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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

              2. Somehow I've completely missed this place and had given up finding anything close to good Chinese food in Anne Arundel county. I can't wait to give them a try. Thanks for the posting! If anyone'se interesting, their website is http://gracegardenchinese.com/

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jason1

                  omg, this place is literally right around the corner from me ahhaahaha who would've known that it was so damn good? I love that they have a website and I also love the photos. The fish noodles look amazing. I can't wait to try this place with my family..i'm sure they will love it

                2. I've been holding off on commenting until I could make a return visit, for fear of getting a little carried away. But our second meal there was even better than the first. This is a gem and it deserves Baltimore's support.

                  I concur with the sentiments expressed about the fish noodles -- spectacular dish. I'm not as blown away by the Sichuan fish fillets as some others, but it's still an extremely good preparation. What DID blow me away was a couple of off-menu items, including the sticky rice stuffed steamed duck, and the Sichuan fish with rice powder and crispy fried bones. But I've had 15 dishes so far, and really, even the less impressive ones are still very, very good and light years beyond anything else I've had in Baltimore so far.

                  I've written up some more detail and posted a bunch of photos here, if anybody would like to see:


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Dmnkly

                    thanks for the great report - please post an update when you sample the next 15 items on the menu for those of us too far away to get there more than once a month or so!!

                  2. One suggestion for those who go. Make clear when you go in that you're really interested in the cuisine, not just eating to be eating. While the chef is willing to prepare whatever the customer wants, whether Americanized or authentic, he clearly takes deep pleasure in talking with people who have a real interest in the food, the preparation, and why it is the way it is - the interrelationship of the ingredients, the layering of flavors and textures, and so forth. Odds are that if he sees you're interested, he'll offer to do something special for you.

                    As an example, this last trip I had the fish noodles (very good, by the way). He asked if I'd had the dish before, either from him or elsewhere. I said no, and he said that he would make it this time the way it's listed on the menu, but that next time, if I agreed, he'd like to try a new variation with the same ingredients, but with the noodles quickly chilled after cooking and then served with a sauce along the lines of that used in cold sesame noodles, but with a little more spice added. And as a result, we had a lovely discussion about the dish, and things he's wanted to try with it.

                    Also, in my conversations, he's made very clear that he wants to know what you really think about his food, both good and bad. As he put it in my most recent visit, as he gestured around the restaurant "This is my world. I only see this. New ideas must come from outside, so I can know what people like, and how to do better." While obviously, he and his wife derive their livelyhood from the business, it's clear that his real motivation is a deep respect for the craft of food preparation, and the satisfaction he derives from sharing his skills with those who appreciate the food.

                    Please, folks - we don't always get blessed with chefs who feel this way, and who have this level of skill. Let's support him in his dream, and keep him in business for a long and happy time for all of us.

                    1. MrWheatie and I ate here this evening. We had the pork belly with veggies and the szechwan fish fillets at the recommendation of Mrs Chef. Quite simply the best chinese food we have ever had. Mr chef came out and spoke to us a couple of times and offered to make anything the next time we came. Including chinese birthday cake. He is a true culinary artisan and his food shows his love and respect of cooking.

                      1. Six of us met for lunch today and returned to some old favorites on the menu, plus a couple of new ones. Again with the fish noodles and the Sichuan pork, which are both must haves for any new visitor.

                        We also had the golden shrimp -- shrimp with the shells and heads on coated in egg yolk and garlic and deep fried -- the preparation leaves the whole thing crunchy on the outside and firm yet tender on the inside. Shrimp is way overused on most menus to the point where I seldom consider ordering it, but this was amazing. The shell is rendered tender enough to be completely edible while remaining crispy. A winner.

                        If I have any criticism of the place it's that he doesn't seem to believe deep down that non-Chinese natives really do want the authentic stuff. He still likes to remind us that pork belly is very fatty, like he's afraid we will complain. Fortunately we had someone with us who speaks Chinese well enough to communicate with him.

                        When we ordered the mixed seafood in XO sauce he offered us a different version than the one that appears on the menu. Ours contained conch, I think shark fin and something that our translator could only describe roughly as "fish throat." He kept stroking his fingers on his throat while speaking, but I couldn't get a better description. I also couldn't figure out what fish it was from, but it was small pieces of crispy fish that were quite flavorful. If you get this dish, ask for that version.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: JonParker

                          I think that this place is the BEST chowhound find ever. I never ever would have considered driving to Odenton for a meal...and probably would have never gone in if I had happened upon it by accident.
                          Thank you to the original poster who turned us on to this place! And what makes it even more special is the chef...he truly does want to please. I've been twice now and haven't been disappointed by anything, and have been blown away by many yummy things (the duck stuffed with sticky rice, the fish noodles, the sichuan fish (that was outstanding!)...just go, and support this place!!

                          1. re: sistereurope

                            It should probably be noted that the duck stuffed with sticky rice is an off-menu item, and also requires three days advance notice.

                            It's highly recommended to talk to the chef before ordering. There's a lot of off menu stuff there, and he's willing to suggest dishes that suit your particular taste. You can just go in and pick up a menu and order, and there's some great suggestions in this thread if you do. But the full experience requires a conversation beforehand.

                            Agreed that this is the best chowhound find ever. Also, he said that he planned to buy some lamb next week. I can't wait to see what he does with it.

                            1. re: JonParker

                              "Agreed that this is the best chowhound find ever. Also, he said that he planned to buy some lamb next week. I can't wait to see what he does with it."

                              Is that cumin I smell? :-)

                              1. re: Dmnkly

                                Some other recent standout dishes include the Taiwanese style fish - lightly fried cubes of white fish, tossed with minced pork, pickled cabbage, cilantro and chili flakes and chili oil. Outstanding. I'm putting it in the rotation. A couple of pork dishes - the spicy pork and dried tofu, and the spicy pork Sichuan style are both very good.

                                Sichuan fish filets have great ma la, and was what the chef was serving his family when I stopped by this evening.

                                I also enjoyed the braised tofu hak-ka style that I shared with a group on Wednesday - tofu with ground pork, shitake mushrooms and Chinese sausage.

                                Lamb seems like a natural addition to the menu - looking forward to it.

                          2. re: JonParker

                            In talking to the chef, the "most people don't want the real thing" lesson seems to have come from hard and sad experience. He has mentioned to me a couple of times that he tried emphasizing "real Chinese" when they first opened, and nearly went under because everybody who came in wanted the Americanized version. Even the last time I was there, a couple came in, said they wanted the real thing, got the menus with the authentic stuff, read for a while, then turned up their noses and left without a word.

                            You're correct that anything to do with fat or oil seems to have been a particular point of contention with those who want the "Americanized" version of the cuisine, so even if you seem to appreciate the authentic cuisine, he does still ask if you have issues with oil or fat. I wouldn't take it as a sign that he doesn't believe that people want authentic food, but rather that he wants to please, and so he's asking about the particular things that have been points of repeated complaint in the past.

                            It may also be an economic thing - he's the sort who would likely try to make it up to the customer if they didn't like some aspect of the dish. Checking first means no complaint later, which ultimately means no profit lost due to having to comp the customer something or do the dish over to retain goodwill. I expect that as he gets to know repeat customers, he'll learn which ones he doesn't have to go through the "safety check" reminders with.

                            On the "fish throat", I think what may be meant is "fish maw", which (IIRC) is a bladder that some sea-going fish use like the ballast tanks in a submarine for buoyancy control as they swim to different depths. I've heard it mentioned in some Asian recipes.

                            On the lamb, I can vouch for the fact that he makes an amazing Chinese lamb stew.

                            And I do agree with those who have suggested talking to the chef. He's eager to share his knowledge, and even aside from the chef/customer aspect, he seems to be a fine and interesting human being who is worth getting to know. I feel the same about this place that I did with Ras Doobie and Nzinga - the food is fabulous, but I'm also drawn to the quality of the chef and his wife as individuals. When one meets people who so clearly love what they are doing, especially when they do it so well, one can't help but wish to be part of making their dream come true.

                            1. re: Warthog

                              I agree with WartHog:
                              "When one meets people who so clearly love what they are doing, especially when they do it so well, one can't help but wish to be part of making their dream come true."
                              This place could have been anywhere and it wouldn't matter because to me the fact that he loves what he is doing, is good at it and is so willing to please makes me always have a great experience every time I have been there. It is all about the food and friendship. He seems to like food as much as he does people and it comes across and is infectious. What a delight! Thanks to FrequentCrasher for sharing this with us as it is appreciated.

                              1. re: Warthog

                                Or it could have been what we call fish cheeks, the tasty little nuggets between the eyes and gills.

                                1. re: ko1

                                  If he was pointing to his throat, I'm betting Warthog is right on -- probably fish maw.

                            2. My Fiance and I drove the 30 + minutes to try Grace Garden Saturday night and we were glad we did.

                              We started with the dumplings which were filled with chicken and vegetables and they very good.

                              I had the fish noodles which were very tasty. I have always been a sucker for cilantro and the mushrooms and Chinese sausage and other ingredients really made it an enjoyable dish which was still good the next day heated up for lunch.

                              My Fiance had the "Curry Beef Stew Hong Kong Style" which I thought stole the show. The Chef makes his own curry and there were pieces of fatty tender beef (with tendons in it ?) and potatoes and was served with white rice. I finished off all my Fiances leftovers along with my left overs today.

                              They gave us tea in a pretty little teapot and both the Chef and his Wife were very interested in how we enjoyed the food. They were pleased that we had found out about them from the Chowhound board.

                              Even though Grace Garden is almost a 40 minute drive from my house I am sure that we will return to try some other dishes and enjoy the warm hospitality offered there.

                              1. We went for lunch today. One of the things that I didn't realize is that most of the really special dishes are only for dinner; so much prep is required that they don't serve them on the lunch menu. That being said, I had the basil chicken and it was excruciatingly good. Basil, chicken, garlic, spring onions, and ginger were some of the ingredients that were used. The chicken had a slightly smoky taste that only can be created in a wok that has the power of an F14 on full afterburner.

                                When I told the lady that I had heard some things about the place, she asked if it was from Chowhound!

                                The next time we go, we're going to call our order in a day in advance so we can get some of the more esoteric offerings.

                                Thanks for the heads-up on this place!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Beto_pan

                                  Hmm. We had a Chow-group lunch there last Saturday -- they were offering the full menu then, but that might be because it was lunchtime on a weekend. They weren't particularly busy (just a few other take out orders while we were there) so it wasn't an issue for us to wait just a little longer for our very delicious dishes, all off the Chinese menu.

                                2. If you can, go with a party so you can sample several items from the amazing 'Traditional Chinese' menu, and the Order In Advance dishes are worth the advance planning. But otherwise, get in the car, travel up I 95 from the DC suburbs, or down 95 from Baltimore and a few miles east on 175 to get a wonderful treat.

                                  Tonight, 12 chowhounds and friends had
                                  tea smoked duck,
                                  peacock chicken ( a cold steamed whole chicken bathed in an aromatic and spicy sauce)
                                  Yunnan pineapple steamed rice with shrimp, an off-menu dish that Chef made for us,
                                  Pork belly braised with Mui Choy, (think sauerbraten with better meat and more indulgent),
                                  Twice cooked pork
                                  home grown baby broccoli bathed in ginger and garlic
                                  E noodles with shitake noodles-- the noodles start off soft, then bounce back,
                                  Taiwan fish, vivid with the taste of fresh herbs,
                                  And 2 dishes I thought were not so successful:
                                  Tofu with crabmeat sauce: not enough contrast between the mild tofu and the mild crabmeat (but the dish still got finished!)
                                  And Tamarind shrimp: huge shrimp, but the flavors did not quite meld.

                                  Ten dishes, that included a whole duck and a whole chicken, plus seconds of the broccoli, were ample for us 12, and only cost $18 per person, tax included!
                                  I know Odenton may be a bit of a schlep from your place, but the flavors, and the family that run the place make it well worth the journey.

