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Review - Phoenix Garden (242 E. 40th St , 212 983 6666)

Review - Phoenix Garden (242 E. 40th St , 212 983 6666)

This place rocks. They've got a great line up of Canontese dishes and good service, and its BYOB. We were there on a drizzly Thursday night and here's what we had.

We led off with two orders of the honey ribs ($4) They were sweet and succulent. Although fatty, a lot of it has gotten rendered off in the deep frying process. They are golden colored, rather than the bright red of most Chinese places.

Then we had a plate of their famous Salt & Pepper Shrimp ($12) which had bits of garlic and jalapenos shaved over it. These are quite tasty and the shrimp shells are so soft that you can eat them. But I didn't think they were as great as everyone on the board says. Maybe we got an off order.

Next up were a couple of orders of pork/vegetable dumplings ($6) which were large and kind of gelatinous. I gobbled mine up but would probably not get this again.

Next came a whole Peking duck ($29), prepared table side. Crispy skin, moist meat, lots of Hoisin sauce if you wanted and warm rice wrappers. Excellent. I'd probably give an edge to Tse Yang for their Peking duck though. The whole duck is a lot of food, and probably only needed by a large group. It came with some oddly flavored crispy noodles that our group ignored.

As we polished that off, out came a platter of snow pea leaves with garlic ($12?) which was absolutely delicous and consumed quickly. Some on the table compared it to broccoli rabe. Then came scallops in a 5 pepper sauce, which reminded me of Mr Tang's taro coated scallop hot pot dish. Peppery and tasty with lots of onions to savor the sauce with. This dish needs white rice to go with it.

Now came the much awaited oyster/tofu/pork hot pot($16) that I heard about here on CH. It was served in a flame scorched sizzling ceramic casserole pot. It was delicious but half the people on the table didn't care for it; they found the oyster flavors too strong. The oysters in this are gargantuan sized, far beyond anything I've seen anywhere else. Most of the other hot pots are $12 and when I come back I'll probably get a spectrum of these to try. A wonderful Cantonese treat.

Still hungry, our waiter suggested we try the braised duck with mushrooms in a brown sauce ($13?) This lasted about 5 minutes as everyone slurped up the plump mushrooms and juicy duck. Not much crisp skin on this though. We probably should have picked a noodle or rice dish instead of this, since we forgot about those in the food orgy.

Our server was jovial and thoroughly knowledgeable about the menu; I am guessing he was the owners son. We were there for 3 plus hours, and they were good natured about it, tolerating us as we munched our way through the menu and drank lots of wine. Notably, it is BYOB, and the cuisine is excellent for rieslings, Alsatian wines and other demi sec types.

It's cash only and we pigged out for $35 per person all in leaving a generous 30% grat for the advice the waiter gave. This place is a gem and worthy of all the praise Chowhounders lavish. I wonder what BrianS thinks of this place compared to his Chinatown favorites.

AKR

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  1. It sounds great. I've never been there (though when I was a kid my dad's favorite Chinese place was right nearby and mignt even have been this one if they once were on 2 Av) Peter Cherches ate there a few weeks ago and, like you, loved it. Here's his review (it's midway down the page, under Oct 18)

    http://petercherches.blogspot.com/200...

    3 Replies
    1. re: Brian S

      Hey Brian, I just reread myself, and I'd say I liked it rather than loved it, unless the "it" refers specifically to the oyster hot pot. I do want to go back.

      AKR, I think Alsatian whites in general go well with Chinese food. Good call.

      1. re: Brian S

        Phoenix Garden used to be in Chinatown, in the Arcade (between Eliz and Bowery). Is the "dragon lady" hostess still in place? they always had very good food, were a little pushy in their service.

        1. re: jen kalb

          By the way, I once asked if they were related to the defunct Chinatown Phoenix Garden, and they said no.

      2. The food isn't bad at this place. Maybe I'm too used to NY Chinatown portions. Funny thing, when I was eating in France's Chinatown for a casual meal, the waitress asked me that they heard rumors that you can eat half your lunch and still have enough to brown bag for dinner. I smiled at them.

        This is the only place in Manhattan that serves young stir fried ginger (it may be seasonal) with chicken. I really like to eat young ginger.

        1. I was here on Friday night with a group of 15, and we all either really liked it or loved it.

          The waiter was friendly and fun - we must have gotten lucky. (He was definitely pushing the salt and pepper shrimp, though.)

          We started with the jellyfish (chewy and tasty) and the salt and pepper shrimp, which were tender but not extraordinary. The group also ordered eggrolls and dumplings, which didn't look so amazing, so I skipped them, though those who tried them seemed to like them.

          The main courses were the standouts. A few of us had heard about the quasi-legendary oyster/pork/tofu casserole, so we had two orders of that - then ordered two more for the latecomers. The clay pots were scraped bare in minutes. Huge, juicy fried oysters chillin out with fried tofu rectangles and smaller bits of fatty roasted pork and chopped cabbage in an addictive, not-too-sweet brown sauce.

