Good Luck Gourmet
5750 Buford Highway, Doraville
2 stars (very good)
If you are wary of Good Luck Gourmet, I can’t blame you. This restaurant is like the second wife of your friend’s ex-husband. She may have her charms; you’re just not ready to appreciate them yet.
Good Luck Gourmet, you see, has opened on hallowed ground — the longtime location of everyone’s favorite Buford Highway Chinese restaurant, Gu’s Bistro. (The Gu family is now operating Gu’s Dumplings in Krog Street Market and looking for a new location for the bistro.)
Personally, I can tell you it was a weird experience walking past the new sign into the same long, windowless, slightly lugubrious dining room. The decor — like a Chinese restaurant from David Lynch’s fever dream — hasn’t changed a whit. In fact, I think Pachelbel’s Canon was playing over the sound system the last time I was at Gu’s, and here it is again, welcoming me back.
The food, with its spice-hopped northwestern Chinese outlook, will remind you of Gu’s Sichuan specialties. In fact, once you forgive its non-Guness, you may find, as I did, there is much to appreciate about Good Luck Gourmet.
The new owners cook from a canon of dishes spanning northwest China, but they specialize in the cuisine of Shaanxi Province. Like their neighbors in the bordering province of Sichuan, the people of Shaanxi love to combine numbing Sichuan peppercorns with hot chilies. They also prepare a great array of wheat-based bread and noodles, which brings me to the dish that has become my obsession, my love, my new everything.
Called “Shaanxi-style cold noodle” on the menu and liang pi in Chinese, this dish combines slippery, milky-white strands with chewy slivers of wheat gluten cake, bean sprouts, fistfuls of cilantro and hella spice in a sweet-tangy black vinegar sauce. I want to inhale a plateful every day. There are versions served with slivered (and presumably gluten-free) tofu skin as well as springy black “bean fern root noodles.” They are delicious, just not get-up-in-your-chair-and-do-the-happy-dance delicious.
If you’ve eaten around New York, you may recognize liang pi as a specialty at Xi’an Famous Foods, a small chain of Shaanxi-style restaurants in that city. (Xi’an is the provincial capital, home to the Terracotta Army.)
There is a bit of menu overlap, which will make New Yorkers and Xi’an fans most happy. For instance, there’s pao-mo — a hearty lamb soup (identified as “steamed mutton” on the menu) containing slips of tender boneless meat and cubed Chinese bread in a milky, collagen-rich broth. You season it at the table with red chile paste and whole cloves of pickled garlic.
“Dry pots” are a big item on this menu; they are like hot pots without any broth. You pick a protein (shrimp, squid, chicken, bullfrog) and it arrives coated in red-spice oil in a deep vessel with slivers of potato, lotus root, braised kelp, leeks and cabbage. I liked it at the table and learned to love it as leftovers the next day.
The menu goes on for pages, with list upon list of vague translations — shallot fried pig bag, spicy tofu pudding fish, dry fry trichiurus haumela — that require some guessing and Googling. But, the more I throw darts at it, the more I see it comprises a best-hits of western China.
Xinjiang-style braised chicken brings a glorious fry-up of bone-in chicken and vegetables in a winey sauce that hits a welcome sweet note amid the table’s ferocious spice. At the bottom of the heap lies a bed of fat noodles, soaking up all the goodness.
There is Chongqing chicken, those little nubbins of meat fried up with a laughably head-exploding surfeit of red chile pods. It’s not as good as Gu’s, but still a thrill. Chengdu-style dumplings sliding around in red oil are huge, plump and numerous, a tremendous value at $8.
But about that red oil …
It can be hard to avoid ordering dish after dish bathed in chilies, Sichuan peppercorns and so much oil you wonder if you can use a Jiffy Lube coupon.
Here’s my solution: Do not overlook the vegetable section of the menu, where you will find mild, nongreasy treasures aplenty. Pillowy “vinegar-fried cabbage” offers a hint of tang with its candidacy for food obsession. Egg-fried bitter melon strikes a perfect balance between its scrambled egg and half moons of bitter gourd. A stir-fry of slivered smoked tofu and crisp celery tastes like a balm next to the shoutier dishes.
There is one young man running the front of the house. He speaks decent English and will immediately recognize you as an adventurous eater who needs guidance as you over-order. The leftovers will be voluminous and they will not last long.
After three visits and an additional four meals fashioned from the leftovers, I’m nursing a small crush on this restaurant. No, you may not find the delicacy and the culinary quality of the space’s former tenant. Yes, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of oil that goes into some of these dishes. But tell me if you don’t fall hard for the liang pi noodles.
All in all, I’d say Good Luck Gourmet is off to an auspicious start.
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