                                  Sorry, Crackers, I had to tell.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: crowsonguy

                                    I'm absolutely glad you posted this crowsonguy!

                                    Despite its dismal location and Spartan interior, I will keep going back even if the lines begin to circle the block. While that is doubtful in this location, one never knows what will happen once the local print media critics finally acknowledge that they follow what we've been reporting on this board and were tipped off to "discover" it. ahem.

                                    I've now worked my way through over 30 separate dishes here, some of them multiple times, some as take-out. All of them at least good, and in many cases, outstanding. Chef Chun Li and his wife have been unfailingly gracious, helpful and enthusiastic about their Chinese menu and deserve the praise you have given to them.

                                    As I mentioned in a previous post, there are a few dishes that are now in my "rotation" - the ones that linger in my sensory memory above others. Some would be special occasion orders for a large group.

                                    Sichuan Fish Filets - ma-la style. Make sure the chef doesn't pull his punches on the Sichuan pepper corns.

                                    Fish Noodles - as several of us have mentioned - OMG.

                                    Sichuan Steamed Whole Fish with a coating of spicy bean paste, rice powder and pepper. Ask for the bones to be fried crispy.

                                    Sticky Rice Stuffed Duck (advance order, not on menu) - Whole duck, stuffed with Chinese sausage and herb flecked rice, and slow steamed so that the fat and juices soak into the rice

                                    Tea Smoked Duck (advance order) - had this for the first time last night and it was beautiful to behold and to taste.

                                    Pork Belly - three different preparations, all wonderful (1) with Mui-Choy; (2) Sichuan style stir fried with leeks and bell pepppers; or (3) Sichuan style, steamed and topped with a crust of spicy bean and chili paste and rice powder, served on a bed of lotus leaves.

                                    Any of the fresh vegetable of the day. I've had his version of bok choy, snow pea tips and Chinese broccoli and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but ask for the bok choy with salted dried fish bits.

                                    Pocket Tofu - braised in spicy chili oil.

                                    Taiwanese-style Fish - a complex mix of sweet and savory, as noted up thread.

                                    That's it so far. Still lots to explore. Don't tell anybody, ok?

                                    1. re: crowsonguy

                                      slight correction: The $18 per person for last night's dinner included tax, hot tea *and* a 20% tip. We left more than that, because, duh.

                                    2. I ordered both the Fish Noodles and Pork Belly tonight. I had the Fish Noodles (excellent indeed!), and will save the Pork Belly for lunch tomorrow.

                                      Great find!

                                      1. i still haven't tried this place (it's still only a mile away from my house). I've had my wisdom teeth pulled 2 weeks ago and I have to go back in in a few days to get some more taken out. Oh but i'm sure it will be worth the wait. I'm drooling just thinking about all the food i'm going to get

                                        1. Hi everyone,

                                          I'm a newbie here at CHOWHOUND but have been a loyal patron of GG for the past three years. Like the message left at SD's blog, I'm just so thrilled to see this hidden gem being discovered and enjoyed by so many fellow foodies!

                                          We did take out tonight from GG and were told a new popular MA-LA item, FuQi FeiPien (literally "Husband-Wife sliced lungs", but is actually just a ma la appetizer consists of thinly sliced beef tribes, beef shanks, beef tendons, and maybe other ingredients presented in a sauce made of crushed Sichuan pepper corns, chili pepper, sesame oil, anise, five spice, and other secret ingredients). We of course ordered it but unfortunately Chef Li's daughter forgot to pack it in our bag. It was a little bummer because though greatly anticipating such a great (and never found in Baltimore) dish on our table, I didn't want to drive another hour back and forth to pick it up. Still, we enjoyed the other dishes (fish noodles, pocket tofu, Cantonese braised chicken, golden shrimps, pepper and salt squid) nonetheless.

                                          I'd recommend trying the pocket tofu in the non-spicy sauce. Depending on the day we order, sometimes Chef Chun would prepare the pocket tofu in a sauce made of fish stock (i.e. if we or other customers had ordered fish fillets then he'd make use of the bones to make fish stock), and we can definitely taste the subtle difference.

                                          Also, when eating in, do try the steamed whole fish or sea bass Hong Kong style. We like it the "ginger and scallion" style for summer and would save the "mushroom, ham and sausage" style for winter (tastes heavier to me and maybe because I always associate Chinese ham and sausage with Lunar New Year's flamboyant, labor-intensive soups and cooking).

                                          Grace Garden is definitely a keeper. However, last month when we were there Chun had mentioned the business being less busier than that of previous years.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: charm21210

                                            "We did take out tonight from GG and were told a new popular MA-LA item, FuQi FeiPien (literally "Husband-Wife sliced lungs", but is actually just a ma la appetizer consists of thinly sliced beef tribes, beef shanks, beef tendons, and maybe other ingredients presented in a sauce made of crushed Sichuan pepper corns, chili pepper, sesame oil, anise, five spice, and other secret ingredients)."

                                            Second. We had this one last Saturday, and it's really, really excellent. I've gotten through thirty dishes or so, and this is definitely one of my favorites. Here's a photo:


                                            1. re: Dmnkly

                                              I sent a friend from work there last weekend and he also recommends this highly.

                                              1. re: Dmnkly

                                                This was a cold appetizer of thinly cut tripe, tendon and I think possibly tongue (?). Topped with crushed peanuts in addition to the other ingredients. Chef Li doesn't have it on the menu, but it is certainly worth inquiring about.

                                                1. re: crackers

                                                  As of tonight, it's on the menu. I forgot how they titled it, but I believe it now leads off the beef section. And yes, it is tongue.

                                                  1. re: Dmnkly

                                                    Two remarks from our small lunch today:

                                                    When you order advance dishes, do not trust it to the answering machine. I did a few days ago and only checked yesterday on my tea smoked duck, which Chef Li had not heard about. He said he could make it for today, but the results were less than stellar.

                                                    Secondly, if you like spicy, be sure to emphasise it. Our Mapo Dofu, while plenty 'ma-la', was not chili spicy enough for two of us, in spite of reassurances from the kitchen.

                                                    Of course, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise heavenly experience, with two new people introduced to Grace.

                                            2. Does anyone know if Chef Li is Cantonese? My hubby is and we've been looking for a good Cantonese place ever since Golden Gate closed down.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: kcnkate

                                                He is. He's from Hong Kong and the menu shows it. But he does some pretty mean Sichuan as well.

                                                1. re: Dmnkly

                                                  Woo-hoo! Looks like I know where we'll be headed this weekend :) Thanks!

                                              2. Returned to Grace Garden tonight with a group of newbies to celebrate a birthday.

                                                ~ Fish Noodles: of course
                                                ~ Tea smoked duck: rich flavor, tender meat, wondrous
                                                ~ Basil Chicken: surprisingly spicy - you could hear sounds of delight from around the table as everyone had their first bite. We were lucky to have bijouroyal join us for a few bites. I'd be interested to hear what she thought of the dish.
                                                ~ Black pepper beef short ribs: tasty, crispy, chewy, I would say the hit of the evening, but it was all so good
                                                ~ Green vegetable home grown in their garden. The translation that my mom had taught me was "Hollow Heart" vegetable. I prefer my vegetables on the less cooked side, but the flavor was very good
                                                ~ Crispy Eggplant: The tender eggplant and the crispy coating were quite the treat. I personally would prefer a salty/spicy sauce rather than the sweet gooey sauce that it came with, but the rest of the table devoured the remainder of the dish.
                                                ~ Chestnut birthday cake: I had called ahead to order the tea duck, and mentioned to Chef Chun that it would be someone's birthday. He promised to make something special, and he certainly did. At the end of the meal, he brought out a knife and server, candles and a lighter. Then he began to open a cake box to reveal a beautifully elegant cake. The cake itself was light and eggy, and it was decorated with real whipped cream that was mixed with fruit cocktail in between layers, and a substantial layer of sweetened chestnut paste on top. ($35)

                                                One person at the table pronounced it the best chinese food he had ever eaten. Another, the birthday boy, said it was one of the best meals he had ever had. Kudos, again, to Grace Garden.

                                                p.s. I ordered some takeout: Sichuan Fish Fillets and Ma Po Tofu. In spite of my being quite full from dinner, I opened up the Sichuan Fish Fillets when I got home and took a bite of fish. I was rewarded with a mouthful of heaven. I tried a bite of tofu afterwards, but it didn't register with my tastebuds after the fish fillets (which the daughter? who works the cash register said was her favorite - deservedly so - but how does one pick a favorite amongst all these edible treasures?)

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: mukalu

                                                  Could "hollow heart" be "water spinach," or morning glory or ong choy? I actually had a discussion at GG about that veggie. And, I was going to stop at GG on my way home from DC yesterday evening, but was overruled, and ended up with a sub-par meal at Amsterdam Falafel instead! Arrrrgh. Anyway, it sounds as though you had a fantastic feast!

                                                  1. re: mukalu

                                                    The tea smoked duck and the basil chicken were wonderful. I ordered the sichuan fish filets and chinese broccoli. Chef Li came out to shake my hand. The family is so nice, it adds to the meal.

                                                    1. re: mukalu

                                                      The tea smoked duck was almost like a rich smoked pork, but better

                                                    2. Hi all,

                                                      We went last night (bijouroyal and mukalu, had I known you were Balto Hounds, I would have introduced myself!) and had a serious throwdown. The two of us ordered five dishes with the intent to have leftovers, but we came home with four small containers. Greedy piggies we are, but when the food is so damn good....

                                                      We cleaned our plates of the veggie of the day, fresh from Mrs. Chun's garden. Baltoellen, I just looked at images online and you are indeed correct---it is ong choy. The hollow stems give it a lovely texture, the leaves were wilted like wilted spinach. I love a simple but tasty presentation: light salty glaze with slivers of ginger and dried fish for little bits of flavor explosion. Yum yum YUM!

                                                      We decided to have the "Triple T" as I renamed the dish, the chilled tendon, tripe, and tongue dish as an app. I want to thank my fellow hounds for recommending it so highly. While I'm a fairly adventurous eater, I probably wouldn't have gone for it. I'd be a little scared. But having had tendon and tripe at the Pho outing, I found out that I liked T&T and so ordered it unabashed. We are SO GLAD we did. Holy cow, what an amazing mix of flavors and textures. Hot and spicy, chewy meats, crunchy nuts, crisp and clean (celery), salty and vinegary...perfectly balanced. After my first bite, I was afraid that it would be too spicy for my dining companion (he grew up eating bland Betty Crocker recipes in the backwoods of PA; I grew up eating homemade pickled hot peppers and raw garlic in an immigrant household, so my threshold for hot is a lot higher than most). But he said it was "right on the edge" and proceeded to eat twice as much as I did of this lovely app. :) I love it! And am sooooo glad it is on the menu.

                                                      We repeated the pork belly with rice powder that we had last time. The dish is so amazing that we vetoed trying anything else new and delicious. I love spooning the spicy, flavor-imbued oil from the plate and putting it over my rice. Add some rice powder for texture and extra zing, and it is the perfect way to clean my plate and finish my meal with the last best flavors in my mouth.

                                                      We had the XO seafood with conch, fish gullet, and other seafood (including some delicous, plump, moist, butterflied shrimp) rather than the squid. We enjoyed this very much, too. I think it was hard for our palates to really appreciate and sense the delicacy of this glaze after the more assertive and spicier Triple T and pork belly dishes. But excellently done, nonetheless.

                                                      As a lover of any boiled dough, I had to try the tofu pockets based on dscriptions of what I have read here. I love a good dumpling, and these were tofu, yet dumpling-like. I couldn't get over it. Tofu is generally so heavy and listless, and these were lighter than even the lightest gnocchi I've ever had. Evidently, they grind together the tofu with shrimp to achieve this lightness. I'm guessing they grind, shape into balls, simmer, then fry because they end up with a light brown "skin" on the outside. We got the hot and spicy sauce (you can choose another) and I would characterize it as mild. It was also delicous, with a perfect balance of hot, salty, tangy. Some mushroom caps and pickled bamboo, perhaps set off the pillows perfectly. I am going to have to google around and try this at home.

