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A Buddha In Every Pot

[whitespace] Oscea Wagner and Nate Smith
George Sakkestad

Chinese Gold: Oscea Wagner (left) and Nate Smith get cozy behind the Golden Buddha's bamboo door while sampling a 'Lovers Platter.'

In the heart of Soquel Village, Golden Buddha has been making tasty fortunes come true for more than 15 years

By Christina Waters

NOTHING SUCCEEDS like success, they say, and Golden Buddha has maintained its position in the hearts and tastebuds of Soquel residents for long enough to illustrate that point. One of the great things about this country is the institution of the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, but not all neighborhoods are as lucky as this one. Golden Buddha has lasted this long by sticking to the sort of basics everybody craves--inexpensive dishes, freshly cooked classics and just enough ambiance to make you feel like returning often.

Kelly and I admired the glowing red lanterns out front and the way the tiny, cozy booths inside look exactly as they did when Golden Buddha opened for business long ago. A labyrinth of dark wood rooms punctuated by tiny white lights, the restaurant offers the privacy of booths without feeling crowded. On each polished table, a lazy susan filled with oils and vinegars anticipates lots of interactive customizing of dishes. After all, part of the point here is to share dishes and to step up the firepower as desired.

An excellent sauvignon blanc by Columbia Crest ($3.85) kept me company as our opening appetizer of vegetarian spring rolls arrived ($2.25). Fat, glistening with oil and extremely crisp, they were very satisfying--especially as a delivery system for hot mustard and garlic oil, a combination Kelly and I both embraced.

The soft, moist interior--mildly seasoned sprouts and greens--made a nice contrast with the crisp rice-paper wrapper. Lighter than a classic egg roll, these fun finger foods disappeared faster than a fortune cookie.

The pace of dining here is always up to the kitchen, since Golden Buddha specializes in custom-cooked orders. So we waited patiently, and not too long, for a cast-iron pot of sensuous Red Dragon Tofu, a.k.a. MaPo Tofu, to arrive ($6.99).

Generously sauced with a complex and fiery chile garlic sauce, a flotilla of soft tofu cubes had been expertly baked into one of the great flavor explosions of the Szechuan repertoire. I love MaPo tofu and Golden Buddha's version, graced with a hint of star anise and plenty of sweat-producing firepower, is a bonafide destination dish.

We next piled high our plates from a huge tureen of perfect white rice and addressed our other entrees. A steaming platter of well-crafted Mongolian beef looked beautiful ($7.75). Generously portioned with thick strips of tender, medium-rare filet, the dish was nicely sauced with beef juices and hints of mustard and soy, and liberally interwoven with plenty of emerald scallions. Two healthy, hungry women--that would be us--did their best on this entree, and yet there was a full dinner portion remaining to take home. This is not a complaint, mind you. Not at all.

Another dish of Shanghai shrimp dumplings ($6.95) ended up sounding better than it actually proved to be in the eating. Giant wonton wrappers had been stuffed with a prawn and then served in an abundant portion in a thick, red sauce that tasted like very sweet, spicy catsup. We were hoping for more of the advertised shrimp, pork and cilantro.

Two out of three dumplings were tough, but the whole effect was improved by the addition of rice vinegar and soy sauce. Still, "dumpling" sounds like something that should be soft and pliant and served with a dipping sauce, rather than a dry, stuffed wonton. Expectation clouds awareness, as Frank Herbert said somewhere in the first chapter of Dune.

Still, so much, so fresh and for so little.


Golden Buddha Restaurant
Address: 4610 Soquel Dr., Soquel
Phone: 831.479.0788
Hours: Open daily for lunch 11am-2:30pm; dinner 4:30-9:30pm. Delivery and carry-out available.
Cuisine: ** Golden Buddha does a nice, fresh job delivering some of the great flavors of Chinese country cooking
Ambiance: ** Cozy booths and an uncluttered decor make diners feel welcome
Service: ** As swift as the kitchen can deliver, service is attentive without fussing
Overall: A longstanding dining tradition, Golden Buddha enjoys and earns its own favorable fortune.

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From the January 27-February 3, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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