Great China Restaurant Is Beyond Great

The best Peking duck you just might ever have --- at Great China.

The best Peking duck you just might ever have — at Great China.


The first clue that Berkeley’s family-run Great China is quite unlike any other mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant comes when you pull up to the front door.

Even on a Sunday evening at 4:30 p.m., you’re likely to find a line of about 30 people, waiting patiently for the doors to open a half hour later.

Once you step inside, you get your next clue. The restaurant may carry a moniker of generations past, but its interior is all clean-lines contemporary with concrete floors, exposed ducts,  a waterfall-edged wood bar countertop, polished wood tables, pendant lights and oversized abstract canvases on the walls.

The restaurant was established in 1985 by Mike and Jenny Yu. It is now run by their sons, James and Tai, the latter who designed the restaurant space after a catastrophic fire destroyed the original location a few blocks away in 2012.

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An Edible Holiday Wreath

It's kind of like two treats in one.

It’s kind of like two treats in one.


Is it a cookie? Is it a wreath?

It’s actually both.

This started out as as Martha Stewart’s “Classic Shortbread” recipe from her cookbook, “Martha Stewart’s Cookies” (Clarkson Potter, 2008), one of my favorite baking books.

The butter-filled dough is pressed into a fluted tart pan to create one massive cookie that gets scored with a knife into wedges. The directions have you pressing a round 2 1/4-inch cookie cutter into the center before baking to create a doughnut-like hole.

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A Delicious Visit to Pioneering Vik’s Chaat

An icon in Berkeley.

An icon in Berkeley.


Amod Chopra likes to joke that the arc of his family-owned Vik’s Chaat cafe and grocery in Berkeley is best symbolized by an old TV set.

When the original 200-square-foot cafe opened in 1989 at a time when few non-Asian-Indian-Americans were familiar with the tradition of chaat or snacks, his father, for whom the business is named, put a TV in the dining room.

In the beginning, when few customers came through the doors, Chopra remembers watching shows on that TV to while away the hours of boredom. But then something happened as word began to spread of the vibrant, chili-inflected, palate-popping puffs, crepes, breads and chutneys that could be enjoyed at bargain prices.

“We got busy. And we moved the TV to another room,” he recalls. “Then, when we got really busy, we got rid of the TV.”

That was then. This is now — when a startling 1,000 people or so dine here on a typical Saturday or Sunday.

Owner Amod Chopra, whose father Vik, started the business.

Owner Amod Chopra, whose father Vik, started the business.

Some have been regulars since the beginning. It’s a good bet that for many, Vik’s was their first taste of Indian food beyond the requisite curries. What started out as a wholesale grocery still supplies the majority of Indian restaurants in the Bay Area today, too.

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Head Over Heels — And Doing Cartwheels — Over RT Rotisserie

In my happy place at RT Rotisserie.

In my happy place at RT Rotisserie.


Dear Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich:

Please open an outpost of your RT Rotisserie in the South Bay or Peninsula. Pretty please.


Your Number One Fan, aka the Food Gal


If you have tried the roast chicken and fixings at RT Rotisserie in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, you’ll be tempted to implore chef-owners Evan and Sarah to open a branch in your hood, too. One taste is all it takes to find yourself swooning over what is the most glorious roasted chicken you’ll ever experience.

After all, these are the same chefs who own the newly minted Michelin-starred Rich Table in San Francisco.

Chef Evan Rich manning the rotisserie.

Chef Evan Rich manning the rotisserie.

My husband and I ordered a veritable feast — and paid our tab though Chef Evan threw in a few extra dishes gratis — when we visited this more casual establishment recently. You order at the counter, then take a seat to have your food brought out to you when it’s ready.

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Gail Simmons’ Pastrami-Style Roast Turkey

Turkey perfect for a small holiday gathering.

Turkey perfect for a small holiday gathering.


Tea for two?

How about Thanksgiving turkey for four?

It can be done — beautifully, and without a lot of hassle, too.

Thanks to Gail Simmons’ recipe for “Pastrami-Style Roast Turkey.”

It’s from her new cookbook, “Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from A Life of Adventurous Eating” (Grand Central Life & Style), of which I received a review copy.

“Top Chef” fans, of course, will recognize Simmons as a regular judge on that popular Emmy-winning TV show. She’s also the special projects director at Food & Wine magazine, as well as a wife and mother.


Cooking chops runs in her family, as her mom was a freelance food writer and a part-time cooking teacher. Simmons followed in her footsteps, graduating from culinary school and apprenticing at some of New York’s top restaurants.

Which means, in short, that she knows her stuff. These are recipes that she cooks at home for family and friends, so nothing is overly fussy.

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