Being Chinese, I've long pined for some proper Chinese food in this town. I know Mr. Hans serves more of a Beijing-style cuisine, but I'm talking about some good Dim Sum and Cantonese cooking. I've been disappointed before, when friends told me about Hong Kong Deli and South Garden. Both serve "Dim Sum", but Hong Kong Deli aren't even Cantonese people and both serve frozen pre-packaged garbage. This is why I was excited when I was told that Gator Suyaki was now serving what they billed to be "Authentic Chinese Cuisine" and "Dim Sum." That's when my journey of spiraling disappointment began.
As a little bit of background information, there are generally three types of Chinese food in the United States. One being the takeout places that all seemingly have the same menu (and graphic designer), who often advertise themselves as "New York Style." These are the people who water down the food to American tastes, it's not authentic, and I liken it to Taco Bell representing Mexican food. You know, the ones that serve nothing but Sweet and Sour, General Tso's, and Orange Chicken. There is no shortage of that in Gainesville. The second type is Szechuan/Hunan/Beijing food from their respective provinces, this is less popular in the States because of their strong spices and seasoning, but a few items like Peking Duck and Mushu Pork are well known. The third is Cantonese cuisine, the most popular "authentic" cuisine, and the people who brought Dim Sum to the world. If you're unfamiliar with Dim Sum, it's basically Chinese tapas served with tea in the morning and early afternoons. There's a variety of items from egg custard tarts, to shrimp dumplings, and roast pork buns. In short, it's delicious. That said, it's generally unacceptable in the Chinese community for anyone other than Cantonese people to make this. I liken it to asking a New Englander to cook Soul Food. Excuse the brevity, but I can only write so much here, if you want to learn more, search for "Cantonese cuisine."
Which brings me to Gator Suyaki, despite offering Dim Sum, they are in the same boat as Hong Kong Deli. No one there was Cantonese (I asked), and I was so put off that I didn't order it at all. I'm sure it was frozen pre-packaged crap that they serve to the "gwai lo" (white people). The restaurant is located in the old Szechuan Panda building on South 13th Street and Williston Road. It was an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant for a while, and I couldn't get a straight answer from any employees, but something happened along the way and now they serve "authentic Chinese." There's something very wrong about a place with a Japanese name, but serves Chinese food.
The menu is…overwhelming. That's putting it delicately. In true fashion to many authentic Chinese restaurants, there is a slew of items, but Suyaki must have over 300. Pictured is only two out of four of their pages. Although some of the items may seem unfamiliar to you, don't be fooled. This is not Chinese food. I've never even seen some of the items before, and being the son of someone who has been in the Asian food business for over 20 years, I've eaten at countless Chinese restaurants throughout the U.S., Canada, and China. There are items like "Mr. Mao Soy Pork", "Local Flavor Pork Kidney", and something called "Ants Climbing Trees"……what in the name of all that is holy is this crap? It's filler, that's what it is…to make the menu seem more full and entice those who claim to be adventurous, but have no idea.
After much deliberation, I went with two standard dishes; the House Special Noodle, and the Beijing Style Pork Chops. A friend who told me about the restaurant joined me, he ordered the Eggplant in Garlic Sauce and Smoked Pork with Bamboo and Garlic Leaves. Let's play a game of what you're supposed to get, and what I actually got.
House Special Noodles are supposed to be beautifully pan fried crispy egg noodles served in mixed vegetables, a soy sauce gravy, minced pork, and mushrooms. I specifically asked our waiter if this was pan fried, and he said yes. The menu also stated that it came with pork, mushrooms, and squid. I politely requested no squid because I did not eat seafood. When my food arrived, it was covered in shrimp. It got sent back, only to return 5 minutes later. I could still smell the shrimp on the food, so good luck to anyone who has food allergies. The dish was essentially pork lo mein, it wasn't pan fried, there was no gravy, barely any mushrooms, and for some reason, there were green peppers in it. It also tasted like someone dumped an entire container of Morton's Salt in it, which seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout the night. I informed our waiter that it was on the salty side, which prompted laughter from him. I'm not sure this is funny.
Beijing Style Pork Chops are supposed to be crispy fried bone-in pork chops with a sweet and slightly tango glaze over it. What I got was mushy and dried pork covered in what tasted like store-bought sweet & sour sauce. I've had better pork at a Panda Express. Whoever butchered the cut of meat, left the bones cut in a razor sharp angle which almost cut my tongue. I took one bite of this and gave it away. It was disgusting.
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce is supposed to be firm eggplant, tossed in a wok and served in a spicy garlic Szechuan sauce. The flavors were actually great in this dish, but the eggplant was severely overcooked. I picked up one piece with my fork, only to have it slip right off and literally splatter onto my plate. It must have been what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles saw when they ate the magic ooze. Only I didn't turn into a magic turtle, I turned into an angry Asian.
The Smoked Pork with Bamboo and Garlic Leaves? Don't even get me started. The pork was so salty, it was inedible. Dip a piece of ham in a bowl of sea salt and try eating that. Not even worth reviewing.
In short, the place is awful. I don't understand the reviews it has online, but to each his own. My vote? Skip the place, save your money, and drive down to Orlando for some proper Chinese food. Ming's Bistro at 1212 Woodward Street, or Lam's Garden on 2505 East Colonial Drive, are both very good. Or if you're in South Florida, the gold standard for me is Silver Pond Restaurant in Tamarac. I guess it's time for me to try Mr. Han's.