                                                      My dining companion couldn't get over how hot and fresh everything. No waiting in a window under a heat lamp, every dish came out immediately off the wok and it was too hot (temp-wise) for him to eat.

                                                      We also a discsussion about favorites, and while my dining companion was able to rank them (#1 ong choy; #2, tie between pork belly and triple T; #4 tofu pockets; #5 XO seafood) , I just couldn't. Everything to me was a standout. It's so rare when you go out to eat that everything you get is such deliciousness!

                                                      I can't say enough good things about Mrs. Chun and how warm and friendly she is, and happy to help you navigate through the menu. She said to us "You are ordering a lot of food" but we assured her we wanted leftovers so she was like "Order away!"

                                                      The chef did stop to ask if we thought the Triple T app was too spicy, and my friend assured him it wasn't. To me, that speaks volumes about how much he enjoyed it. :)

                                                      Aside from the other chow-table (we were eyeing that cake, I had no idea the chef made it! We were actually joking about the Seinfeld episode where Elaine want to a table to beg for a bite of food---we wanted to do that with your cake!), there were four people that stopped for carryout. If this place was in DC or Baltimore, it would be packed to the gills. Such a shame! I hope that they do find a better place once their lease is up. Not that it would matter to us--we still plan on going there!

                                                      We would have never, ever known about this place if it wasn't for Chowhound. We are indebted to the first poster---thank you, thank you! It is exactly what this site is all about. I hope one day to be able to make a similar contribution.

                                                      8 Replies
                                                      1. re: venera

                                                        We would absolutely have shared a piece of cake with you, Venera! Please feel free to pull an Elaine if you ever see us again :)

                                                        The chef had stopped by our table and asked if a dish was too spicy also, as the birthday boy wiped away the tears and hoarsely declared, "not at all, I like getting my sinuses cleared up".

                                                        1. re: venera

                                                          Were you sitting in the corner by the window on the same side as the register? Your veggies came out just as I was ordering so I knew what I was getting.

                                                          1. re: amethiste

                                                            Yup, that was us! :) That ong choy was soooooo good, I am tempted to go back and order more! Mmmmm, mmmm.

                                                            1. re: venera

                                                              We (the family) went yesterday (Saturday) for lunch and had a wonderful time. There was another hound in the restaurant, I believe, because I heard her mentioning the 50+ posts here at ChowHound. :)

                                                              The amount of Ong Choy was just enough for one single order yesterday and we of course ordered it! Chef Li prepared it the traditional HK style -- stir fry with fuju (fermented bean curd, Mei said they use the most common Shuiko Fuju you can get at any Asian grocers). Fuju Tung Choi it is called.

                                                              Also on the table were the Hot and Spicy Smoke Shrimps, Steamed Sea Bass HK style, Fried Tofu in Crabmeat Sauce, Cantonese Wok Fried Quails, and the Sichuan Beef Treasure (the tongue tendon and tripe), which we cleaned up the entire plate in minutes.

                                                              I was hoping to get crispy, crunchy shrimps like the ones I've tried years back at the late Golden Gate Noodle House in Towson; those that I could eat the entire shrimp shell on. Neither last week's Golden Shrimps nor the Hot and Spicy Smoke Shrimps yesterday was that crunchy. I think it was because it'd call for smaller "shrimps" to be fried to be that crispy. Nonetheless, we were all so very happy with the "prawns" that Chef Li has generously served. On a related note, there was a dish, literally Prawns with Fresh Fruit, being taken off the menu last year. It was one of my favorite dishes from Grace Garden. Prawns were lightly fried (shell off) and tossed in a mayo based sauce with fresh fruits (we've got slices of strawberries or chunks of cantaloupes at different times). Mei had said not too many customers had ordered that dish and the sauce went bad easily, so they decided to take it off the menu. We were thinking that we'd try requesting it in advance next week.

                                                              Chef Li also confirmed that to have Pocket Tofu in a sauce prepared with fish stock, it's best to call ahead and order (or hopefully some other customers) a fish fillet dish. The best, non-fishy smell stock would come out after 30-minute cooking/simmering, he said.

                                                              Our original Independence Day celebration plan was to pig out at GG with another spicy food loving family, but we were informed that Chef Li and family will take the day off, first time in three years. We'll go either before or after their day trip then.

                                                              1. re: charm21210

                                                                I've had at least two of the shrimp dishes, maybe more. And, to me, they are among the weakest on GG's menu. Not that they are bad, mind you, but they are just not wonderful enough for me to spend money, calories, and stomach space (!) on when there are so so many other exceptional offerings.

                                                          2. re: venera

                                                            @venera "We are indebted to the first poster---thank you, thank you! "

                                                            You are very welcome - I would like them to prosper for very selfish reasons!

                                                            I did want to clear one thing up - the chef's last name is Li, not Chun.

                                                            I had the "coconut birthday cake" several weeks ago when I stopped in for a large take-out order - the chef was nice enough to send one home for me still warm in the cake pan. With their instruction, I lightly frosted the top myself with a mix of unsweetened chestnut puree, superfine sugar and whipped cream and a touch of almond extract. But I didn't cut it into layers - it was quite delicious just as it was. It was a simple and uncomplicated confection, although I can appreciate that the addition of a fruity cream filling would be nice too. I like the way Chef Li is tweaking and experimenting with his dishes. Here is a photo: http://share.shutterfly.com/action/we...
                                                            When I stopped by the next day to return the pan, Chef Li's wife shared the recipe with me. To my Western taste, it is like a very good sponge cake - it has a lot of eggs in it!

                                                            I agree with mukalu that the sauce accompanying the crispy eggplant is a bit too sweet, but it is a dish he became very well known for at his previous post in Columbia (Hunan Manor, I believe, but correct me somebody if I'm wrong). I'm sure he would welcome any feedback you have about the sauce.

                                                            1. re: crackers

                                                              ooomph - frequentcrasher was the first person to ever mention Grace Garden on CH! Not on this thread, but one about the local Americanized Chinese food.

                                                              I have a long flight coming up this week out of BWI, and I know where I'm going to go for my carry-on food! United can keep it's snak pak...I shall be feasting on fish noodles.

                                                              1. re: crackers

                                                                He cooked for Hunan Manor, until they wanted him to change his style (ex. add sugar) and they no longer wanted to learn from him. I personally cannot figure out why people still highly recommend Hunan Manor when compared to what is available "down the road".

                                                                I agree that the sauce is a bit too sweet for the eggplant especially when compared to the other items on the menu that you may order to accompany.

                                                            2. went for dinner this evening with my younger sister and her boyfriend...thank goodness they are into trying new things because they/we loved everything. We ordered the tripe, tendon, and tongue salad (amazing flavours and textures), the steamed pork with rice powder and the sichuan fish fillets. Everything was great, but the best part of the meal was the woman who took our order. She was so sweet and nice and I mentioned to her how I heard about the restaurant and how i've been doing to try it out for over a month now.

                                                              I'm also pretty sure that there was a table full of chowhounders next to us towards the end of the meal. I think that they ordered the tea smoked duck and I really wanted to see what it looked like but I was already done with my meal.

                                                              I will definitely go back and next time i will have to order the noodles with fish that everyone has talked about.

                                                              7 Replies
                                                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                "I will definitely go back and next time i will have to order the noodles with fish that everyone has talked about."

                                                                FYI, they're not noodles with fish... they're fish noodles :-)

                                                                The noodles themselves are made of ground fish. And yes, you will have to.

                                                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                  "I'm also pretty sure that there was a table full of chowhounders next to us towards the end of the meal."

                                                                  guilty :) When I walked in and glanced at what was on your family's table I kind of thought "hmmm...chowhounds and chowpups" Your server was the chef's wife Mei btw.

                                                                  The tea smoked duck last night was the best rendition I've had from here. Deep flavor, and meltingly tender.

                                                                  It is so nice to see tables full of families on a weeknight!

                                                                  Next time, take a look at the framed food photos now up on the walls - compliments of ace stealth shutterbug Dmnkly. The photos were shot right as the dishes hit the table. You can almost hear those Golden Shrimp sizzling.

                                                                  1. re: crackers

                                                                    Last night's meal was probably the best of 5 excellent meals I've had there. Dom's photos are great. There is also a certificate of appreciation that BaltoMike made for them. The tendon, tripe, and tongue is amazing. It's important to have a little offal with every meal.

                                                                    1. re: ko1

                                                                      Yes, everything was really good last night, particularly the tea smoked duck. Really intense, as Crackers mentioned.
                                                                      I just want to add that what makes it everything even more special is the chef and his wife. They REALLY want to please...it's not just about the food, as amazing as that is.
                                                                      (Oh, and BaltoMike's certificate and Dom's photo's are a nice chowhound-y touch. The place truly is starting to feel like a family dining room!)

                                                                      1. re: sistereurope

                                                                        What do you know? You didn't touch the offal. ;)

                                                                        1. re: ko1

                                                                          But I DID taste the yummy veggies in the Triple T....hmmmm, at least I THINK they were veggies (a certain someone could have slipped something else in there I guess...)

                                                                    2. re: crackers

                                                                      yup I knew it...and I told my sister and her boyfriend too (they have no idea what chowhound is). hahaha chowpups, yes we are young but not as young as people like to think (22-25). My sister and I get everything from 16-20.

                                                                      Yeah i was going to ask if you guys were from chowhound but I am shy so maybe next time (:

                                                                      So grace garden is byob? We will remember that next time and definitely bring some soju from our house.

                                                                      also what IS up with that taller gentleman who kept going in the back to wash dishes and stuff? My sister's boyfriend kept pointing him out to me, i figured he just worked there or something. Oh well

                                                                  2. We went Monday night again. So far we have had the: szechwan fish filets, szechwan beef, cantonese chicken, beef with pickled cabbage, chili pepper chicken, curry beef with potatoes, fish noodles, golden shrimp, and yo choy.

                                                                    All you finished the ong choy before we got there. Argh. I don't eat pork, and the fish noodles don't work without the sausage. Just a heads up. (Still very good, just not amazing.) The ma-la leftovers actually lost their heat more and more each day I left them in the fridge and developed an interesting flavor (in a very good way). I love how you can eat the chilis that come with the chili pepper chicken. They taste almost sweet.

                                                                    I also enjoy the crispies that Chef Li fries himself. He can also make some off menu items like Hong Kong-style noodles. He mentioned he knows how to make samosas, too.

                                                                    MSG is used in some of the dishes. If you have an aversion to MSG for any reason, they are happy to leave it out. I find everything tastes just as amazing without it.

                                                                    Btw, who's the big dude that is buddy buddy with the chef? No fair cause he gets to go in the kitchen and see the chef doing his art.

                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                    1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                      "Btw, who's the big dude that is buddy buddy with the chef? No fair cause he gets to go in the kitchen and see the chef doing his art."
                                                                      Sounds like crowsonguy.

                                                                      1. re: ko1

                                                                        nope - he apparently is a "regular." Last night he was back there helping to wash dishes when I got there. That definitely doesn't sound like crowsonguy.

                                                                        1. re: ko1

                                                                          We were wondering who that guy was too. We have seen in washing dishes several times.

                                                                        2. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                          Tell me more about the Hong Kong style noodles?

                                                                          1. re: hon

                                                                            I have never seen them in Maryland, but my SO is from New York and crazy about Hong Kong-style noodles. I didn't even believe such a thing existed until we went to Chinatown in San Francisco and had the noodles there. The noodles were thin and long, pan-fried to be both crispy and soft at the same time, and were served with mixed seafood and a sauce. Very good. Chef Li understood us when we were describing the dish to him and he said he has the noodles to make it. In San Fran, they called the noodles "chow mein", but here in Maryland, "chow mein" is always a very soft noodle and looks different.

