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Qingdao Garden - where's the flavor?

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I'm a big fan of the dumplings at Qingdao Garden but have not really tried their regular menu before. Got takeout last night and was really disappointed. Stayed away from the generic Americanized Chinese dishes and ordered the pork with cilantro, shredded potato with hot peppers, and the eggplant Peking style. All three were well prepared but sorely lacking in any flavor. The only word I can think of is "bland". Not bad, mind you, just nothing to write home about.

Was expecting the potatoes to be spicy but there was hardly any bite to them. The eggplant was ok but just kind of a generic sauce. Pork with cilantro was recommended by many folks here but I don't see what the fuss is about: nice texture but basically plain stir-fried pork with a ton of cilantro mixed in. I could have cooked far better at home. I found myself dashing on a fair bit of soy sauce just to give the food some flavor at all - it was as if they left the seasonings completely out of all three dishes.

Wondering if the kitchen was off or if they were dumbing it down (I didn't specifically request the food to be prepared "authentically"). Thoughts?

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  1. You ordered three of my mainstays, so I hope I can comment usefully....and I order from them often enough that the delivery guy the last time quipped, "You really like our food..." Yes. The overwhelming positive about Qing Dao is that the ingredients seem to be always very fresh and they have a good hand in rarely overcooking the veggies.

    The pork with cilantro is very basic as you described, except I have found the oil/sauce that it sits in makes the meat taste like buttah. For me, it is warming comfort food.

    The eggplant Peking style is in some sort of brown sauce with bits of pork? Again, I think of it as comfort food - it's a fairly plain meaty-tasting sauce which works well when they have fresh eggplants. I have not ordered it since last October or so, because I felt like the eggplants were not going to be prime.

    The shredded potato is more piquant than spicy - citrusy than peppery...and admittedlyt somewhat bland.

    All told, those are three dishes I love to get when it's chilly or when I don't want to cook and just want something yummy to fill my belly. I have noticed some variation depending on what day I order (some days blander than others) so maybe you also hit a particularly bland cook day.

    I would recommend some other dishes if you are looking for spice/flavor/heat such as the lamb with cumin, the five spice pork etc. and I would not hesitate to tell the folks when you order that they should kick it up a notch.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bob Dobalina

      Ah. thanks for explaining. I was wondering the same thing as the OP after ordering pork w/cilantro. Back to lamb with cumin!

    2. I've noticed the same lack of flavor the last few times I've gone there. I used to love their Peking meat sauce noodle; it had star anise and a kick. But now it's just bland ground meat on noodles.

      I only go there for dumplings now. For other dishes, I head over to Zoe's or Wang's.

      2 Replies
      1. re: twisty cup

        Star anise and a kick, you think?! I never realized.

        1. re: twisty cup

          I never liked Qingao's peking meat sauce noodle, but loooove Wang's version.

          The the OP - the pork w/ cilantro and the potato w/ hot pepper are two of my go-to dishes, too. I do think that once in a while there must be someone else in the kitchen because the pork dish is sometimes not up to par. The potato dish was something that grew on me. The first few bites I thought, eh, what's the point. But then it becomes addictive (although, it's always been pretty spicy when I've had it).

        2. Well, Qingdao Garden does northern style cookery. Northern style cooking doesn't generally go with the two-by-four-to-the-back-of-the-head spice that a Sichuan or Hunan style place will do. Even "shredded potatoes with hot peppers" only uses the hot peppers as a modest contrast; it's basically a fairly simple stir fried potato thing.

          I am one of the people who repeatedly trumpets the virtues of the pork with cilantro. I find the blend of flavors to work extremely well, but again, it's not a smack you over the head kind of dish. As Bob Dobalina says, there isn't going to be anything that is going to be way differently spiced or seasoned, just good honest northern home style cooking. If you can do better than that at home, well, maybe you should eat at home (why I stopped eating omelets and most pancakes in diners, for instance, but that's another topic).

          The other stuff to try at Qingdao Garden would include the lamb with scallions and lamb with cumin, the deep fried tofu, the home style potato slices. If those don't work for you either, then maybe northern cooking isn't your thing.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Dr.Jimbob

            I would post, but it would say essentially the same thing. Well said, Dr.Jimbob.

            1. re: Dr.Jimbob

              Hmm, my earlier reply got lost somehow - sorry if this is duplicate.

              Though I wasn't expecting "smack me over the head" flavor here this meal was REALLY bland compared to every chinese meal I've ever had. They must have been out of soy sauce or msg in the kitchen that day ... I've had this potato and hot pepper dish elsewhere and it was excellent, and very similar eggplant dishes that also had a lot more flavor. You'll have to trust me that I really believe something was off that night!

              1. re: Sgt Snackers

                I actually just finished off an order of the yu xiang eggplant that happened to be sitting in my fridge from a takeout run the other night. I didn't think it was particularly bland or flavorless, though I can't say I have found an eggplant dish at a Chinese restaurant that's stood out from the rest of the pack either. It's possible you simply had an off night, it's also possible as we've all suggested that your ordering didn't play to the restaurant's strengths (pork with cilantro aside). But as mentioned, I don't think of the place as bland and flavorless; I wouldn't go there for my regular takeout runs if I did, and I would have a lot more difficulty getting groups of friends together for runs on the place too.