          The seafood fried noodles were great - thin, soft noodles with semi-identifiable bits of seafood and green vegetables. Roasted duck was a table favorite, though the thick layer of fat between the crispy skin and tender meat was a bit much for me. (Not a restaurant shortcoming, I think... just a personal taste.) We also had a steak dish that came with tons of onions in a peppery sauce, the braised fried tofu with shredded pork and black mushrooms, the sauteed watercress (a refreshingly light addition to the table) and a steamed flounder in black bean sauce that everyone went wild over.

          With dessert for most of us (gelatinous mango pudding or almond tofu), and ordering at least two of every dish, the bill came to an astoundingly low $26 each.

          I'm already craving a return trip for more gigantic oysters.

          1. I'm working on a piece about how, for me, midtown has eclipsed Chinatown for Chinese food: Phoenix Garden, Wu Liang Ye, Szechuan Gourmet and Evergreen Shanghai are four of the best Chinese restaurants in Manhattan.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Peter Cherches

              I was just thinking of ordering from Evergreen Shangai tonight. I have a cold and need something spicy. What's good?

              1. re: Aimee

                I don't think Shanghai cuisine is your best bet for spicy. Instead you should order Chen-Du Beef from Szechuan Gourmet. They'll spend five minutes telling you how spicy it is and trying to confirm whether you really want it.

              2. re: Peter Cherches

                I hope you post a notice on this board when you have written that piece so we can all read that blog. Who would have thunk it? Midtown eclipsing Chinatown would be like New York having better Oaxacan options than Los Angeles.

                1. re: Brian S

                  We probably have better Poblano options than L.A., right?

                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                      Thanks for telling me! Someone on another thread made a similar point about demography working against good food in Chinatowns all over the country, and I wrote this:

                      It's different in New York. People who work their way up and out of Manhattan Chinatown come back to celebrate, sometimes to shop, always to eat. Have you noticed all the barber shops on Doyers Street? Chinese people who live in, say, Pennsylvania, come to have their hair cut. While there, they eat. Try to get into 6 Chatham Square, and chances are you cant, because there's a wedding going on. (When I told the people there that, they told me that you can usually eat in a downstairs room if there's a banquet upstairs.) Important stuff gets celebrated in Chinatown.

                      And the best food? Nobody can say, because for all we know the best chef is working in a luxury restaurant concealed behind a noodle shop, or offering a secret menu in what looks like a tourist trap. But be assured that when a community leader goes to the best chefand says, my eldest son is getting married, and I want to give the best banquet, don't worry about expense -- he will GET the best banquet.

                  1. re: Peter Cherches

                    I only think Evergreen has decent Dim Sum for lunch. I have that place and Shun Lee to try for dinner. I have to say the beef chow fun at Shun Lee was done very well, but its around three times the price as C-Town. But I would go for their exotic offerings for dinner which I may hit during the holidays. Maybe I'm going to hit that place for the holidays. I think the food at Phoenix and Wu Liang are good places if you don't feel like slephing down to CTown. But for me I wouldn't make a special trip to these places to eat unless it was one of convience. I haven't ate at Szechuan Gourmet so I have not comment on that. Just my 2 cents.

                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                      Anyone have the addressee for Evergreen Shanghai? I'm intrigued!

                    2. I revisited Phoenix Garden on a cold NYC winter night, with a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape in tow. It was only two of us, so we couldn't try everything but we had

                      * Fried spring rolls ($5) these were quite crispy but greasy, stuffed with crispy vegetables and served with the obligatory side sauces. They looked more battered than encased in flour wrappers, even if that sounds odd to describe.

                      * Sauteed China Greens ($8) These seemed to be the stems of broccolincini or something with oyster sauce. They were fresh, crispy and tasty -- a nice lightening contrast to the other heavier food.

                      * Sizzling Beef with Ginger & Scallions ($12) This was served in an open sizzling iron casserole pot. It was good, juicy and flavorful, although I could not tell what made this particularly "casserole" as opposed to just pan or wok fried. There was lots of tasty scallions here.

                      * Pepper & Salt Scallops ($15) Probably a somewhat boring selection, but excellently prepared, with a crust perfectly seasoned and fried just right, then layered with thinly sliced hot and sweet peppers and garlic. I picked up all the little slivers after I had finished the plump scallops.

                      * Oyster, Tofu, and Pork Casserole ($16) This is one of the greatest Chinese dishes I can think of, even though I know its not exactly popular. (My SO doesn't care for it, for example) The oysters here are huge, and crispy and smoky. The pork is roasted and the perfect foil for the cabbage and tofu chunks. If you have a big group, order one or two to see if you like it. It would be hard for me to go to Phoenix Garden and not get it though!

                      As always, they are BYO friendly, with corkscrews and glasses waiting on the table, and no corkage fees.

                      There may be better Cantonese in NYC, but with this place a short drive away, I don't feel like I'm missing much. I just love this place.

                      AKR

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: AKR

                        I have a love/hate relationship with this place. I live nearby and order delivery on occasion. While I do enjoy the food here, I find the service extremely un-accomodating on several levels: they won't take credit cards, they will not substitute (chicken for beef, pea pods for broccoli, etc), and service is far from friendly - more indifferent than anything. Just my opinion.

                        Shirley