                                                                            1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                              A couple years ago Noodles Corner served it off menu, in black pepper sauce or white sauce. Asian Court in Ellicott City has it on the menu but I haven't tried it: "Triple Delight with Pan-Friend Noodle"
                                                                              Like AC, some restaurant menus put it as "Lian Mien Huang" (literally both sides golden, but LMH is actually Shanghai) but usually the English description is "pan-fried crispy noodles.

                                                                              About the big guy: Mei said they've been so happily busy since May 17 (yes she remembers the exact date), so they've asked the big guy, customer/neighbor, to help out from time to time.

                                                                            2. re: hon

                                                                              chow mein to cantonese is a thin egg noodle. the thicker doughy stuff is americanized noodles that i've never seen before in hong kong. i can probably bring some back to hong kong and promote it as american pasta and it would be a big hit lol.

                                                                              you can get the chef to pan fry it and top it with ingredient as bmorecupcake described. GG's menu also offer a different version now called "cantonese soy sauce noodle" which is stir fried instead. if you do dim sum in this area, you've probably seen this dish offered in a smaller portion before. but like all stir fry its never as good after sitting around for a while.

                                                                            3. I'm planning my second visit on saturday - since I live 50 miles from there I'm going to get alot to "go" for later!! Has anyone tried the shrimp balls stuffed sea scallop??

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: chowmac

                                                                                Since you have such a long trip back, be sure to let them know ahead of time, and ask them if they would be kind enough to cut a steam hole in the top of each carry-out container of your order that would over-cook / wilt on the trip back (primarily things with a lot of fresh vegetables in them.) They have done this before for me without my asking, but not consistently, and not only did it help with the integrity of the dish, it made the interior of my car fill with outrageously drool-stimulating aromas.

                                                                                1. re: crackers

                                                                                  thanks - i've only been once and chef did that for the fish noodles and came out to explain what and why he did it - i was impressed and you are right, I was going nuts in the car on the way home!!!! YUMM!!!!

                                                                              2. Do you specifically have to ask for the salted dried fish bits with the bok choy, or does that come "standard" with the bok choy?

                                                                                Today they had Chinese broccoli and ong choy, both from their garden.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                  I t hink it comes standard with bok choy when you dine-in. If it's for take out, you may have to request it. They sent the bits home in a small separate container when I noticed it was not included with the greens. They said they'd left it out because they were concerned that the smell of the dried fish would be offensive when I opened the warm dish up in my kitchen. (They need not have feared.)

                                                                                2. I really liked the curry beef stew Hong Kong Style. I wonder if I called in advance if the Chef could make me a large quantity (enough for 6-8 people) using a high - end (more expensive without as much fat and tendons) cut of beef and adjust the price? I was thinking it would be nice take with me when I head to New England to visit friends next month.

                                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                                                                    "using a high - end (more expensive without as much fat and tendons) cut of beef and adjust the price?"

                                                                                    My guess is he'd be happy to oblige, but know that you're going to kill the dish that way. The reason it's as good as it is is precisely BECAUSE of those "low-end" cuts. You'll never achieve that flavor or texture, either of the meat or the stew itself, without all of that fat and connective tissue.

                                                                                    (I'll save the "low-quality meat" rant for another time :-)

                                                                                    1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                                                                      Ha, beat you to it! ;)

                                                                                      I've actually had him make it for us with tenderloin. It was still excellent.

                                                                                      1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                        As a side note, you should, of course, get it however you like... but this is precisely why it's often so difficult to get dishes that aren't Americanized and why Grace Garden is such a refreshing change in this city. And for those who wonder why the Lis seem to pull punches with us at times (say, not including salted fish on the bok choy!), you're looking at it. They want to please, they fear that we don't like dishes made the way they make them for Chinese customers, and as evidenced here, they're often right. So dishes get toned down to match what they perceive to be our preferences. It may seem a small thing, but collectively, requests like this created what we now know as Americanized Chinese. I suppose you should order the dish how you like it, but I'd urge you to continue to try it the way Chef Li creates it, and reinforce the notion that we DON'T want Americanized versions of these dishes. One of the things I adore about Chinese food is that they don't have the phobias about fat and connective tissue that we do here. There are joys in those cuts of meat that cannot be duplicated in tenderloin, and I'd urge you to trust the Lis and continue to try and discover them. If their charms aren't evident right now, they will be, I promise. Plus, there are scads of other chefs who don't serve authentic dishes because when they do, people request changes, and the only way to bring them out of the woodwork is to engage them on their terms. Saying we love the traditional cuisine and then requesting tenderloin sends some very mixed signals, and it will change (and has changed in the past!) the way they cook.

                                                                                        I apologize, I don't mean to make this bigger than it is. I just think it's noteworthy that we're all thrilled to have discovered this place that serves fantastic traditional dishes previously unattainable in the area, but we're already asking them to alter some of the practices that make them what they are.

                                                                                          1. re: hon

                                                                                            Yes, please do not encourage the chef to "Americanize" his food. Isn't that what we were trying to get away from? Sheesh.

                                                                                          2. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                            I completely understand everyone's concern and I agree with you wholheartedly. I've been trying to taste those fish bits myself for what seems like forever now (see my previous post), and whenever I say "salted fish bits", they don't understand me.

                                                                                            The issue for me is that I only eat halal meat (slaughtered according to Islamic dietary guidelines). So for non-seafood items, I have to coordinate with Chef Li what meat I have to bring in for what dishes. I asked him about the beef dishes, and he told me tenderloin would be best.

                                                                                            I may have misunderstood Chef Li and Mei. That happens frequently. Wishing to try the whole chicken dishes, I asked what type of chicken I have to bring in. At first, I understood the chicken to be the whole chickens with head and feet they have hanging at Chinese butchers. Asking on a later visit, I realized what they needed for those dishes was actually free range chicken. Now I'm trying to find halal free range chicken somewhere. Halal tenderloin was hard enough to find. Indian/Pakistani people don't really eat beef and the halal butchers usually have no idea what the different cuts of beef are, and I don't either. I had to drive all the way to Rockville just to get halal tenderloin and it cost me $17/lb. I don't know where to get tendons from, but if I was told to, I would have at least tried.

                                                                                            Believe me, I don't want anything "dumbed" down and I always repeat this every time I go. I was just following instructions. I didn't even know what tenderloin was, but now I know quite a bit about various cuts. (Still a lot to learn, though, because everyone uses different names.)

                                                                                            1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                              Just to understand...you bring your own poultry and meat to the restaurant and ask them to prepare it for you? Since it's such a small kitchen, I'm wondering how the chef can avoid cross-contamination with the wok, cooking oil, and the other tools and utensils that he uses to prepare the regular dishes.

                                                                                              1. re: crackers

                                                                                                Sheesh, you just couldn't let me have my Chinese food in peace, could you... ;-)

                                                                                                I know, I know. If you think about it enough, it doesn't work out. Now, shoo! You'll take my ma-la when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

                                                                                                1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                                  Oh, and to Chef Li's credit, he request that we visit on off hours when there aren't other guests around. That way he can do his best to accomodate us.

                                                                                      2. It looks like everyone's enthusiasm for Grace Garden has paid off in the form of a nice article in the Washington Post food section.

                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Beto_pan

                                                                                          Yes, and Tom scored a double-whammy today with the same-page write-up on Ray's Hell-Burgers...

                                                                                          1. re: Beto_pan

                                                                                            Ok, now I'm offended. We are BALTIMORE food bloggers.

                                                                                            1. re: JonParker

                                                                                              Not all of us are. I know of at least two DC blogs that picked up on GG and I stated a thread on Rockwell with EXACTLY this kind of writeup as the end goal.

                                                                                              The word is out. That's what matters.

                                                                                              1. re: JonParker

                                                                                                Speak for yourself JonParker! I'm doing the happy-dance this morning! Double-time!

                                                                                                For Grace Garden to get such a glowing write up in one of the most important newspapers in the country, just a couple of months since the first mention hit the internets, shows that the mainstream media IS paying attention! Now...where is the Baltimore Sun?

                                                                                            2. I'm currently eating leftovers from one of the most satisfying meals I've had near Baltimore in a long time. Baltimore has seriously bad Chinese food. This isn't in Baltimore.

                                                                                              The chef was a total sweetheart who we saw several times throughout the meal. The other staff were great, too.

                                                                                              My husband the meat-eater had the beef short ribs everyone raves about. He agreed.

                                                                                              There was very little vegetarian on the menu. This surprises me, because anything I wanted the chef was willing to make vegetarian, and it was all really excellent. I don't know why they don't list this stuff, as it would make it a vegetarian hot-spot. We ordered ma-po tofu (asked for it without pork, and all vegetarian), Cantonese Stir Fried E Fu Noodles (without chicken broth), and garlic chives (without salt fish). All fabulous. The chef really seems to understand vegetarianism as he came out to ask if it was okay to put chicken broth in the noodles or if he should use water instead.

                                                                                              Our total bill was $52 for these 4 items, which were enough for lunch for us and major leftovers. The place looks pretty crappy, like an awful Americanized fastfood Chinese joint, really belying the quality of the food. It was worth the trek down to Odenton from Baltimore for us.

                                                                                              1. As great as the food is at Grace Garden, I feel like I want to start the meal with some small bites or maybe some soup (an authentic spin on the Americanized egg roll, dumpling, and wonton soup). They don't seem to have anything in this genre on their menu and was wondering what they would prepare. When I ate there, I was hesitant to ask about something not listed on the menu. I woke up this morning craving the pork belly with the bell peppers and bean paste. A trip on Friday is in order!

                                                                                                Has anyone ordered off their "Americanized" menu? As good as everyone else is, I bet Chef Chun makes the best fried rice or General Tso's in the area.

                                                                                                29 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: gregb

                                                                                                  This is a really excellent point, Greg, and it's an opinion I share. The menu could really use some small starters.

                                                                                                  But that said, it's basically Chun back there with Mei occasionally running back to help. I'm amazed he turns out the menu he does and I think the last thing he needs right now is more prep :-)

                                                                                                  1. re: gregb

                                                                                                    I once called in advance and asked them to make a soup. They did some Chinese herbal thing, which I liked, but many in the group did not. He also served it to some of his other regular customers who were in that day. Perhaps if people request soup, it's something they'll consider keeping on the menu, especially as the seasons change....

                                                                                                    1. re: gregb

                                                                                                      All right, I didn't want to mention this because, well, it's very unchowish of me, but we have ordered off the American menu last few times we were there. In my defense, my SO made me do it, even after I begged and pleaded. Mostly, I'm scared that Mr. Chef Li will dumb down the authentic dishes we order if there's American dishes on the same ticket. By now he knows us well, however, and so far this hasn't happened. Mei told us that authentic Chinese soup takes too much work and that's why they don't make it.

                                                                                                      Everything we've had off the American menu has been excellent. The hot and sour soup is purely vegetarian (no chicken broth) and still tastes so good. Usually I don't like thick hot and sour soup but there was just something about this one. (Oh, and their fried crispies are very good, too.) My favorite American item would have to be the sesame chicken. The only item I haven't liked thus far has been the sha cha beef, but this was the first time I got sha cha anything.

                                                                                                      I am losing my snobbish authentic-menu-only ways a little bit. Every Cantonese friend we've taken to Grace Garden or who has had our leftovers are always "complaining" how quite a few items differ from what they are used to. One said that a lot of the items are Hong Kong-style chinese food, which would not be considered authentic. I don't know if I necessarily believe that, just something to think about I guess.

                                                                                                      1. re: gregb

                                                                                                        Good grief, people, doesn't anybody even *look* at the "American" menu? Is that beneath us as Chowhounds? Just because that menu lists "the usual" doesn't mean that the chef doesn't do it very well! If you want soup, the chicken and corn soup off the lowly "American" menu is far better than any other rendition I've tasted. I believe there's also a hot and sour.

                                                                                                        Small bites - the pot stickers are good, and while it doesn't fit in with my usual urges for Chinese dining, his renditions of donut holes will make you swear off that famous national chain forever. And there's likely more to be found on that "other" menu that people aren't even looking at.

