Qingdao Garden (long)
Today, spurred on by intriguing posts and the fact that Qingdao Garden was not in the Yellow Pages, I decided I had to go there to find out what the story was. Although I went there solo, I did, of course, have to do my duty and try much too many items, knowing full well that I would have to cart much of the food home.
My order and comments are as follows:
Hot and Sour Soup: not the ambrosial stuff I am looking for. Peppery, but not the least bit sour.
Q6 Leek Dumplings: good and interesting (esp. if you like leeks). I didn't find the black vinegar a terrific adjunct. At home, I tried one with balsamic vinegar, since I have seen this mentioned as a substitute for black vinegar. I liked that better, but these dumplings are good enough to be savored on their own.
Q11 Scallion Pancake: okay, but not the best I've ever had (which was coiled and had a bit of sesame oil flavor--made by a friend's mother).
Q36 Bean Curd Skin with Mushroom: nice texture, pretty bland, which is fine as a complement to spicier dishes. Mushroom flavor almost or totally undetectable, alas, because bottom of many pieces was a bit blackened.
Q41 Spicy Pork Tripe Salad: interesting, with what seemed to be chili oil, bits of fresh chili, shreds of ginger, and coriander. I think I would have liked a bit of sourness in this as well.
Because you are not going to find this restaurant in the Yellow Pages, I will give the specifics:
2382 Mass. Ave. (opp. the T's North Cambridge car barn)
S-W + Th 11:30-10:00; Fr + Sa 11:30-10:30; Tu closed. Buffet ($6.25): M, W-Fr (except holidays: 11:30-2:30.
This is a very small restaurant with 8 tables, which seat 29-30 people maximum. This is, in fact, why the restaurant is not listed in the Yellow Pages. It is refreshing to find a place that thinks it has enough customers, given its small size and the fact that it employs two chefs, and doesn't need to try to find more.
The buffet cart is also rather small. Although it was not in use on Saturday, I walked around it to jot down the labels, which were still up: vegetable egg roll, chicken wings, pork with onion, General Gau's chicken, lobster sauce, sweet and sour sauce, pork fried rice, vegetable lo mein, kung pao chicken, vegetable delight, crab rangoon, Peking ravioli, chicken fingers. I doubt they could serve all of this at once, since these items wouldn't fit even if they had three containers in each slot. The waiter, who spoke very good English explained that it was small, but everything was freshly cooked as people desired it.
Other gleanings, which probably pertain more to the specialties and some of the more unusual items on the menu: People who come here from China are generally rather perplexed when they encounter our Chinese restaurants, even in Chinatown, because the food served there is not what they are accustomed to. This restaurant serves things as they would be found in China--and not just southern China, which is the usual restaurant orientation. In fact, the more frequently encountered items are not popular in this restaurant (although I think I will be able to use them to get my daughter to accompany me). There were sheets of paper in Chinese on the wall next to each table. When I asked, I was pleased to find that they are being translated into English too. There was also a board of specials (I think three, also in Chinese). The waiter (actually I think he was more than a waiter, but that is what he was doing) was so nice and friendly, I'm sure a persistent Hound could find out what the specials are.
You will be relieved to find that I am now done blithering.
ErstwhileEditor, who will go to this restaurant again
Thanks for the comprehensive post re QG. I always appreciate reviewers that say what they didn't like as well as what they did. I have only been to Quingdao once, as its sister Wang's in Magoun square is a little closer to me -- but this spring I had a terrible headcold and needed some noodles, broth, and chile. The (very nice) waitress assured me they would make it as hot as I wanted and popped an added tub of chile oil into my bag as well. While I waited for my order, I witnessed a regular customer bellying up to the buffet cart, which is as tiny as you say. In addition to his heaping plate of food, he wanted a chicken dish that had been cleaned out by a previous eater... the waitress rushed back to the kitchen to get this guy more chow and it emerged, freshly prepared for him a few minutes later. There was also a table of 4 chinese patrons who had the most dazzling array of dumplings I've ever seen (and it wasn't the cold medicine talking). They obviously knew the cooks or owners or both and didn't really seem to be ordering as small plates of piping hot dumplings, some steamed, some fried, kept coming out of the kitchen. I really wanted to join them, but sadly they didn't ask so I left with my perfectly spicy cold remedy. I too will return. Thanks for the reminder...
You know, I have been wondering whether, since the waiter/? was so nice, and there was NO language barrier, I could get a combination of dumplings instead of just one kind. You get quite a few on the plate, and if you are alone, that is not ideal. I think I will wander back there to do some more exploring. If my daughter is with me, she can try something like General Gau's Chicken, which I will never admit to wanting occasionally, while I try some more unusual things. She would also probably like a pupu platter, which would at least provide some feedback on a lot of the appetizers....
BTW, when I was finishing up the leek dumplings at home, I noticed they contained some tiny pieces of bean thread, which I had not noticed at the time, but which have been mentioned as a component of the spinach dumplings.
They're all so nice there, I'm sure they'd be willing to mix 'n' match for you if it is at all possible. Besides, I suspect that the more we encourage these folks to be creative with their dumplings, the happier a thing it will be for all concerned. Haven't hit Wang's yet, but I understand they have a much wider variety. Perhaps if we all start asking at Qingdao, they'll take the hint.
re: C. Fox
It's been awhile since I've hit Wang's, but if I remember correctly, the dumpling menu is the same for both restaurants. The QingDao also has a really wonderful fried steamed dumpling listed in the appetizer section. It's somewhat like the canonical Peking Ravioli, only improved in every way by an excellent ground meat filling and a paper-thin dough wrapper. Unfortunately, during the week they make them in advance and they contain shrimp, so I can't eat them, but they've told me that on weekends they make them fresh to order.
I've always found the service at Qingdao friendly (though the waitress I usually see there is a far cry from impeccable English). If you ask them what's on the specials board, they will be happy to explain, though it can get a little tough. The last time we were there, our waitress brought out a bag of greens (I think it was hollow stem veg) to show that the vegetable was since she couldn't translate/explain it. At other times we've ordered sauted pea shoots with garlic from the board. Very good. They also make a nice cold spicy cabbage dish that I enjoy as a balance to the dumplings and a good seaweed salad.
David "Zeb" Cook