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May 17, 2008 06:10 PM

Grace Garden - Chinese in Odenton

I should probably stop right there. Once word gets out about this place I may never be able to just stroll in again like I did tonight with a posse of Charmcity chowhounds. Grace Garden, with Chef Chun manning the woks is one of those places you want to keep to yourself, and yet you know you just can’t.

Thanks to a tip off here on chowhound, I put out a call to fellow hounds and four of them graciously indulged my whim and drove to Odenton to join me tonight. The five of us sat down to some of the best Chinese food I have ever had around Baltimore.

It’s hard to fault a hole in the wall place (though not without some nice touches such as very pretty artwork on the walls), with a skilled chef – round tables with lazy susans, byo with a package store next door, plenty of free parking, credit cards welcome, gracious and helpful service and the food. The food!

For our first meal here (though certainly not the last) we chose five dishes – one off-menu offered by our waitress, and four from the Chinese menu. We started with the special – bright green chive blossoms sautéed in ginger and speckled with bits of salted dried fish. A real winner! Next up – fish noodles. Not like any I had had before. Long (very long) fat strands of soft noodle, with bits of ham, minced fish and scallons. Incredible. Then came a plate of gently braised minced shrimp stuffed tofu on a mild sauce with mushrooms – soft comforting goodness. Cantonese braised chicken was small bone-in chunks of dark meat chicken, and loads of soft garlic cloves in a garlic and scallion oyster sauce. It was mild and fun to nibble around the bones, though it didn’t pack the flavor punch of some of the other dishes. Finally, we were brought an amazing platter of sliced pork belly stir fried with leeks, bell peppers and Szechwan bean paste. A-mazing.

We were delighted to meet a fellow chowhound there – and got some good tips for future ordering. In particular, for you fans of ma la, there are several dishes, such as the Szechwan [their spelling, not mine] braised beef and Szechwan fish filets that I probably will go back for before the week is out. Chef Chun also has more ambitious items on the menu that he will do with three or four days’ advance requests, and even other off-menu dishes that, with a week’s notice he will assemble the ingredients for.

We were so happy to meet the chef and the staff - he's been there three years and I hope stays a long, long time.

Don’t tell anybody, ok?

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  1. The absolute standouts were the fish noodles and the pork belly. The fish noodles were the best single dish i've had in recent memory anywhere. I'm not sure I've ever had bad pork belly, but this was delicious -- crispy, fatty goodness.

    I loved this place, loved the staff, loved the chef, and thought the decor was pretty bad. But given the first three, the last is the least of my worries.

    I have never had Chinese food that was even close to this in the Baltimore area. I hate sounding hyperbolic, but it's without question the standout Chinese restaurant in these parts, and well worth the drive wherever you're coming from.

    As Crackers said, it's the kind of place that makes you afraid that once the word gets out, it will be packed wall to wall. But it deserves to be. It's the definition of houndworthy.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JonParker

      It's 10 at night and I'm again eating the leftovers from our spectacular lunch todayat Grace(ful) Garden--Fish noodles like nothing ypu have had before, delicate squiggles with shards of Chinese sausage, shitake mushroom slices for texture contrast, and fesh cilantro in some bites.
      ma po tofu, the first I have had that reminds me of being in China, with a fierce bite, soft texture and finished off with the sharp tingle of ma la: szechuan peppercorns (the chef asked me if I liked them, and was prepared to make the dish milder).
      More later...

      1. re: crowsonguy

        I have got to go to this place!!

        1. re: hon

          I'll just chime in to say I was at the first chow outing and loved it as well.

    2. Best Chinese I've found this side of China Star, though I confess I've not tried all the Chow faves in the Rockville/DC/NoVA environs.

      Be sure to ask for the "Chinese Chinese" menu - the chef is very willing to accomodate one's preferences, and seems to be overjoyed to cook for those who appreciate the "real" cuisine.

      As with the now-gone Ras Doobie's, the people here are so nice, the prices so reasonable, and the food so good that I'm drawn to tipping heavily or otherwise overpaying just to keep them in business for us all to enjoy.

      Definitely Warthog Approved.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Warthog

        Just got back from lunch there. Unfortunately (well, ok, not really) I didn't get a chance to explore the menu much further, since I wanted my friend to try the things I knew were delicious. We had the fish noodles and the pork belly, which are both must-haves. Once again the chef warned us that the pork belly was fatty, to which I replied "oh yes, I know," eliciting a big grin from him. It's amazing to me that he feels he has to warn people -- who could not love pork belly? We also had the Szechuan fish filets, which I had not tried but came recommended by the chef. Spicy and delicious.