                                                                                                        And lastly, if you don't see something on either menu, why not *ask*? Haven't you noticed that the chef is eager to oblige his customers whenever possible? Don't you think he'd love to show you what he can do?

                                                                                                        1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                          It isn't beneath me, Warthog... it's just that ordering off the Americanized menu at Grace Garden strikes me as akin to traveling to France to get a cheeseburger. I love cheeseburgers. But that's not why I'm there.

                                                                                                          Secondly, I personally don't ask because I know the Lis are absolutely buried right now, working insane hours to produce a menu far larger and more complex than any restaurant of their size, staff and resources should even be attempting. Dealing with a sudden crush of people is a wonderful problem to have, but it's still a major adjustment. They LOVE to show off what they can do, and the time to request stuff will come, but -- personally speaking -- I feel like the thing to do for now is to let them adjust to their sudden (well-deserved!) popularity and not make special requests that they'll almost certainly feel obligated to accommodate, even if they don't really have the time to do so.

                                                                                                          1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                            Well, in one conversation, I asked if everything on the "Americanized" menu is "made up", or if those dishes do have "authentic" roots. The response was that many of them are variants of "real" dishes, and it's just as easy to do the "real" version.

                                                                                                            As for the current crush - I usually go during off hours, and haven't been there in a few weeks, so that's never been an issue so far when I've been there.

                                                                                                            It just struck me very odd that people are complaining about the lack of things that are clearly on the menu already - just not the "right" menu. One can still pick and choose to avoid the truly inauthentic, if that's the goal. Not everything that's on the "other" menu is at the "chop suey" level of inauthenticity, and the reluctance of some to even read what's on the "other" menu just flat out baffles me, and smacks of a certain level of food snobbery.

                                                                                                            1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                              I appreciate the head's up on the American-Chinese part of the menu, since that cuisine is my ultimate comfort food. It just never occurred to me to travel out to Odenton to order chicken chow mein (a comfort food so dear to my heart that it's abbreviated in my household as CCM). But, I could imagine that it's great at GG. I could definitely imagine mixing from the "fusion" menu and the more "authentic" menu for a totally satisfying meal, say hot & sour soup followed by fish noodles.

                                                                                                              What I'm finding interesting in this discussion, though, is that some people have spent a lot of time and energy getting the word out about GG and then are backing up and saying, whoa there, I've had my special orders, but now is not the time to overtax the lovely Lis....so, you all just wait on your special requests.

                                                                                                              1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                You don't have to say "some people", Ellen, you can just name me.

                                                                                                                But for the record, despite what you're implying, I've never even ordered an official off-menu item at Grace Gardens, much less one they haven't already made for others. They've served me a few that I didn't request (despite my insistence that they not go out of their way), and I've had a few that others ordered, but I've never made a single special request of them -- before or now.

                                                                                                                1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                                  I'm not implying anything. I do recall, however, someone ordering duck stuffed with sticky rice, which, at the time, wasn't on the menu....(don't have a clue if it's now on the menu...)

                                                                                                                  I, on the other hand, have made plenty of special requests, from soup to having them remake some dishes for a vegetarian. The Lis have responded to these requests with their typical graciousness. I would never imagine that they would be anything other than delighted to, as Warthog said, show off their skills.

                                                                                                                  1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                    "I'm not implying anything. I do recall, however, someone ordering duck stuffed with sticky rice, which, at the time, wasn't on the menu....(don't have a clue if it's now on the menu...)"

                                                                                                                    Well, that somebody wasn't me, and I'm the only person here who's advocated taking it easy on them while they adjust, so I'm not sure what you're saying.

                                                                                                                    In any case, I'm not talking about asking them to leave the chicken broth out of something, and of course they're thrilled with the attention and exceedingly gracious folks who want to make people happy -- how wonderful is it when great food happens to be made by great people? All I was trying to suggest is that right now -- in the month after they get two huge writeups in Baltimore and DC -- might not be the best time to ask them to expand the menu. Not as a matter of "right" or "wrong", but simply as a matter of sensitivity to how busy they are at the moment and to give them a few weeks to catch their breath a bit as a matter of courtesy, that's all.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                                      I don't want to get into a p!ssing contest here. Special orders or not, I'm a bit confused about the fact that there have been some who have spent a lot of time on CH and beyond getting the word out about GG, and then say, well, the word is out, and they're busy, so please don't ask for anything special....

                                                                                                                      I honestly don't know who ordered duck w/sticky rice.....But, my point remains the same. Frankly, if the Lis don't want to do special orders, I think it's up to them to let people know. Of course, you can also make the case that you don't think it's a good idea.

                                                                                                                      This isn't directed at you, Dominic: But, if people want to order from the American-Chinese menu, that's what it's there for! If someone wants a cheeseburger in France, have a cheeseburger in France! Honestly, I've had good Italian food in Phnom Penh, and great falafels in Paris. People move around the planet, and bring cooking skills with them. The entire idea of what's "authentic" or not is a very slippery slope, and as someone said on CH before, if it was all about "authenticity" we'd still be eating woolly mammoth, and raw, I might add!

                                                                                                              2. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                I'm with Dmnkly on this. I had previously said to my GF that if you wanted Americanized Chinese food, they probably had the best you could get around here. And with the realites of running a business, I think that's been their bread and butter until recently. Chef Li told me that he picked the location because he figured on takeout business from Ft. Meade. At one point he was even considering a buffet steam table.

                                                                                                                But while that stuff is on the menu, and I'm sure it's very good, it's not where his heart is. I don't think it's food snobbery to insist on ordering to a very good restaurant's strengths.

                                                                                                                1. re: JonParker

                                                                                                                  I'm puzzled by the assumption that everything on the "American" menu is de facto "inauthentic" or not to the Chef's strength. In addition to soups and appetizers, there are also different vegetable choices on the "American" menu.

                                                                                                                  Are there some items clearly aimed at American tastes of "Too much sauce, too much sugar" as Chef Li puts it? Sure. But are all of them "Cheeseburgers in Paris"? It doesn't seem so to me.

                                                                                                                  Even so, each person is free to make that call. Maybe a given person will not find anything of interest on that menu. My point is that it seems foolish to dismiss *everything* on the "American" menu without at least one time actually reading what's there so one can make an informed judgment. The fact that people are saying there's no soup at GG seems to me to indicate that's exactly what's happening - people aren't even reading the other menu, for whatever their individual reasons might be.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                    "My point is that it seems foolish to dismiss *everything* on the "American" menu without at least one time actually reading what's there so one can make an informed judgment."

                                                                                                                    Agreed wholeheartedly, Warthog... and I have :-)

                                                                                                                    I think I was unclear above -- I did, in fact, mean small starters that are not the typical Americanized Chinese starters that are found on that menu. I'm definitely aware those are available. But, for example, chilled Sichuan appetizers are among my favorite Chinese dishes -- the triple T is a great example, though that's not exactly starter size -- and given Chef Li's abilities with Sichuan, I think they'd be a spectacular addition to the menu.

                                                                                                                    But to be clear, once again, that's an ideal world dream and I'm absolutely not complaining. I'm stunned by the variety and quality what comes out of that little kitchen and if they cut the menu in half, I'll be no less thrilled.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                      "people aren't even reading the other menu, for whatever their individual reasons might be."

                                                                                                                      In my case, on my first trip there last weekend, the reason I didn't read the other menu is that I never saw anything approaching an "American" menu. Is it separate from the main menu? Do you have to ask for it? We had one person in my group when I went who tries hard to try authentic food, but when it comes down to it would just rather have some chicken fried rice; I told him to go ahead and order it even though it wasn't on the menu, and that it would probably be one of the better chicken fried rices he had tried, but he didn't want to put the chef out, so he ordered off the menu that we were given instead. I wish someone had given us one of the American menus for him to look at...

                                                                                                                      (For reference, the dish he ordered, the Basil Chicken, wasn't to his liking, but like pretty much everything else on the table, was devoured by the other 9 of us. On the whole, I was underwhelmed by their Sichuan (almost no ma-la flavor to speak of in the sichuan fish fillets), and also a little underwhelmed by the fish noodles after all of the raves (I really couldn't distinguish between them and regular starch noodles that happened to have a nice soft texture--but that texture alone isn't worth $20), but there still wasn't a dish that we had that I didn't think tasted quite good. And the crispy eggplant, which arrived after we were all happily leaning back and bloating, thinking we had finished, was ridiculously good, enough so that we sat back up and interrupted the bloating for some more gorging before sinking back into a torpor.)

                                                                                                                      1. re: sweth

                                                                                                                        The "american" menu is the paper one that looks like anyonther one shoved under your door and then the other one is in the red plastic menu holders.

                                                                                                                        We find that we have to ask for things to be spicey. They are still unsure of their customers wanting spicey and items with fat such as pork belly.

                                                                                                                    2. re: JonParker

                                                                                                                      GG did the steam table back in '05 but it was removed shortly after.

                                                                                                                  2. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                                    I don't think ordering off the "American" menu is insulting to the Lis. If I want an authentic Chinese meal, there's no question I'm driving half an hour to Odenton for some pork belly and fish noodles. If I have a craving for fried rice, which happens quite a bit and Ding How just doesn't cut it, then what's wrong with ordering that and some General Tso's or Chicken with garlic sauce? It's not like going to France and ordering a cheeseburger, it like going to France and ordering a Cassoulet with American sausage rather than Andouille.
                                                                                                                    As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with ordering off either menu. I would bet they don't think any less of those ordering off their American menu.

                                                                                                                    1. re: gregb

                                                                                                                      Don't misunderstand, Greg... I don't mean to suggest for a moment that there's anything wrong with ordering off the Americanized menu. I am and always have been a staunch supporter of good Americanized Chinese. All I was trying to say is that the fact that I don't order off that menu at Grace Garden doesn't have anything to do with placing less value on those dishes -- it's simply that when I go to France, I'm going to take the limited opportunity to get the stuff that I can only get in France. Ditto Grace Gardens. That's all.

                                                                                                                      1. re: gregb

                                                                                                                        First, I think it's so refreshing that we have a forum to passionately discuss such an "issue". Second, as previously mentioned, it is truly a great testament to the extremely rare combination of hospitality, skill, and love that is Grace Garden.

                                                                                                                        I am frequently torn on the issue. I feel Chef Li clearly takes greater pleasure in preparing dishes from the gourmet menu. (This is just conjecture, not based on any actual conversations.) At the same time, what are we supposed to do for American-Chinese food? Why accept inferior American-Chinese food when GG's is hands down the best around?

                                                                                                                      2. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                                        From our experiences, things are very chill at GG during the week (Mon through Thurs). That used to be the case even during "off hours" on Friday and Saturday (around 3ish, 4ish), but that might have changed with all the weekend business they've been getting. If you call, Mei will be striaght up with you. They will very politely decline to accomodate special requests if they are busy. If you read my previous post, we were bringing in halal meat for Chef Li to prepare for us. However, last few times they've been busy and could not accomodate us, so we ordered the vegetarian and seafood items. And just as well. We realized that bringing in our own meat probably wasn't such a good idea. We don't want to get the Lis slapped with health code violations.

                                                                                                                      3. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                        I've tried the dumplings/pot stickers and the "donut holes" too and both are very tasty.

                                                                                                                        My impression is that the "authentic" menu continues to be a work in progress in that items have been put in and removed from the rotation based on demand and availability and prep time. I would anticipate more changes once they have some time to sit down and review things a bit.

                                                                                                                        I too would like to see more of the "starter" variety of offerings - on either menu. I don't know what that would be exactly (spareribs maybe?) so for now the dumplings are a nice way to start a meal while waiting for the more elaborate main dishes to arrive. Thanks for the recommendation of the soup!

                                                                                                                        1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                          Ironically, givent he recent traffic about soup at GG, there's one that they are working on that may please those who don't want the "usual suspects" (egg drop, won-ton, hot and sour, etc.).

