A few decades ago, going out for Chinese food was just one part of a usual dinner script. You'd start with egg rolls, of course, before moving on to General Tso's chicken, shrimp fried rice, lo mein, or chop suey.
If you're in search of a bit more color — and maybe with a full liquor bar and push-cart dim sum service — you'll need more than just your average Chinese takeout spot.
For that, you'll want to head to Gold Marquess Fine Chinese Restaurant in Pembroke Pines, a spacious dining room with lofty ceilings, a 20-seat bar, and a luxe private dining area that has already welcomed the likes of the Houston-based consulate-general for the People's Republic of China.
Owners Kam Ip and chef Yu Wu are the men behind the 6-month-old establishment. Both Chinese immigrants with more 20 years of restaurant industry experience between them, they opened the doors to their 280-seat restaurant in July, right smack in the heart of Pembroke Pines.
Unlike many of the smaller Chinese restaurants in the area, Gold Marquess was designed by Ip and Wu to be a fine-dining experience. But, depending on the crowd, that can make for an energy-filled or an entirely lackluster experience.
This restaurant has a split personality. During a busy weekday lunch rush, the dining room can be a boisterous and chaotic affair, filled with the clamorous roar of many tables ordering from the dim sum carts that roll past.
Dinner, on another weekday night, is quiet and almost boring, servers passing between tables in efficient silence. The only sound is the occasional clang of silverware, and the music, a peculiar distraction of Top 40 hits, a background noise that didn't resonate with dining room's slightly upscale digs.
Even if the ambiance is a bit off at times, an easy-to-approach menu offers a more comfortable experience, levied by the occasional provincial dish from Wu, also the restaurant's chef.
At its core, the dishes aren't so different from those in most Chinese restaurants. That makes for a tame experience, one that's guaranteed not to overwhelm the squeamish American diners. We found all the usual Chinese-American staples here, but there's a few Hong Kong specialties here, too. You won't find a black book with exotic options scrawled in Cantonese like you will at China Pavillion, but unless you're only looking for
Sit at a table for lunch and you'll most likely order dim sum, a menu of more than 60 selections available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. (with only steamed offerings available after, and delivered via
On the weekend, Li will offer a surprise dim sum special. Recently it was durian, the fruit's stinky flesh seasoned, coated in flour, and fried. The process renders the pungent stench tolerable so that only the durian's buttery flavor shines.
Of course, Li's most popular offerings are the one's you'd be most familiar with: his steamed barbecue pork buns, siu mei, fried shrimp balls, Shanghai dumplings, and — for dessert — a tart mango pudding. Those pork buns are the bestsellers, dome-shaped and palm-sized and made by hand by one of the kitchen's five dim sum chefs. They cook up soft and fluffy — though a touch dry — each tender nib of spiced minced meat encased in pillows of spongy, sweet dough.
It was hard to be unhappy spooning up dense, sticky clusters of his shrimp dumplings. They're some of the largest I've seen, plump pink shrimp visible beneath a gelatinous layer of rice paper. On a busy day, the kitchen will prepare as many as 250.
At the back of the dining room, you'll find a wall of fish tanks; they house yellow and white eel, marbled goby fish, Dungeness crab, oysters, geo duck, and tilapia. Every so often, a member of the kitchen staff will dip into the tank, procuring a writhing creature to send off to its demise in the kitchen beyond.
That means the golden egg crystal crab, a traditional dish you'll find at many oceanside restaurants in China's southern region, is always fresh. The Chinese are good at taking apart and preparing Dungeness so that it retains its texture and flavor, often seasoned with nothing more than a savory-sweet combination of fish and oyster sauce. At Gold Marquess, live crabs are plucked from the tank and brought to the kitchen, where they're hacked into manageable sections. Next, rather than flavor the firm-sweet meat with sauces, the crab is coated in a thick paste of seasoned batter and sautéed in a hot wok with fried red onions. The dish arrives steaming hot, a platter of crispy-fried sweet meat that offers just a hint of toasted nuttiness.
If you really want to go authentic, however, order the Peking duck. Everything about this dish — here a house specialty — was enjoyable, from the tableside presentation to the option to customize the dish with a number of finishing touches. A Beijing specialty, the duck is prepared in the traditional manner, a
From there, he'll present the duck's whole, taut body — a process that begins with a quick dip in boiling water before the bird is spit-roasted to a glistening golden-brown sheen. We watched as our server sliced through the tender meat, creating a beautiful pattern along the edge of the plate, neat cuts that included rubbery-fat slices of skin. It's served alongside a large basket of steamed buns, slivers of green onion, and a bowl of pasty-thick hoisin sauce. You're meant to make your own sandwich, a simple way to eat such an expensive dish.
What's left of the carcass is carted off to the kitchen, where the chef will do one of two things. He can shred the last of it for you, re-serving the remainder with sautéed vegetables and a tofu and mustard-green soup. We opted for the lettuce wraps, diced duck meat that's wok-fried with vegetables and served with crisp sheets of iceberg lettuce.
By the end of it all, we felt a bit showy and silly, but the food was good enough that I'd consider tolerating the entire process again, if just for another bite of perfectly cooked duck.
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Although there aren't many dishes more essential than Peking duck, Chinese comfort fare comes in a simpler form with Wu's Hong Kong-style fried rice, one of the restaurant's most popular dishes among his Asian patrons. The dish begins with fried and battered eggs, salted fish, and scallions sautéed together in a five-spice sauce. It's served with a dusting of fried minced scallops.
While Gold Marquess stabs at an elegant evening out — complete with a full liquor bar and daily happy hour — much of that evening elegance it's striving to welcome hasn't quite come together yet. Still, Ip and Wu have made a valiant effort to create a refined Chinese dining destination in the heart of South Florida's cultural melting pot. But the spacious dining room and bar can feel empty and cold, uninviting even. These are minor complaints, though, for a Chinese restaurant such as this, one that offers a number of solid dishes in a slightly upscale environment.
Gold Marquess Fine Chinese Restaurant
8525 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines. Hours are Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call
Hong Kong-style fried rice $18
Golden egg crystal crab market price
BBQ pork buns $4.50
Shrimp dumplings $4.50