                1. re: Dr.Jimbob

                  If you haven't had an eggplant dish at a Chinese restaurant that's stood out from the rest of the pack, then you clearly haven't had the Homestyle Braised Eggplant with Basil at Taiwan Cafe!

                  :)
                  BK

                  1. re: BJK

                    New Taste of Asia had fabulous eggplant. Sigh. I think litchick may be on to something.

                    1. re: Aromatherapy

                      Speaking of eggplant....

                      Apparently, this is a heretical combiantion of ingredients since the Quing Dao folks (and other Boston places too) have looked at me like I have 7 heads when I ask them to make it, but eggplant with black bean sauce is really to die for. They look like they want to ask me if I'm crazy when I order it at Quing Dao, but they make it anyhow, and it's terrific. They may look at you the same way if *you* order it, but it's totally worth it.

                      (In my defense, I didn't know this was an unreasonable combination of ingredients until I got to Boston. In New Haven, it's on every menu, and I got hooked!)

            2. We eat at Quing Dao often since we live in the neighborhood. Here is what I've found -- and frankly, it's your post that finally put all the pieces together for me. When we eat at the restaurant, we never have any complaints whatsoever about flavor, presentation, etc. We love it. But, on the occasions where we do takeout, it's just never as good. It always seems a bit more oily, and it's never as spicy as we like it. I don't think it's purposeful, necessarily, but when we're eating there, I think they tend to believe us more readily when we say "spicy." Further, sometimes the folks taking orders over the phone don't have the best English (and I don't speak Chinese) -- I think when we eat there, some of those communcation issues are mitigated by simply being face-to-face. So I'd say that before you write it off for non-dumpling-food, try dining in, and definitely take the advice posted by Dr.JimBob on other stuff to try.

              1 Reply
              1. re: litchick

                I'll buy that. I've found the pork with cilantro, shredded potatoes, and Eggplant Peking Style (along with many other of Qingdao's dishes) to be consistently excellent. But I've always eaten there -- and FWIW, always on weekdays.

              2. I'm glad someone else said this. I admire the menu choices available here and it seems "authentic" as far as I can tell(which isn't all that far). But I have always thought their food to be very underseasoned. I've had both takeout and eaten there (My wife and her friend love this place) and I don't think the cooks do a lot of tasting before the food goes out or else the Chinese palate is very different.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Steve L

                  I'd say that some of Qingdao's specialties are on the subtle side.

                  I find the Five Spices Pork to be beautifully seasoned.

                  Zhongking Fried Hot Chicken, Szechuan Chili Chicken (which has a generous quantity of Sichuan Pepper in addition to chilis) and Fried Tofu with Pork in Black Bean Sauce are quite spicy.

                2. Had a hankering for General Gao's chicken (actually really wanted my two or three sprigs of broccoli bathed in GG sauce). Tried the QDG version - at least this night (Wed.), lots of subtle sweetness and complex spiciness. It was good to see that rather than just throwing in a few of those dried chiles, the cook smashed a few too, which helped. I still say this is by far the best neighborhood Chinese place around.

                  1. Personally, I agree with you. I've ordered from there about 6 times. The only thing I really like is the dumplings. I enjoyed the dish Kenji recommended in another thread, but even it was bland to my tastes. Maybe it's just Northern Chinese cooking, but I really like Shanghai Gate--does that not qualify as Northern Chinese? I've had the shredded potato dish too--I think the version at Zoe's is far more flavorful.

                    But to each his own. If a substantial number of people on here do like a restaurant, I don't see much point in saying I don't; it's at least worth trying for the regulars. On this side of the Charles, I think everyone should try Qingdao Garden, Zoe's, Szechuan Bay, Wang's, Chilli Garden, Anise, Mulan, and Shangri La, even though I don't care much for a few of them.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: aventinus

                      Please don't confuse spicy with flavor. Northern Chinese cookery is certainly less spicy that say, Szechwan, but has its own flavors and subtalties. While Shanhai is further north along the coast, it's certainly not Northern Chinese Cooking. Beijing is further north than Shanghai and has its own style as well (Peking), but is the major city to the North. There's lots of wheat-based dishes like buns as well as noodles in Northern-style cooking. Mongolian hotpots are also dominant as is lamb & mutton. You're also looking a climate that grows cabbage, squash and apples - sound familar?

                      Zoe's specializes in Shanghai and Szechwan cooking. Maybe that's just the style you like?

                      1. re: gini

                        The point of my post was that's probably just the style I like. I responded to the OP because I just happen to feel exactly the same way, not to criticize Qingdao Garden. Sometimes it's difficult to determine whether I don't like an ethnic restaurant because I don't like the cuisine or because I don't like the cooking. I have, however, found that I like virtually every cuisine.

                        I'm sure each of us has a list of Chowhound favorites we don't think are very good, and I'm sure the differences in opinion are mostly subjective.

                        1. re: aventinus

                          I understood where you were coming from, and hoped to provide a few notes on Northern-style that would benefit everyone.