                                                                                                                          I went there last night fairly late in the evening. I was rather tired, and was looking at the soup section of the "American" menu, when the chef's wife emerged to greet me, ask where I'd been lately, and take my order. I just asked the chef's wife to surprise me, and let the chef cook whatever was most convenient for him, since it looked like they were cleaning up from one large group, and another was to be coming in.

                                                                                                                          The response was a new "Hong Kong/Cantonese style" soup they are trying out that's not yet on the menu (based on her knowing that I usually get a bowl of soup to start), and a new fish dish that he said I was the first one to try.

                                                                                                                          The soup was a clear broth with egg-white threads (think egg drop soup without the yolks being used) ground pork, peas, diced carrots, small dice of tofu, some mushroom, and a few other things - cilantro maybe?. Very nice, delicate flavor, and a nice range of textures as well.

                                                                                                                          The fish dish was the same sort of chunks of fish filets used in some of the other fish dishes, with bamboo, cilantro, scallion, a couple of small red chilies, and some amazingly puckery Chinese pickled cabbage, all served in a bowl with a good dose of a very nice pale broth. Hot and sour, in a way, but not at all like the vinegar and pepper based hot and sour soup. The stem parts of that pickled cabbage are really sour, and the bits of small red chilies have a similar "high-impact, no after-taste" heat. The most interesting part of it was that the mild broth and fish provided an expanse of delicate flavor to serve as a stage upon which the more assertive flavors blossomed intensely and then vanished. This isn't so much a dish of assertive flavors from beginning to end, as a dish with moments of strong flavors.

                                                                                                                          This might be a nice choice for people who like very assertive flavors, but could not take a whole meal of it. To use an audio term, it had a lot of "dynamic range" of flavor, rather than a prolonged high level of intensity.

                                                                                                                          As is typical, the texture contrast provided another layer of interest.

                                                                                                                          What can I say? He continues to amaze and delight, and he only seems to be getting better as he gains confidence that he has customers who can appreciate the levels of complexity and balance he is capable of.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                            That fish dish sounds amazing, I love chinese pickled cabbage so I definately need to try it!

                                                                                                                            1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                              oh Warthog I think you had the "Suan-tsai' fish that chef Li was contemplating trying last month when we went in. My friend said she had Chef Li's another great fish variation -- fish chunks steamed in rice powder. I will have to decide what to order tonight.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                                Speaking of soup: Mr Baltoellen and I came in last night, and to our surprise, we were the only customers. I wanted soup, and looked at the Western menu, and was told that they would make a "simple soup" not on the menu for us instead. It turned out to be a lovely, homey, chicken broth with seaweed, and some slices of pork. Perfect.

                                                                                                                                I also ordered--surprise--fish noodles, and Chef asked if I wanted to try a special kind. Of course, I replied, and they too were great. Loads of minced pork and some eggplant and some chili oil, etc. Really wonderful and these new ingredients seemed to bring out the fish taste of the fish noodles a bit more than their standard preparation.

                                                                                                                                Since we were the only customers, we had the increasingly rare opportunity to chat with the lovely Lis at leisure. (Try saying that three times fast!) While we talked about everything from my current outing in Flushing to the hour long wait for a table on Saturday night to growing coral, we also managed to chat about some issues that have arisen recently on this thread.

                                                                                                                                Regarding special orders: The Lis are all for this if they are NOT busy. In fact, as I'm sure as others here know, the more you talk with Chef, the more ideas come to him and the more he wants to get creative. He also said that he was like a doctor, who, once he gets to know you, knows how to diagnose you. (Ok. He didn't say "diagnose" but there was an analogy to a doctor knowing her patient with him having a sense of your tastes.)

                                                                                                                                More on special orders: If the Lis are busy or just can't do something, they'll say NO. In fact, they made the point that they have had to say NO more often recently. This didn't seem to bother them, and they obviously know what they can handle.

                                                                                                                                Regarding the Western menu: Yeah. Go for it, especially if they are busy, since Chef says that these dishes are so simple to prepare.

                                                                                                                                And, I did bring up my fondness for CCM as my ultimate comfort food. Chef Li said, well, I can make it, but it won't be what you want, but I can make something that you will like. So, there you have it. Not only a special order, but a special order of American-Chinese food. (Of course, when they are NOT busy....)

                                                                                                                                Grace Garden does continue, as said in the post above here, to amaze and delight.

                                                                                                                                1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                  You know, it makes me smile to read that they are often too busy to do special orders. That certainly wasn't the case a few months ago.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: JonParker

                                                                                                                                    Moi aussi (just back from Quebec, sorry).

                                                                                                                                    1. re: ko1

                                                                                                                                      Yes, that is wonderful. And thanks for checking with the Lis Ellen!

                                                                                                                        2. Count me as one who ordered from the "inauthentic" menu. I got the fish noodles, pork belly and General Tso's chicken. Out of pure curiosity, I wanted to see if their take on General Tso's was anything different or special compared to the usual. Maybe slightly tastier than Ding How, but it's not worth the inconvenience considering Ding How delivers to my house. GG wasn't afraid to spice it up though, which I like. Not worth the drive from Baltimore just for the General Tso's, quite the contrary for the "traditional" menu. But knowing they have good Americanized Chinese is comforting to those who have less than adventurous dining companions and I wouldn't hesitate to steal a bite of whatever came out of the kitchen.

                                                                                                                          1. My parents have lived in Odenton for more than 40 years and had not heard of Grace Garden nor of Chowhounds. Now they know. Chef has agreed to prepare a crab fried rice dish for my pop, who has craved crab fried rice since he last enjoyed it in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1961. It was that good. We will provide the crab meat - fresh jumbo lump backfin. I might ask for a special rice as well. It's not a complicated dish, but requires a little magic to put a proper smile on the old pop's face. Hopefully. BTW the fabulous fish noodles are still tantalizingly delicious the day after - cold!

                                                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: Treva

                                                                                                                              So I read the entire thread getting more and more hungry. I will be going either tonight or tomorrow...

                                                                                                                              Anyway, I work with a woman who is straight from China. She loves GG, but said its really tiny. I don't trust her judgement though... How many tables would you say are inside? She said 3.

                                                                                                                                1. re: hon

                                                                                                                                  Oh man, now I really can't wait. This makes it even better.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: hotel

                                                                                                                                    Six. Three large tables that can handle a dozen each if you get cozy, and three four tops.

                                                                                                                            2. Planning a large takout order for some friends - some are not so "adventurous" LOL - so I was thinking of kung pao chicken (in addition to the usual "good" stuff) but don't see it on there western menu - do they have it? any comments??

                                                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: chowmac

                                                                                                                                We had a wonderfully balanced meal at Grace Garden last night, starting with the kick of the chilled Sichuan triple treasures, calming down with the fish noodles, starting to climb with the tofu pillows with spicy sauce, tingling with the Sichuan Chili shrimp --ask for plenty ma-la [sichuan peppercorns]-- and following with the garlic morning glory greens (is it ong cha??) to round out the meal. We ended with home made donut holes and mango pudding. This was a good amount for 4 people to leave with happy tummies.

                                                                                                                                The other great thing was that all the tables there were comparing foods, coming over and asking each other enthusiastic questions about the dishes, and they were not people I recognized from chow outings.

                                                                                                                                1. re: crowsonguy

                                                                                                                                  "ask for plenty ma-la [sichuan peppercorns]"

                                                                                                                                  FYI, I believe "ma la" refers to the flavor created by the classic combination of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, while the peppercorns themselves are called huajiao.

                                                                                                                                  (Those who actually speak the language, please correct me if appropriate :-)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                                                    I thought that ma la was the combination of the numbing effect of the peppercorns followed by the spiciness of chili oil. I'd also like to learn of the "official" definition.

                                                                                                                                    I've always called morning glory greens either 'water spinach' or 'ong choy.'

                                                                                                                                    Last night seemed to have been a big night for GG, since I had some folks over last night for some carryout and convention viewing.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                      "I thought that ma la was the combination of the numbing effect of the peppercorns followed by the spiciness of chili oil."

                                                                                                                                      Yes, that's my understanding too, though yours is a much better way of putting it :-)

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                                                        Alright, went to Grace Garden yesterday. Unreal food. The worst part about this place is that their menu is so big it's going to take me a year to eat through the whole thing.

                                                                                                                                        Had Fish Noodles, Curry Beef Stew w/tendon (Hong Kong Style), Pork Belly w/ Mui-Choy, and Spicy Garlic Eggplant. It was just me and my wife. We originally sat at a two-top, and the server said, "You need to move to a bigger table."

                                                                                                                                        I was completely blown away by everything we ordered. I'm convinced that eggplant dish is one of the best things I've ever consumed. Chef Li was not busy and the three of us had a great conversation. He makes the fish noodles when they are ordered. Not at some random time in the morning. I can't believe there is no flour in them! He apologized for the length of time it took to get them, which was approximately 8 minutes. He also told me the curry is his own blend of spices also prepared on the spot.

                                                                                                                                        Fortunately my wife works in Greenbelt and we live in Baltimore. I am sure this is the only place we will get take-out from ever again.

                                                                                                                              2. Chef Li is currently making a wonderful bitter melon and beef stir fry entree that I highly recommend to bitter melon fans. [ 苦瓜 ]

                                                                                                                                10 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                  A group of us are going to lunch at Grace Garden on Friday, and want to pre-order the duck with sticky rice. If anyone would like to come and share the delights with us, email me off-site as soon as possible.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                    CityPaper (of Baltimore, not DC) has just named "stupendously good" Grace Garden as "The Best Chinese Restaurant in Baltimore." http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.a...

                                                                                                                                    Congratulations to the Li's!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                      I wish it really was in Baltimore. :-(

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Hal Laurent

                                                                                                                                        Interested in a Grace Garden outing on Christmas Day?! As a good MOT, when I was there for lunch today, I couldn't resist asking hopefully if they'd be open on Christmas. Answer: Yes, if enough people call and express interest, they will be open on Christmas Day. How many is "enough" is unknown, so don't be shy - call them! (410-672-3581) They may open late, or close early that day, and definitely want to take a couple of well-deserved days off after that.

                                                                                                                                        By the way, the food is as good as ever - with a somewhat updated menu (try the Chinese doughnut holes for dessert if you still have room) . The restaurant has been very attractively refreshed with rich red tablecloths (!) and flowers in vases on the tables. As we were getting ready to leave, the Lis proudly showed us a framed letter from Governor O'Malley congratulating them on being named the Best Chinese Restaurant in Baltimore!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                          Just as a side note, they do seem to be fairly devout Christians, so opening on Christmas would be more than just an economic decision for them. If you're going to ask that they do it, please try to make sure you pack the place.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Warthog

                                                                                                                                              Agreed! Mrs. Li was very enthusiastic about being open for chowhounds on Christmas Day if enough people are interested. They are planning to close the following couple of days, and may have shortened hours on Christmas day.

                                                                                                                                              Here's a link to an NPR interview with Don Siegel on the culinary tradition of eating in Chinese restaurants on Christmas day. Don Siegel is the author of "From Lokshen to LoMein: The Jewish Love Affair with Chinese food":

                                                                                                                                            2. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                              They have chinese donut holes?????

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Pool Boy

                                                                                                                                                they do have donut holes, and they are good. I've written this before about gg, but just wanted to say again how great the Lis are and how eager to please they always seem to be. They are always willing to do a vegetarian dinner that is delightful for me and my wife(the vegetarian.) Their Ma Po Tofu is great, and can be made veg. Also, the fried eggplant is unbelievable. The vegetables are always fantastic, long beans my favorite. And...if you're extremely lucky and the place is empty, chef will make up a dish of yellow bird--- a Cantonese labor intensive veg dish that involves making bean curd dumplings. This is mildly spiced, but totally delcious. They are the best.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: baltymoron

                                                                                                                                                  The fried eggplant is a standard order for us. Those are almost like donuts themselves!