        This place is amazing. I tried to talk them into moving to Federal Hill, but apparently I'm being outvoted by Johns Hopkins grad students. They really should move somewhere more conducive to the kind of food they do though.

      2. I went there last night, ordered take-out. Got the fish noodles, the pork belly, and the seasonal vegetable, which was baby bok choy.

        They had two pork bellies on the menu (one schezuan with vegetables, the other with rice powder) so I asked her what she recommended. She recommended the rice powder one, and it was DIVINE.

        I also asked her what seasonal veg she recommended, and the baby boks we got. Very nicely done, with whole sauteed garlic cloves and bits of ginger. I would have liked more ginger, but overall A+.

        The fish noodles were great. I know why they're $21.95---those noodles were hand made. It was obvious from the shape and the taste. Lovely, lovely, all around.

        The owners were SO sweet and helpful! They showed me each dish, and were like "they will travel better if we crack open the lid." For the pork belly, the chef started giving me re-heating instructions and was telling me not to worry about the oil. :) I assured him that based on what I had heard, the pork belly would be finished long before it could get cold.

        The woman then asked me if I lived around there, and when I told her that I came from Glen Burnie, she said "You drove all that way for pick up?" I said that they came very, very highly recommended, so was hoping it would be worth it.

        It was. :)

        Looking at the menu, I thought that the prices for some of the items were a bit steep, but it's because they are the authentic Chinese stuff, with special--or homemade--ingredients. So while $50 would be steep for normal Chinese take-out, we thought this was worth every penny.

        Can't wait to go back and try more. I just want to go in and have them feed us whatever they want. And I think that at that place, we can get that. :) I love places like that.

        GREAT FIND! Thank you for sharing this awesome place with us.

        5 Replies
        1. re: venera

          I have not tried the pork belly with rice powder but I will have to.

          The Szechuan fish filets were very spicy when we got them but as leftovers they had me gasping, but I'd told him that I wasn't afraid fo spice when I ordered.

          I agree about the prices. Once you've eaten you'll feel like it was a bargain.

          1. re: JonParker

            We got the fish filets medium spicy. The peppercorns were like little firecrackers exploding in you mouth and then pleasantly fizzling out. We ate the leftovers 4 hours later and the dish was blazing hot (and still delicious). Oh, and the shrimp stuffed baby octopus in chef's special white sauce are actually shrimp stuffed baby squid in a brown wine(?)

            1. re: JonParker

              I had to go back and look at the menu to verify my pork belly choice. Honestly, at first I thought that it was coated in Szechuan peppercorns (having never had them before), because there was this pleasant, crusty coating to the pork belly that was chewy and spicy in a way I never had before. I just assumed y'all had that pork belly, but now I see that you did the Szechuan one. Another dish to try!

              1. re: venera

                I'm assuming the interesting coating was the rice powder?

                1. re: ko1

                  Yes, indeedy! Sorry I wasn't explicit about our choice.

                  I would highly recommend it.

          2. If the food is great it's definately worth paying for - especially since it seems most of us will agree that Baltimore is not a great town for Chinese food. The fact that Grace Gardens is not a "super cheap eats" place is useful information to me since I've become more interested in budgeting lately - I'm trying to only spend a certain dollar amount per week at restaurants, but I'll work them into one of my weekends really soon.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Whitemarshjohn

              I live in NOVA now, but was near BWI on saturday so went for some takeout. The location is absolutely dismal even though I'm not that familiar with the area. I'm not sure how/why a GEM like this place ended up here but everyone who lives anywhere near here should consider themselves LUCKY. At 6pm on saturday there was no one in the place (kind of sad). All previous posts are right on the mark though - a definite mom and pop place - and presumably their daughter working there too? Got the fish noodles which as said previously are to die for..... Also got chili pepper chicken - very good. They don't do fried dumplings - only steamed - and they were great!!! Hope to go back soon - in the meantime hopefully those near the area will post reviews of "must haves" from the menu.

            2. wow I live in odenton and thought that this place was a culinary wasteland. I usually have to travel far for a good meal. I can't wait to try this place out....pork belly and fish noodles sound absolutely divine. Does anyone know if they do mapo tofu or has anyone else tried any other dishes?

              2 Replies
              1. re: bitsubeats

                Yes, they definitely do mapo tofu, see my report above. If you like it hot and with Sichuan peppercorns, be sure to tell Chef Chun. Enjoy!

                1. re: crowsonguy

                  whoo hoo, cant wait to try it (: thanks so much