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  China Great Wall Restaurant, new Haven, CT! 谷歌地图链接67惠特尼大街,纽黑文,CT  
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tiny circle for a great wall
tiny circle for a great wall
tiny circle for a great wall
tiny circle for a great wall
tiny circle for a great wall
tiny circle for a great wall
Behold the Great Wall
Whitney Avenue restaurant takes Dim Sum and Hot Pot to new heights. By Todd Lyon, Special to the Register

The meaning of “family-style” dining varies from culture to culture; for Italian-Americans, for instance, it might conjure visions of pasta and Sunday sauce being brought in great big bowls to the table. People of Chinese descent have two equally beautiful rituals that bring families together: Dim Sum and Hot Pot.

Here in New Haven, we are gifted with an eatery that offers splendid versions of both, plus an impressive array of other Chinese offerings: Great Wall Restaurant on Whitney Avenue, near Trumbull Street.

The restaurant started life as a tiny back-of-house operation embedded in an Asian grocery store owned by Michelle and Peter Guo (she grew up in Hong Kong; he hails from the coastal town of Fuzhou). Both came to this country 30 years ago and met in 1989. He by then owned a small takeout place in Middletown; after the two married, they opened Wei Chuan in Hamden.

The couple launched Hong Kong Grocery in 1992. Eventually they were able to buy the building, then, two years ago, bought the property next door as well as the parking lot in back. Thus, they moved the store to the larger of the two spaces
7,000 square feet on two floors — and opened Great Wall in their original location.

Since the beginning, the Guos’ strategy has been to recruit the best chefs they can find, each specializing in a single Chinese cuisine. Thus, there are a number of cooks from different regions, plus a dedicated Dim Sum chef who makes his magic in a special part of the kitchen that includes a bakery, where a marvelous variety of sweet and savory dishes emerge every day of the week, plus extra-special treats on weekends.

I wouldn’t have known about Great Wall’s superior dim sum if it weren’t for another sort of family — a loose-knit cluster of chefs and foodies who get together for eating adventures. The group — which jokingly refers to itself as “The Never Miss a Meal Club” — are big fans of the famous dim sum feasts offered in Flushing, N.Y., and thought I should know that a similar quality dim sum experience was now available in New Haven.

I met the fellas there one recent Sunday, and had a blast: plates of roast duck, roast pig, turnip cakes, bean paste buns, dumplings of all kinds and fascinating specialties of the house such as ox tongue and tripe with hot sauce — which I loved — were brought to us on wheeled carts (Michelle says that Great Wall is the only place in Connecticut where the traditional carts are used, outside of the casinos).
Ordered on sight, the plates were placed on an oversized lazy susan at our round table, and consumed so quickly that I wish
I had time-lapse video to count the seconds.

hot pot
The following week, I returned to Great Wall for the Hot Pot experience. This time, I brought a small circle of friends,
and we were seated at one of many special tables that featured insets to accommodate pots, which are in turn heated
by a hidden burner below. As it turned out, only one of our party opted for the personal, recessed pot; the rest of us shared.
And that is what Hot Pot is really all about.

Here’s the procedure: First, you pick your broth. You can go for a mild, herb-scented chicken-based broth, or a spicy dark broth packed with chilies, or both. We chose both, and soon a split cauldron of piping hot broth was placed on a portable gas burner at the table. Then, we were instructed to choose our ingredients from a buffet station. We each grabbed a plate, and filled it with such delights as raw squid, white fish, prawns, clams, quail eggs, beef balls, shrimp balls and fresh vegetables such as baby bok choy, bamboo and grape tomatoes. At our seats, we were presented with two plates of thin-sliced, raw meat: beef and lamb.

Each of us was assigned a miniature basket ladle, in which we placed our ingredient of choice. Then we plunged it into the broth, sticking to the advice that we use the mild liquid for seafood and vegetables and the spicy for meat. As our food cooked, the personable Michelle came by and presented us with two freshly made sauces, one featuring ginger and scallions and one with soy sauce, cilantro, sesame oil and other ingredients, to which was added a raw egg. (There is also a sauce bar where diners can choose or concoct their own.)

The idea was to retrieve the ladle, pluck the cooked food out of the basket with chopsticks, dip it in the cooling (and ridiculously delicious) sauces and enjoy.

And man, did we ever enjoy. Each bite was a mini-sensation, and the spicy broth turned out to be much less scary than all those chilies would imply, full of flavor but not painful. All the while we were accidentally making soup, and when the time came we returned to the buffet and selected a variety of noodles to add to each side of the cauldron, which by this time was swimming with errant scraps of meat, lost clams and the like. This, we ladled into small bowls and, even though we were already so full we could burst, ate the accidental soup, making yummy noises all the while.

The management brought out funny little desserts — one, a pleasant coconut milk gelatin, the other a clear gelatin filled with plant matter that was simply too weird for any of us, but interesting, nonetheless.

We looked at our watches and discovered we’d spent two hours at Great Wall, and never once did the food get cold. And that, says Michelle, is what’s so special about Hot Pot. People can get together, be interactive, take their time and experience a whole world of flavors.
For $20 a person, if you can believe it.

Great Wall does many things well. Right now, for instance, you can order hard-shell,
cold- water lobster cooked one of 10 different ways for $11.99;
I tried the Lobster with Szechuan Sauce one day last week for lunch, and it was a knockout.

The menu is enormous, with both Cantonese and Szechuan specialties, plus a long list of vegetarian options. But the Guos pride themselves on cooking what’s fresh and in season, and they love it when people come in and simply ask them what’s good.

“We’re in the grocery business, we know what’s seasonal, and we can make it at a nice price,” says Michelle. “First, you ask about the specials. Then, the menu, where you can explore and find many things you can’t find on other menus.” Let’s not forget the bubble teas, the daily buffet and the house-roasted duck and pork, which you can buy by the pound. “We’re becoming a little Chinatown here, right in New Haven.” So true, and such fun, with or without the family.

Todd Lyon of New Haven is a free-lance writer and proprietor of Fashionista on Whitney Avenue

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