A couple of folks mentioned Mr Holy Gao to me....initially, I thought it was kind of a joke. Then "Jason" and "RD" commented on the place, looking at the location right across from Qualcomm, made it quite interesting.
So, a few weeks back I headed over on a weekend morning.
Based on the generic, rather clichéd décor I'm guessing this was an "ABC" establishment before?
It was a weekend morning and there were a bunch of "Chinese breakfast" items on the menu....but I saw the dishes coming out....which didn't look particularly inspiring, so I looked over the menu. There was a bunch of Sichuan dishes, but two items jumped out at me, so I ordered them.
The first was Sai Pang Xie ("Better than Crab" 賽螃蟹), a Jiangsu specialty that uses fish and egg whites to create a wonderfully creamy dish. Topped with black vinegar (just like you eat crab) and a nice dose of ginger....when you get a good version of that dish, it's quite heavenly.
This however, was not that. It wasn't terrible, but the eggs had been over-cooked and there was too much surimi in this, making it too "firm" for my liking. Not enough black vinegar and ginger made this a rather bland dish. The Missus still misses the version at the now defunct Best Taste of China. Though even there, it was a hit and miss dish. Kudos for having this on the menu though.
The other item was Tea Smoked Duck. I haven't found a decent version here in San Diego. So I ordered it.
I was surprised at the flavor, which was quite good. Nice seasoning, smokey, just enough salt. All of which made up for the rather rubbery skin. I took most of this home and the Missus enjoyed it. Though not enough to make Her want to accompany me back to the "Holy Gao". Oh, and I asked the Missus what the name of the place meant in Chinese and got told, "don't worry about it....you wouldn't understand....."
Which meant that I had to talk Calvin into joining me; which wasn't hard. I guess during the weekday, there are prepared lunches and what looked like Baozi for sale at what I initially thought was an oddly placed steam table.
So the drill usually is; I'll pick two dishes and Calvin picks two.....I have the right to veto, though. They were out of Tea Smoked Duck on this visit, so I went with the Pork Intestine with Dried Chilies.
This was easily the best dish of he day. While perhaps a tad over-fried, it was crisp, yet mildly chewy. More "ma" (numbing) than "la" (spicy), and definitely not bland. It also seemed a bit high on the msg side, but not disturbingly so. Nice dish.
I was thinking of getting the classic Shui Zhu Yu, but went with the Dou Fu Shao Yu (豆腐烧鱼). Usually a bit less spicy than the fish in hot sauce, when done right it's a symphony of textures. The tofu and the fish playing off each other in a bath of spicy sauce.
Loved the tofu in this; the fish, in terms of flavor was fine, no muddiness here. The "velveting" of the fish was a bit off tough, leaving us with rather gummy fish. The sauce wasn't very spicy at all and I would have appreciated more savory touches of doubian (spicy bean paste), ginger, and even salt.
Calvin loves lamb so he went with the Zi Ran Yang Rou - cumin lamb. I think you can tell how this was just by the look.
A bit too tough and not enough cumin. And strangely lacking salt?
He also ordered the Dry Fried Green Beans.
In spite of preferring my Gan Bian Si Ji Dou with beans a bit more puckery, this was pretty close. It did need more savory tones though as other than the garlic, this came through as being pretty plain in flavor. Add a bit more soy sauce or even the traditional preserved vegetable and this would be a decent version.
Another thing Calvin and I noticed....the rice here is not very good. It has a rather odd gummy texture....like it's been reheated multiple times?
After this, I gave the place a rest for a couple of weeks....but I wanted to get that Tea Smoked Duck for the Missus. So I returned on a recent weekend....to find that "Da' Gao" now has a real sign.
There's one really nice and friendly Server here. I think She gets a kick out of the fact that I can order some of the dishes (albiet terribly) in Chinese. So on this day, I ordered the classic Sichuan La Zhi Ji (辣子鸡) - Chicken with Chilies.
I liked that while this was perhaps a bit over-battered, the pieces were nice and crisp. Some were a bit too large and ponderous, but that's splitting hairs. This version uses dark meat, which is much more moist. Much like the intestine dish I had earlier, this could have used much more spice, though it was decently numbing. A decent rendition of this dish, though I'm used to having much more dried chilies which helps to bring up the heat of the dish.
And of course, this time they had the Tea Smoked Duck.
And while this time around, it was a bit drier, the skin was nice and crisp and the flavor was as good as before.
The really friendly Server dropped this by my table telling me "you try....you try".
Like I'd never had youtiao before. Kind of sweet actually.
I'm sure the folks in the area are happy to have a place like Mr Holy Gao nearby. In fact, there's not really much in terms of non-fast/ABC Chinese food in the area if I recall. So it really fills a need. I'm sure there are some dishes on the menu that I haven't tried....that menu is pretty large. We're not talking Chengdu Taste or anything like that here, but I thought some of the dishes were not bad. I'll probably roll around back here again in a few months.
Mr. Holy Gao
10066 Pacific Heights Blvd
San Diego, CA 92121
Open Daily - 11am - 930pm
Post Script - I've heard that Szechuan Chef has improved. Anyone been there recently?