Watch, ask, taste: Curiosity rewarded at Gold Mountain
By Nichole Aksamit

Published Friday July 10, 2009

Some restaurants yield their secrets carefully, a layer at a time, in measured response to diners' curiosity.

Gold Mountain, a Chinese restaurant in an unassuming northwest Omaha strip mall, is such a place.

I'm ashamed to say it's been off my radar for most of its 4½ years. I spotted it only while taking an alternate route home, and I went in only on a fellow foodie's report that it offered dim sum (the Chinese version of tapas — small plates — a la carte, perfect for sharing).

With sun illuminating its western blinds, the restaurant feels bigger than its exterior suggests. A mirrored finish across the back gives the illusion of greater depth. And a framed photo of the owners with Martin Yan (the nationally known “Yan Can Cook” chef, who apparently ate at the restaurant in 2007) adds intrigue.

A majority of the diners on three recent visits appeared to be of Asian ancestry. And I overheard the Chinese greeting “Ni hao” more than a few times.

My heart sank a little on the first visit when the hostess handed us menus with the obligatory and ubiquitous Chinese-American offerings: egg rolls, wonton soup, fried rice, General Tso's chicken.

When I asked about dim sum, a new menu materialized. The photocopied, part-typed, part-handwritten half-sheet told a different story: pork ear, chicken feet, sticky rice in lotus leaf, steamed and fried dumplings and a few items not translated from their Chinese characters. Prices were $2.50 to $5.95.

Bye-bye, General Tso. Hello, dim sum.

At Gold Mountain, there isn't room to maneuver the traditional dim sum carts. So the dim sum menu is a simple checklist that you mark to order. The plates come out whenever they are ready, sometimes all at once.
Most items are available all the time, but your best chance at the full range (and your worst chance at immediate seating) is on weekends between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Our first run at that menu yielded five-spice beef — a platter of cold, one-eighth-inch-thick, neatly overlapped, scallop-edged slices of marbled and gelatinous beef. It had a pleasantly chewy texture and was imbued with the house five-spice blend: cinnamon, ginger, star anise, lemon grass and Thai basil.

Restaurant co-owner Jane Zheng told me later that the meat, from the cow's shin, is stewed in spices a long time, then chilled and sliced.

Next came pan-fried turnip cakes (golden squares of grated and fried vegetable, with earthy and fishy land mines of dried shrimp, scallop and shiitake mushroom), exceptionally hot pork and shrimp dumplings (sweet, gooey, cinnamon-spiced pockets of fried dough that tasted a bit like miniature apple pies), and shrimp balls (surprisingly light despite the curly fried wonton shreds on the outside).

We also shared roast duck. The bone-in, skin-on duck quarter had been roasted with those recurring five spices and hacked into 2-inch-thick slices. I wished the fat beneath the skin had been rendered more to melt it into the meat, but the flavor was nice.

And, though my date would have none of it, I had to try the battered-and-fried chicken feet.

They were more beautifully sauced than the version I tried in Beijing more than a decade ago — and every bit as awkward to eat. There's something strange about nibbling your way around tendons and sucking the tiny pocket of goo from the arch of a chicken foot, with those spindly toes dangling in front of your face. But its complex sauce (a mixture that includes red chili, oyster and black bean sauces) and supposed health benefits made it worthwhile.

“Good for the joints,” one of the servers said approvingly, motioning to her knees.

With that, we were stuffed. Having observed other beautiful, exotic and vegetable-laden dishes delivered to nearby tables, we also realized there was a third menu in play.

On the way out, we inquired about the mystery dishes. The hostess showed us “the Chinese menu.” Another world opened: jellyfish salad, corn soup with fish stomach, pork belly, tripe, whole roasted birds if you order ahead. I stifled a squeal and plotted a return.

On the next visit, we asked for the Chinese menu. We started with a delicate, almost floral dish of bright green bok choy and chewy shiitake mushrooms in ginger and scallion sauce. Then came unctuous, sweetly spiced slices of roasted pork belly over plum-simmered greens, and a savory dish of beef with wide noodles in black bean sauce.

