Dinner nearly swims in your table at Great Lake
By Laura McReynolds, News Restaurant Reviewer
Does Ann Arbor really need another Chinese resturant? In this case, yes. Because Great Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant is serving dishes you probably won't find anywhere else in town.
Jellyfish. Duck feet. Braised pigeon. Tripe. Great Lake serves them all along with seafood so fresh it's alive up until the moment you order it. It's Chinese cooking Hong Kong-style courtesy of the Yue Family, who opened Great Lake just four months ago.
You get General chicken, moo shu and Szechwan dishes if you really want them. But why bother when you can linger over delicacies such as whole lobster fruit salad, oyster casserole and fresh crab with ginger and green onion? Most impressively, all this splendor isn't appreciably more expensive than the food at other Chinese restaurants. Whole live lobsters, crabs and fish are market priced by the pound, but almost everything else is under $10.
Great Lake is on Carpenter near Packard in the space formerly occupied by another Chinese restaurant called Ping On. The Yues brightened the decor with new windows, a mirror behind the register prettily etched with pink and grey scaled fish, and colorful ceiling trim featuring lavishly painted peacocks and dragons.
It isn't centrally located, but the oblong fish tank full of live wriggling crabs and lobsters is undeniably the focal point of the dining room. Periodically, one of the staff fishes out a few crustaceans and carries them, frantically waving tentacles and all, into the kitchen. The victims don't make a sound, but you can almost see the word balloon: "HHHHEEELLLLPP!"
Great Lakes also offers whole fish prepared to order Chinese-style and served head and tails left on. There's usually just one of each variety available each day, listed with its weight and price on a chalkboard near the door and crossed off when someone orders it.
Because the fish range from a body 11/2 to 2 pounds, my dinner comparison and I didn't try to work one down between just the two of us. The fish looked wonderful going by our table, though, on its way to tables of families who smiles, chopsticks poised, as the beautiful white bass, grouper or sole was placed in the center for all to share.
Ever had cold jelly fish! It looks a lot like a pile of pale, pink worms, but it has an agreeable, snappy consistency and a mild fishy taste that goes well with the hot pepper seasoned sesame oil served on the side. We liked it almost as much as the more pedestrian but nonetheless delicious stuffed crab claws: tiny claws with batter-fried crab meat wrapped around them like drumsticks and served with a sweet tomato-based dipping sauce.
Maybe it's just the pretty blue and white bowls and distinctive wide-mouthed spoons, but there's something about eating Chinese soups that I find immensely tranquil and healing. The plain, old fashioned wonton is good here, as is the more exotic fish maw with crab meat and plump, tender bits of fish.
Cuttle fish turned out to be chewy cupped ovals with little corkscrew appendages attached by some sort membrane. It had the flavor and consistency of squid, to which it is related, and was quite good in a dusky yellow curry sauce with green peppers and onion.
The kitchen was out of walnuts, but cashews made a fine substitute in a fresh shrimp stir-fry highlighted by impeccable briny shrimp and colorful diced vegetables. It was almost as good as the assorted seafood with spicy salt, a savory addictive combination of seasoned, lightly battered shrimp, scallops and squid served very simply without a sauce.
Check out the chalkboard specials. I lucked into a particularly good grouper dish featuring flaky fish and garlicky Chinese broccoli. Other specials included clams in black bean sauce and white fish seared on a sizzling hot plate table side. Mmmmm.
The piece de resistance was undoubtedly our lobster, which we watched being carried off to the kitchen and brought out steaming hot and glorious under a Chinese black bean sauce brimming with green pepper and onion. Don't expect this to taste like the butter-soaked stuff you'd get at Real Seafood. Great Lake's version is definitely Asian in flavor, with the unmistakable taste of the ocean in each bite.
The Great Lake staff glommed onto the fact that I was a restaurant reviewer rather early on, resulting in spectacular service with personal attention from the manager. I did, however, see other tables being similarly fussed over, if not with the same degree of tension. I think it's safe to say that the staff is attentive to everyone.
Great Lake is open every day from 11 a.m to 2 a.m, making it a terrific place to stop after the late movie at Showcase Lobster at midnight. Lobster at midnight? Why not? It's an interesting addition to Ann Arbor.
Great Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant
2910 Carpenter Road 973-6666
Food..............8 out of 10
Service...........9 out 10
Atmosphere....6 out of 10
Hours: daily 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Plastic: Master Card and Visa.
Prices: moderate; entrees $7-$15
Wheelchair access: a ramped front entrance. Room to manuever and accessible rest rooms.