                                                                                                                                      2. Grace Garden was indeed open on Xmas day, and I went with two others. Many diners where there for the first time. Food was as good as ever, with several people eating some scallop dish that I seemed to have missed in all my outings.

                                                                                                                                        But, I really wanted to report that GG was be closed for a few days the first week of January, the 5th to 7th, I think, for some R&R.

                                                                                                                                        Mei and Chef excitedly reported that they would be featured in the Wa Po on New Years Day.

                                                                                                                                        1. I've been to Grace Garden a few times before it got discovered by the mainstream media (The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post). I went in today - well, the front door was inexplicably locked two hours after opening time, so it took a few minutes of peering in from the cold to get the waitress's attention to unlock it - for the first time in a while and was surprised to see they'd really improved the decor.

                                                                                                                                          Unfortunately, that was the last positive emotion I experienced for the next two hours of dining there. We encountered the following issues:

                                                                                                                                          - It took them 20 minutes to take our order
                                                                                                                                          - It took them an additional 35 minutes to deliver our first dish --> An HOUR passed between sitting down and receiving food
                                                                                                                                          - The "waiters" are clueless and unorganized. One of the guys from the kitchen (clearly not trained to be a waiter) would frequently come out of the kitchen and have a confused discussion - in full view of customers - with the lone waitress about which dish was going to which table. Sometimes he would come out of the kitchen holding a dish, realize the waitress was doing something else, and deliver it himself without a word. Note: He speaks English, as he demonstrated in his bewildered discussions with the waitress.

                                                                                                                                          We weren't the only party to encounter troubles. Another table approached the waitress saying that they were almost done with their meal - except for the one of them whose food had not even been delivered. This might be understandable given the party of 14 another table, but they had pre-ordered their food, so the staff should have been prepared for the large order.

                                                                                                                                          I was hesitant to post this review because I am emotionally invested in this restaurant and want to see this family succeed. However, it is in their best interest to hire wait staff that is at least marginally competent. Despite the fact that I found the food to be okay (disclosure: I ate the Home Style Tofu), I am writing this review based on my overall feelings when leaving the restaurant: seething with anger after waiting an hour while watching an utterly disorganized and clueless wait staff fumble around with dishes.

                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: GoodMorningBaltimore

                                                                                                                                            It helps to bring patience and a smile, which for me have always been amply rewarded with warm gracious service and fantastic meals. The Lis didn't have a "waitress" or "wait staff." The chef and his wife, and occasionally a friend or family member, do it all. The kitchen is tiny, and many of the dishes are complex. It is a minor miracle that the Lis can prepare and serve lunch for upwards of 20 people at once and have the dishes turn out as delicious as they always seems to be.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                              A four-star (out of four) review from the Baltimore Sun yesterday. With reviewer Richard Gorelick giving credit to chowhounds for showing him the way - better late than never, eh? Congratulations to the Lis - a wonderful way to begin the new year!


                                                                                                                                          2. Had my virgin Chowhounds outing yesterday with some DC hounds (thanks Steve for organizing!), some Baltimore hounds, and some bi-metropolitan folks (including the illustrious and discerning Crackers, who started this monstrously popular post!). These folks knew the place and the menu extremely well, either from being at GG previously or from assiduously studying the menu. I let these pros do the ordering.

                                                                                                                                            There were 11 of us in all, almost enough to finish all 12 dishes + dessert. From Cracker's cheat sheet, here's the menu, in approximate order of appearance at the table:

                                                                                                                                            sticky rice stuffed duck (not on the menu)
                                                                                                                                            "won-tons" in aromatic broth (not on the menu)
                                                                                                                                            fish noodles
                                                                                                                                            e-fu noodles with shitake mushrooms
                                                                                                                                            beef triple treasure
                                                                                                                                            triple treasure of eggplant, tofu, peppers stuffed with minced shrimp in black bean sauce
                                                                                                                                            pocket tofu (with spicy sauce)
                                                                                                                                            Sichuan braised pork belly with rice powder
                                                                                                                                            whole flounder - stir fried filet with seasonal vegetables and crispy bones
                                                                                                                                            chive blossoms
                                                                                                                                            Pea shoots with salt fish
                                                                                                                                            tamarind shrimp
                                                                                                                                            "donut holes"
                                                                                                                                            rice and bottomless jasmine tea

                                                                                                                                            total with tax and tip: $27

                                                                                                                                            I couldn't possibly recount the whole experience, which went on for an extravagant 2.5 hours. But here are a few of the standout memories.

                                                                                                                                            FIrst, Chefi had very enthusiastic hellos for several folks at the table, including lots of big hugs for Nick. It was nice to feel welcome.

                                                                                                                                            After a bit of getting to know one another, the food started coming out. The duck didn't look very appealing to me, but I dug in and found it truly delicious. It was stuffed with seasoned sticky rice, chestnuts, and other savory things. The appearance suffered a bit from the skin not being browned at all, probably because it was steamed.

                                                                                                                                            The "wonton" soup was a mind-blower. Too bad it's not on the menu. First a big bowl of chicken broth and a small bowl of steamed baby bok choi appeared. Then a bowl of "won-tons" showed up. Each was a bit of filling wrapped in a thin white wrapper, which was bunched up on the top and encircled with a ribbon of shaved carrot. We dutifully served ourselves a wonton a wonton and some bok choi and ladeled a bit of broth over it. Having had wonton soup free with purchase of many a disappointing Chines special, I didn't expect much. I was wrong. Nothing was at it seemed. The wrapper was not the usual pasty dough, but was gossamer thin and tender -- made almost entirely of egg white. The filling was a mixture of chicken and shrimp. Also light, and really great. The broth had a chicken flavor, but also some pleasant peppery heat to it.

                                                                                                                                            The fish was incredible also. For this dish, I would have to say that the presentation was its most spectacular aspect, even though the taste was terrific as well. It was a whole flounder fried in a very lively basket shape. It looked like it was getting ready to jump off the table. The middle of the fish was hollowed out and filled with pieces of fish fillet and lovely vegetables (I remember bok choi, don't recall the others). As instructed, we took some of the mixture from the middle but also broke off a bit of the crispy fried fish and bones from around the edges. Never ate fish bones before (at least not on purpose). These were wonderful.

                                                                                                                                            Well I could go on, but the post would be the longest one on the page, so I won't except to say that the hounds impressed me with their friendliness, and their gusto. These people know how to eat!

                                                                                                                                            9 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: virchoweats

                                                                                                                                              Thanks for initiating this sub-thread. I have had the pleasure of many a spectacular meal with a group of intrepid Chowhounds and this ranks as one of the best.

                                                                                                                                              As someone who regularly checks out dives, I must say I never would have gone in this place in a million years if not for Chowhound, and especially Crackers who first posted. There is no reason to believe in this strip of seedy bars and tattoo parlors across from an Army base that somebody was making egg crepes to wrap shrimp and pork in a broth or deboning a whole duck to be stuffed with lotus root, chestnuts, and rice. Or flash frying large shrimp head-on to a tender crisp. It was all here, from paper thin slices of tongue and tendon to delicately stuffed vegetables to handmade noodles. We were in the hands of an artist in the most humble of surroundings. What a great meal!

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                Sort of makes you look at every unassuming Chinese place in a strip mall a bit differently, yes? I think, well, hidden there could be another Grace Garden!

                                                                                                                                              2. re: virchoweats

                                                                                                                                                Indeed the food was only surpassed by the company! Here is a picture of the incredible flounder, and the deboned duck...

                                                                                                                                                1. re: crosby_p

                                                                                                                                                  ok Let's try posting those pictures again...

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                      That flounder looks spectacular. Curse my evil sinus infection, which left me too exhausted to take Steve up on the invitation.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: PollyG

                                                                                                                                                        Don't worry, I have a feeling this will not be the last time we get together at Grace Garden.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                        Thanks Crackers...don't know why it didn't work for me...

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: virchoweats

                                                                                                                                                      Sounds awesome. Please let me know the next time there's a Hound gathering there. I really want to check this place out.

                                                                                                                                                    3. Went for a late lunch today - awesome is the only word I can think of! I will be traveling there frequently. Those fish noodles are amazing.

                                                                                                                                                      1. Went this past week. I would confirm what some others said that the pocket tofu with mild sauce is probably better than the one with the spicy sauce. In my opinion, the spicy sauce overwhelms the delicate flavors of the tofu balls. Don't get me wrong. Still very good.

                                                                                                                                                        Ordered 'Grace Garden Shrimp' off the non-traditional menu and it was surprisingly good. Very delicate flavors melded together perfectly. I haven't had anything like it before.

                                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                                                                                          It has now been ten months that I've been returning to Grace Garden. The restaurant has slowly been transformed over those months. There are now many more seats, with the addition of several more large round tables draped in dark red tablecloths (it is always nice to have room to spread out, even for two people), with the addition of photos of many of the dishes now on display, and an ever-growing collection of rave reviews, deservedly framed in the window and on the wall.

                                                                                                                                                          What has not changed one bit is the graciousness of the Lis, and the quality of the food that Chef Li has coming out of his still-tiny kitchen. Still manning the woks solo, if anything, the dishes are even better than last May. Although I've probably tried most everything on the Chinese menu by now, last night I asked if there was anything on the "regular" menu that might be interesting. Mrs. Li disappeared, and emerged with a bowl of mini-wontons in chili oil broth. I think they are called "spicy wonton" on the tri-fold takeout menu. Try these! They reminded me the the baby wontons that Peter Chang was making in his TemptAsian days, for those of you who might remember: http://www.donrockwell.com/index.php?...
                                                                                                                                                          Small, silky wrappers around a knob of meat, swimming in a rich spicy broth. Not searingly hot, and a nice way to whet the appetite.

                                                                                                                                                          We also returned to some favorites that were all just as good as always: cold beef tendon/tripe/tongue, crispy eggplant and braised tofu - Hak-Ka style.

                                                                                                                                                          It was gratifying to see that business was brisk last night - both sit down and carry out.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: elhuevogrande

                                                                                                                                                            Thanks everyone for promoting this place and for the detailed recommendations and reviews. I am DEFINITELY going there as soon as possible, I am not terribly far as I live in Northern laurel near route 32.

                                                                                                                                                            I will report back after I eat (^_^)

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: bboyneko

                                                                                                                                                              Still just as good as ever. If you get the head-on shrimp, make sure you suck the flavorful juice out of the heads. And the shells are edible too; just think of them as smaller soft shell crabs.

                                                                                                                                                        2. IN one way I feel late to the party on Grace Garden but I am glad to post. Kay & I finally made it here as they are closed on Sunday, our typical day to go far afield in search of good food. The appearance is as stated, dive-y but very clean. Getting food this good in such a surrounding reminded us of our favorite gems in Both Monterrey Park and SF.

                                                                                                                                                          We had:

                                                                                                                                                          Tripe, Tendon & Tongue- a great version of this dish with lots of other flavors besides the meats and the typical spicy sauce. Kay marveled at the texture of the tendon which she usually does not like that much. It was quite peanutty but the veggies added several layers of flavor in addition tot he funkyness of the innards. The sauce was less oily than at Joe's or Sichuan Pavilion and the dish more nuanced than at either of the others.

                                                                                                                                                          Fish Noodles- this is an extruded fush dumpling cooked in water (as I later found out). We just had a similar dish at Sichuan Pavillion {there it was fish dumpling in white sauce with cucmber} and SP's version did not have the just made gelatinous quiver of the version today. This is a subtle dish and made a great foil to the TTT. There were slivers of pickled veggie of some sort, cabbage, green onion, shiitake & chinese sausage. There was but a scant coating of white sauce which made more for lubrication than anything else. The plate was clean when we finished it. I would love to go ahve this dish with a larger group as then it would be just a few tantalizing bites of the noodle just out of the water & wok as opposed to seeing it cool down and take on a heavier, thought not heavy, texture. Extraordinary!

