Saturday, August 09, 2008

Grace Garden Again

Sichuan Beef Treasures - beef tongue, tripe and tendon mixed with scallion, peanuts & spicy Sichuan sauce, served chilled.

Many of my friends have this impression that I'm a sociable, outgoing and socially busy person who's never at home and hardly ever in town. That all may be true, but my adventures pale in comparison to my parents - whom I've been trying to take down to Grace Garden for over a month now. At least once a week, I invite them to come with me, but they're constantly busy going out with friends, going out dancing, partying or doing charitable work.

My life is downright lame compared to them.

It makes absolutely no sense for me to go to Grace Garden by myself. I couldn't eat all that I'd want to order and it would become prohibitively expensive for me just to order four dishes. I can only imagine the stares of other customers.

Empress Pork Chop - lightly fried pork chop sauteed with special tomato sauce.

Happily, we made our way down to Odenton for another round of great Chinese cooking - and by my choice, it's the best Chinese in Maryland. I've only been here twice, but the owners know me on sight and give us a big welcome. Considering that I've only been here twice, it's a bit disconcerting but very comfortable to go to places where they know you. Nice.

My usual visits have them choosing the dishes, but this time I've brought Tilly (the authentic Chinese girl) with me to do the ordering. After some careful consideration, she makes some careful choices for a balanced meal of beef, beef, beef, pork and tofu. For a moment, she thinks that we might need a steamed vegetable dish, maybe in lieu of one of the other dishes then decides against it. God bless this woman.

It's more of the same at Grace Garden, and by more of the same I mean: good. In a moment of hunger, I forget my previous resolution to order the Sichuan Treasures after the meal. Without a doubt, this is the best dish in the house. It's bold, it's tasty, it's absolutely delicious. I can't get enough. The problem is that it's such a bold dish that it overpowers everything that comes after - not to mention you've eaten so much of it that the hot peppers have set your mouth ablaze and diminished your palate's ability to discern nuances of flavor.

And every other dish on the menu is about nuances of flavor.

Beef Chow Fun - beef and rice noodles sauteed with soy sauce and bean sprouts.

If you like thin sliced and lightly crisp pork chops, then the Empress Pork Chop will suit you fine. It's covered in a sweet tomato sauce that's not too sweet, though I prefer less sweet, more pork and more vinegar. But then that would no longer be Empress Pork Chops but Pork Chops Filipino Style.

The Beef Chow Fun sported incredibly succulent and tender beef. In fact, the beef was so tender that you could hardly discern the texture from the flat noodles. Wondrous. But while it was skillfully prepared, I thought it lacked punch. It had beautiful color and aroma, but the flavors were flat. It needed more soy sauce. I so wanted to ask them for soy sauce but thought I might offend them, but I bet with a little soy sauce it would have been smashing.

Curry Beef Stew, Hong Kong Style - beef stew slow-cooked with potatoes in Hong Kong style curry sauce.

The Curry Beef Stew was the disappointment of the meal. First off, I didn't realize they had curry in China and the one curry dish I tried at a Chinese carry out was so atrocious I just thought it was a menu aberration for the local clientele. But evidently, they have curry in China.

The curry had nice color and looked tasty. Even the potatoes had been roasted separately giving them a nice texture. The curry had been stewed so long the pieces of beef were just supple and falling apart. I thought the dish lacked punch. It lacked something that I can't put my finger on. Tilly thought it had an off-flavor tasting of liver. I noticed the flavor she mentioned but thought it had more to do with the spice combination.

Home-Style Tofu - tofu sauteed with cabbage, shiitake mushroom & snow peas in hot chili sauce.

Tofu perfection was how Tilly described the tofu. I'm no tofu expert (preferring mine battered, deep fried and coated in hot sauce), so I'll defer to her assessment. According to the Chinese cuisine expert (her family has been in the restaurant business for generations), this was tofu defined: cooked just right on the outside to give it texture while remaining soft and succulent on the inside. Hmmm, it was pretty darn good tofu, to me. Now I know.

Sauteed with an assortment of vegetables, the tofu dish was quite pleasing without the batter. But for me, the shiitake mushrooms that exploded in your mouth with flavor and excruciatingly hot juices were the perfect compliment to the tofu. I ate a lot of that dish.

After three visits, we're really starting to get into the deeper sections of the menu, rather than the popular dishes made famous by other bloggers. While we're finding tasty and interesting dishes, I'm also starting to see that not everything is as stellar as the Tongue, Tripe and Tendon. It's all still very good and better than any Chinese restaurant I've been to in Maryland, but we're gonna have to do more exploration in the near future because I know you expect nothing less...

Grace Garden
1690 Annapolis Road
Odenton, MD 21113


Blue Ryder said...

I love how you note me as "authentic". While I am authentic in heritage, I'm first generation in the land of the free. So- someone else who might be more authentic then me may look at our menu choices and say, "what the.....?" But these items off of this very special menu are what my dad used to cook for me and my mom everyday- not at all on our carryout menu.

Thanks for taking us there, the next time we go, we have to have to have to try their crispy salty deep fried squid. I'm looking forward to it already....

Hey, see you in HAWAII!!!

m said...

Bob's Noodle 66 in Rockville. Seriously. Let's go.

onocoffee said...

When I return, my darling. When I return.