and the Fish Fillet in Chili Pepper Soup ($15.95) as these were both favourites from our first visit. Both dishes were as good as we remembered them to be a couple of days earlier. This is always a good sign when a restaurant can maintain consistency in the execution of the dishes from visit to visit.
On this visit we decided to try the Ma Po Tofu ($11.95). To our pleasant surprise, this dish was a winner! This was a stark contrast to the version that we had tried at Szechuan Restaurant, which none of us had cared for. The flavours in this version were bright and the sauce was of the perfect consistency. Being a tofu dish, I was actually surprised how many of my coworkers actually loved it. Even for myself, normally I’m not a huge tofu fan, but I have to say this is one of the best versions of Ma Po Tofu that I’ve had in a long time. I’ll definitely be ordering this dish again on my next visit to Great Taste. As a side note, this dish is also available as one of the Lunch Special Combos for $8.95 and would include rice and a choice of either the daily soup or a drink such as hot/cold coffee, milk tea, or soymilk, lemon coke, or pop
Next up was the Diced Chicken with Chili ($13.95). Note that there are actually two versions of this dish at Great Taste. This one is the Szechuan version. They also offer a Hunan Style Diced Chicken with Chili, which apparently comes coated with a sauce. I have no idea what the Hunan Style version is like as I’d never heard of it before. But the classic Szechuan version is often known as La Zi Ji (辣子鸡), Thousand Chili Chicken, Chongqing Chicken, or sometimes even Chicken with Chilies. I was curious how this dish compared to the versions that I tried at Szechuan Restaurant and Delicious Country. Unlike at Szechuan Restaurant, Great Taste only offers the bone-in version, which is the classic preparation. I liked this version more than the one from Delicious Country as the chicken pieces had more meat on them and the overall, flavours were more complex. But if I had to choose, I personally thought the version from Szechuan Restaurant was slightly better and it’s an added bonus that they offer a boneless version of this dish. If I ever see a boneless option available for this dish, I would always order the boneless version even though it is not necessarily authentic so that I don’t have to deal with the bone fragments in the chicken.
Our next dish was the Stir Fried Eggplant & Minced Pork ($12.95). Note this is not the same dish that we tried on our first visit to Great Taste even though the name is somewhat similar. The dish that we had on our first visit as part of the Lunch Combo was the Stir Fried Eggplant with Spicy Sauce, which is actually listed as Braised Eggplant & Minced Pork on the regular menu. This dish is a totally different preparation although in appearance it looks similar to the Fish-Fragrant Eggplant dishes that we’ve had at Delicious Country and Szechuan Restaurant. The flavours in this dish were fine. My biggest issue with this dish was that the eggplant was overcooked to the point of being mushy and gloopy. After having tried both eggplant dishes at Great Taste and being disappointed with both, it appears that eggplant dishes may not be their strength. Since their menu is so diverse, I’ll probably choose to order other dishes on my next visit.
From the dim sum items, we tried the Beijing Style Onion Donut ($4.95 for 2). A coworker and I have had an exemplary version of this dim sum item at Spice Kitchen in Edmonton. We were really hoping that we could find a place in Calgary that makes onion donuts just as good as the ones from Spice Kitchen. This version from Great Taste is just ok. I thought the donut itself could have been deep-fried longer as it was rather pale and not as crispy as it could have been. As for the filling, both my coworkers and I found the green onion filling to be a bit greasy as we could actually see some of the oil oozing out from the minced green onions.
One of my coworkers had recommended that we try the Pan Fried Onion Pancake ($4.95). This version of the onion pancake is actually quite similar to roti prata. The pancake was a little flaky and had some layers. However, I still thought it was a bit too doughy for my liking. I didn’t quite understand why my coworker liked it so much.
Last, but no least, we tried the Sesame Cake Stuffed with Minced Pork ($4.95). This dim sum item is often known in Chinese as Shaobing. There can be many varieties of Shaobing, some filled and some unfilled. Of the filled varieties, the stuffing can either be sweet or savoury. At Great Taste, they only offer savoury fillings for the Shaobing. There are actually two varieties of filling at Great Taste, one with beef and the other with minced pork. I decided to choose the minced pork variety. To my pleasant surprise, I was really impressed with the execution of this dish. The pastry was crispy, light, and flaky. The minced pork filling was flavourful and not too sweet, unlike other versions that I’ve tasted in the past. And the shredded cucumber was a nice textural contrast as well as provided a refreshing flavour. I would say this is actually one of the best versions of Shaobing that I’ve had so far, including the versions that I’ve tried at various places in Vancouver. I would definitely order this dish again on my next visit to Great Taste.
So far, Great Taste Chinese Restaurant has become my new favourite Chinese restaurant. Though I have yet to find a place that is as good as Han’s Restaurant during its glory days under the original ownership, to me, Great Taste Chinese Restaurant is a pretty good replacement. Since the menu is very vast, there are some hits and misses. We recognize that not every single dish is their strength. We have definitely found some favourites and dishes that they definitely excel in. My favourites include the Dan Dan Noodles, the Fish Fillet in Chili Pepper Soup, the Ma Po Tofu, the Pan Fried Chive Cakes, and of course, the Sesame Cake Stuffed with Minced Pork. Since their menu is so large, it will take me many more visits to try all the dishes that have intrigued me. Their service is great and it’s an added bonus that they take reservations. On our second visit, the entire restaurant was full during the lunch hour and they managed to get food out to all the tables quickly and everyone managed to finish their lunch by 1pm. This is an impressive feat as I know many restaurants are not able to pull that off.
Great Taste Chinese Restaurant
123 – 2nd Ave SE