Forbidden City a Hidden Treasure
Friday October 2
By Jay Beeler
When it comes to dining out in Long Beach, you won’t find anything like the Forbidden City Chinese Restaurant for quality food, good service, ambiance, authenticity and generosity.
It reminds one of a well-prepared artichoke: as you peel back the various leaves, there is more to it than meets the eye. At the heart there are two dynamic, amazing owners who have been very successful at other ventures and are now enjoying a new role as restaurateurs and benefactors to numerous community charities.
When Michael Brausen and partner Gao Yan were walking their dog in the cavernous Marina Pacific complex one weekend seven years ago, they came across the vacated, lower-level spot that once housed Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery, which suffered from its hidden location at the south end of the complex. On the following Monday they signed a 20-year lease for the 7,000 sq. ft. space.
The genesis for opening a Chinese restaurant actually started in 2007, when the couple was visiting Bejing. With a background in event marketing and production, the Chinese Central Television network called on Brausen’s talents to train its staff to prepare for broadcasting the 2008 Bejing Olympics.
They were exposed to the Forbidden City section of Bejing toward the end of their visit. It served as the imperial palace for Chinese emperors from 1420 to 1912. Thereafter the restaurant’s name was born.
A retired surgeon in China, Gao Yan’s expertise in restaurants came later as general manager for a Balboa Island Chinese restaurant. Armed with a signed lease she went with Michael on a spending spree in China to purchase the furniture, custom, hand-crafted artifacts, statuary and other furnishings that give the restaurant an authentic, museum-like ambiance. The purchases filled three 40-foot containers and weighed 66 tons.
The restaurant opened in July 2010 and features a full menu of authentic Chinese food, a full beverage bar, a sushi bar, seating for 150 and a patio area for private parties, with seating up to 90 persons. “Our chefs specialize in their own distinct customs, flavors and culture,” boasts the website www.forbiddencitylongbeach.com.
In two visits we sampled some of the more popular dishes, including Peking Duck with a plum sauce, Sizzling Black Pepper Beef, Crispy Orange Chicken, Broccoli and Beef, Shrimp with Snow Peas, Walnut Shrimp, Shiitake Mushrooms, Forbidden Scallops and “Magic” Beans. (They are magic because they look like asparagus and don’t have the green bean taste.) Every creation was cooked to perfection and mouth-watering delicious!
We also sampled the Forbidden City Deluxe Boat, containing 15 pieces of sashimi (raw salmon, tuna, yellowtail – sans rice), five pieces of sushi and a Rainbow Roll. The sushi was a Fuji Roll (a Michael creation that’s very indulgent tasting but healthy) with crab meat, shrimp, asparagus, rice – contained within a soy wrap.
The sauce served with the Crispy Orange Chicken reflects the attention to detail used for a unique, tasty dining experience: It takes six days to make, as does the sweet and sour sauce.
Starting with oranges and lemons cut in half, then simmered, it is refrigerated for six days. Once the rinds are removed the combination is reduced using heat to create a thick sauce with no sugar and no artificial flavoring.
We thoroughly enjoyed the iced green tea beverage with its natural sweetness created by growing the tea and jasmine plants close together and letting the bees create the unique flavor. This same item is used for their wonderful green tea ice cream, which Michael describes as a western creation.
To cap off this adventure we were offered Bijou, a Chinese liquor. A small splash was poured on the marble table and lit on fire to demonstrate its potency. Bijou stands for an ornamental object or jewel, which apply describes this five-star restaurant and a “must visit” place for anyone who hasn’t had the dining pleasure.
Back to the artichoke analogy, Michael and Gao Yan are very generous in the support of local non-profits like Musical Theatre West, the 49 Athletic Foundation’s Jewels of the Night, Memorial Medical Center’s Steel Magnolias, local schools and politicians, regardless of party affiliation. Attendees at the organization’s fundraisers will often experience donated Chinese food and/or gift certificates provided by Forbidden City.
The restaurant is located at 6380 E. Pacific Coast Hwy. Phone (562) 961-3500 for reservations. Hours are Monday-Friday, 3 p.m. to midnight and 1 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Happy Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 3-6 p.m. and Monday 3 p.m. – 1 a.m.