Again and again, we heard other diners request a “spicy noodle soup” that I didn't recall seeing on the Chinese, dim sum or Chinese-American menus. When we asked, a server pointed at a wipe board A spicy soup was one of the specials, listed in Chinese symbols, Vietnamese and English. I nearly smacked my forehead. “Doh! They have pho! ”

I returned on a weekend lunch for that Vietnamese noodle soup and a few more dim sum dishes.

The sticky rice in lotus leaf arrived first. The olive green leaves unwrapped to reveal big bundles of rice, gooey and golden at the edges, with sausage-like crumbles of cooked pork and chicken, boiled egg yolk, dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms in the center. The bundles held their heat like tamales and were filling, comforting and even more delicious with some added hoisin (a tangy Asian barbecue sauce) and hot red chili sauce.

The “combination soup” from the specials board was a delicious beef pho: a big steaming bowl of beef broth with loads of thin rice noodles, circles of green onion and various meats. Mine had strips of five-spiced beef and beef tendon, a purple-gray beef meatball with a hint of liver flavor, and goose-bumped ivory noodlelike strips of tripe.

It was served with a plate of bean sprouts, a lemon wedge, bottles of hoisin and chile sauces and a generous pile of Thai basil. (Fresh cilantro and jalapeño peppers are also available.) The beef and onion flavors struck first, but sweet cinnamon and star anise became more prominent as it cooled. The hoisin and chili sauces added layers of tang and heat.
Next came a dessert that had no English name: three little discs of a cold purply-pink custard studded with tiny, sweet-tart red beans. The custard tasted of sweetened condensed milk, and something about it reminded me of rice pudding and cranberries.

Scrumptious Vietnamese spring rolls followed, their moist rice paper wrappers giving us a preview of their contents: cooked shrimp, barbecued beef, vermicelli and lettuce.

Then came the egg custard buns, a dessert made to look like very large boiled eggs. Each had a red dot on top, a sweet white steamed dumpling dough on the outside and a lemony yellow filling with a texture that mimicked a gently boiled egg yolk.

The baby bok choy was very simply cooked, al dente and brilliant green, in a light sauce perfumed with garlic. It was served with a big bowl of steamed rice.

Fried sesame balls were the last to arrive: three hollow golf ball-sized spheres coated in white sesame seeds. They were sticky and sweet, and really, really, really hot. When at last the outsides had cooled to a respectable crunch, the hollow middles remained molten, lined as they were with a lotus-seed-laced paste that tasted like honey.

Dim sum means “heart's delight” in Chinese, but Gold Mountain is also a poor man's delight. Lunch combos on the Chinese-American menu are about $5 to $7. The Chinese menu is a little higher, but the dishes are family-sized. Even dim sum portions could be shared among three people.

With tea, tax, tip and leftovers, we spent $28 for six dim-sum dishes that could have fed four; $32 for three entrees that translated into six full servings; and $45 for seven dim-sum dishes and two entrees that comfortably could have satisfied seven.

Our servers spoke enough English to manage and were kind, welcoming and efficient. One forgot us for a while after we were seated but apologized as soon as she noticed. Plates were cleared, water glasses filled and boxes offered for leftovers.

Quibbles were few: I'd have liked the sweeter dim sum items delivered at end of the meal instead of staggered throughout. There was no alcohol, as the restaurant doesn't yet have a liquor license. And, though I can see how chicken feet might stop some people at the door, I wish Gold Mountain had offered more obvious clues about its considerable range.

Perhaps subtlety's just the way it has to be for any ethnic restaurant trying to be true to its roots while offering what the locals expect.

On my weekend visit, I couldn't help but notice the only other Caucasians who weren't there for takeout: a couple sharing a platter of lo mein and stealing curious glances at our table.

I smiled with the hope that, in their own good time, they'd ask what we were having.

Contact the writer:
444-1069, nichole.aksamit@owh.com

Gold Mountain Restaurant

Address: 15505 Ruggles St.

Prices: $5 to $15 per person

Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Information: 496-1688 or www.newgoldmountain.com



15505 Ruggles Street
Suite # 105
Omaha NE 68116
Phone: 402-496-1688

Customer Quotes

"It is absolutely delicious" - Jenny

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