                                                                                                                                                          Flounder Filet Sichuan Style- we asked fo a ma la dish and were immediately pointed in this direction which was a good thing indeed. Plump bits of fish, lots of bamboo shoot tips, cabbage and other stuff in a nicely vinegary sauce topped with a sprinkle of fried Sichuan peppercorns, chili flakes, garlic & ginger. If you ate from the center out getting the full effect of the hot stuff. the dish was fiery and layered with many flavors in addition to heat. Eaten from the outside in it was far less fiery yet still fully flavored as reported by my more heat sensitive dining companion. We cold only eat about half of the dish as we were in danger of bursting at that point which would have blown the Chinese foodie cred we had established at this point.

                                                                                                                                                          When we mentioned coming back with a larger group, the waitress told us to call in advance so they could make stuff not on the menu.

                                                                                                                                                          We asked about the Chef's background and he is from Hong Kong but he had a Sichuan master which explains both the excellence and lightness of his Sichuan cooking. I looked into the tiny kitchen and saw but a single wok station. Of the three parties who were there or came in after we arrived, 2 were of the sweet & sour pork & egg drop soup style. This is a place that could just go thru the motions and have a great following from the Fort Meade crowd, but bravi for their dedication to bringing a personal vision of food to fruition.

                                                                                                                                                          $52 for enough food for three!

                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: deangold

                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for the report, deangold! We haven't been out there in a while, but it's good to hear that they're still making great food.

                                                                                                                                                            I had heard from a friend whose mother went that they upped the prices, the fish noodles being $30+? Clearly, that's not true.

                                                                                                                                                            Gotta head there soon!

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: daveinmd

                                                                                                                                                              $21 for the fish noodles, $12 for the TTT so about $18 for the fish fillet.

                                                                                                                                                          2. Made it there today for my first time. I agree with Steve's statement about the seediness of the strip they're in. That whole stretch of road is just North of disgusting.

                                                                                                                                                            Before I get to the food, I was disappointed that I was the only eat-in diner between 12:15-1pm. Two people came in for carry out.

                                                                                                                                                            Also, I ordered from the Chinese menu and she warned me that it was spicy and I said that I knew and had learned about them from Chowhound - and THAT WORKED - no more questions or warnings. She kind of asked me about CH as I paid and also told me that some hounds come in regularly, both in groups and individually. I thought it was cool that mentioning CH gave me instant cred in her eyes and I thought I'd pass it on.

                                                                                                                                                            I think I ordered the Sichuan Braised Beef, but looking at the menu again online, I'm not sure if I got that, or got the Sichuan Spicy Beef. I didn't really get much of the numbing from the sichuan peppers, but it was spicy and the broth was great - very rich and complex taste.

                                                                                                                                                            7 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Dennis S

                                                                                                                                                              For whatever reason, they don't go heavy on the sichuan peppercorns, even if asked to. But the sichuan braised beef is amazing regardless. I'm also a fan of the braised pork belly w/ mui choy, which is basically a really good Chinese sauerbraten. (Really, I haven't had a bad dish there; the worst I could say about anything I've tried there is "it was good, but maybe not worth the money or the drive from Virginia", and that's for only a few dishes.)

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sweth

                                                                                                                                                                I had the pork belly with mui choy tonight for dinner. I'd brought it home and frozen it from a prior visit, and it kept amazingly well. With the kasha varnishkes I had on the side, it made for a rather eclectic but wholly satisfying chilly fall evening meal.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                  BTW - she was trying to make it through the zagat's guide today and actually came to me with questions (again I tribute CH). I don't really know (or trust) Zagat's for much of what I'm ever after. Of course I could explain the price indicator in the upper right, but I didn't know the scale for the other 3 or so rating columns in the upper right. SO if you're in the know AND go there soon, give her a hand - she was really trying hard, but I was focusing on the food before a meeting.

                                                                                                                                                                2. re: sweth

                                                                                                                                                                  The Chef is Honk Kong trained and not Sichuan himself. His master was. So his Sichuan is refined thru that lens and while the flavors are spot on, they are not as intense hot or nimbing as a meal at Joe's or SIchuan Pavilion etc. They can still be ma la or just plain hot but a little less so. This is not a case of dumbed down, but an interpretation.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: deangold

                                                                                                                                                                    Understood; I think I recommended in your "why can't we get spicy chinese food" thread, in fact, that you ought to go to Grace Garden, but that their style was just a lot more subtle than you might be looking for in terms of heat (since it's more subtle than I'm looking for when I really want to scratch that fiery itch, and from your posts I suspect that you might like it hotter than I do). I definitely don't think they're dumbing it down, though.

                                                                                                                                                                3. re: Dennis S

                                                                                                                                                                  The Sichuan braised fish fillets are very spicy and numbing (ma la), utilizing both chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: elgringoviejo

                                                                                                                                                                    That was actually the first dish that I ever had there, and it just wasn't very ma la, at least as compared to what I'm used to. I was actually kind of underwhelmed the first time I had a sichuan dish there, but once I got past thinking of them as ma la dishes, I could appreciate the depth of flavor and now love them. But they just aren't, to my palate at least, very hot or numbing.

                                                                                                                                                                4. Just got back from a group outing of 9 to Grace Garden. Loads of fun and incredible foods. Last week I spoke with the waitress and told her we wanted to have a varied meal with two spicy dishes and we would eat anything. We wanted dishes the chef "was proud of". The reservation was made last Thursday for tonight so they had time to include some of their "order ahead" dishes. As best I remember we had:

                                                                                                                                                                  Winter Melon Soup - this was an entire winter melon with the seeds removed and a soup steamed inside the melon. The soup had dry scallop, ham, tiny shrimp, veggies and the broth was very mild, even a little bland. But that is because the soup was not the reason for the dish. The star of this dish was the winter melon which had been picked from the Chef's garden this morning for our dinner. The melon has a subtle flavor that grew with each bite, leaving a citrusy tang in the finish.

                                                                                                                                                                  Next up were the fish noodles. These are noodles made from fish that are first simmered in water ala spatzle then stir fried with chinese sausage, slivers of veggies and black mushrooms. Wonderful.

                                                                                                                                                                  Next up was a quartet of dishes:

                                                                                                                                                                  Green beans in a marinade with slivered ginger - good, very fresh (maybe home grown?) very simple
                                                                                                                                                                  Three Treasures: Tongue Tripe & Tendon in a spicy sauce with garlic, ginger, hot chile oil. This is the best version of this dish I have ever had.
                                                                                                                                                                  Chinese broccoli with garlic cloves - the garlic was as darkly colored as it could have been without taking on a bitter taste. The greens tasted fresh picked. Simplicity itself.
                                                                                                                                                                  Hakka Eggplant - steamed eggplant topped with a spicy sauce with ground meat, green chiles and more stuff. I prefer my eggplant in this dish more steamed, but the topping was lighter and more delicate than I have ever had before.

                                                                                                                                                                  Whole Shrimp with long life noodle - the noodles, which they purchase, as we found out, seemed to be hand pulled. They had an incredible flavor and the sauce was wonderful. The whole shrimp, which were scattered over were good but, oddly enough, we did not finish them all off. But the flavor they contributed to the sauce made this dish a stellar one. As this dish passed, one of the group said please stop with the yummy noises and my only response was to say pass the food faster because I don't know how long I can hold them in.

                                                                                                                                                                  By now, the "yummy noises" were being heard with groans of fullness as well. But we soldiered on!

                                                                                                                                                                  The next group came out in an order that I cannot now recall but I think these were it:

                                                                                                                                                                  Crispy shrimp - minced shrimp formed into logs with some sort of coating, deep fried and then stir fried with a green that might have been in the leek or garlic chive family, along with hot peppers and other flavorings. This was incredible and incredibly rich.

                                                                                                                                                                  Pork Belly in Sichuan style - leeks, onions, lots of other stuff, rich pork belly smoked, but much less so than the version we had a Sichuan Pavillion dinner recently. That dish was all about the smoke, this all about the belly. Again, stellar.

                                                                                                                                                                  Sticky rice stuffed duck - the ugliest dish I have been served in a long while, yet supremely tasty. The duck is stuffed with glutinous rice studded with chestnuts, dried dates, bits of sausage, ham, cured meats etc and then steamed. It is a huge gray plop of duck and rice hacked into large pieces. I was eating the rice first and raving "I don't care if the duck is lousy, this is great" when someone said "don't worry about the duck." They were right.

                                                                                                                                                                  By now we were worried that if we had more dishes coming, we would need cars with heavier suspensions to get us home. But lucky for us, there was only one more dish......

                                                                                                                                                                  Whole Flounder, Deep Fried Bones & steamed meat in Sichuan style. The Chef explained that the bones were deep fried for 1/2 hour, the fish filet steamed and then stir fried with hot chile oil. The hotness was lively and not more then medium. The filet was a mass of pieces with what seemed to be rice powder in the sauce, resting in a boat made of the rack of the fish. Chef demonstrated how to eat the bones saying "Don't eat the center bone" but I fear that I for one, ignored this direction and lived to tell about it. My only regret was eating lunch today and not being able to dig in on the crispy head of the fish. But the lower fins, engawa in sushi terms (but I am not sure of that spelling) with a bit if sauce on it made for the best chips and dips I have ever had.

                                                                                                                                                                  The Chef came out to check on us and we applauded, but far less enthusiastically than he deserved. Being comatose will do that to you!

                                                                                                                                                                  The feat was $300 tax & tip included. We asked if they would do this again wiith another group and the answer was an enthusiastic yes!

                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: deangold

                                                                                                                                                                    Great wrap up! A group of us from the Charm City Hounds will be there Monday night for a Harvest Moon Dinner, can't wait to see what the Chef serves, I will definately post pictures.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: hon

                                                                                                                                                                      Some int he group did take pictures but after the winter melon soup, we were too busy being pigs, I mean sampling Chef's delicacies, to stop for such things.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: deangold

                                                                                                                                                                        It is hard to even think about your camera when that food is in front of you!

                                                                                                                                                                  2. YUM!! They still got it! Fish noodles, baby bok choy, seafood in XO sauce, and spicy garlic pork.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Happy to report that Grace Garden has reopened after a short closure for some structural repairs to the strip mall it is in.

                                                                                                                                                                      And even happier to report that Chef Li is firing on all woks! Tonight we were treated to a new dish, in addition to some of our favorites. I'm not sure what he calls it, but it is chunky shrimp paste surrounded by tofu skin wrappers, lightly fried and served with chive blossoms, red and green bell pepper and jalapenos for some heat. Really a nice dish and I hope it makes it onto the menu. We also enjoyed our Taiwanese Fish, Spicy pork with dried tofu and pea shoot tips with roasted garlic cloves.

                                                                                                                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                        Shamed that I haven't been back to GG since the roof collapse, but I will remedy that next week.. I noticed Crackers' mention of the shrimp paste, tofu skin and jalapeno. Has anyone else found new dishes at the restaurant?


                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: crowsonguy

                                                                                                                                                                            One of the reviewers at the following link got Chef Li to make some sort of faux Dan Dan Noodles, and mentions you can call a day in advance to order the dish.


                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                                                                                                              We just went yesterday and were told Dan Dan Noodles are coming soon on the regular menu! We got Chef Li to make the "fake" Dan Dan Noodles and overall the dish was excellent. A mostly savory and spicy sauce, with a touch of sourness and maybe a touch of sweetness, and almost ground meat. I'm not sure how to describe the way the meat was cut, like in small little spheres, but not exactly ground. We got it with chicken, but I think traditionally it's with either pork or beef. The sauce, noodles, cilantro, and julliened cucumber all came separate. There wasn't nearly enough cucumber or enough noodles, but as they tweak the dish before adding it to the menu, I'm sure they'll balance it properly. We brought back the leftover sauce and made lettuce wraps with it. Another patron walked in and saw us eating the dish, ordered it, and he chowed it down in no time flat.

                                                                                                                                                                              One member of our party ordered beef with string beans. I was rolling me eyes, thinking what a waste to order something so boring, etc. But there was nothing boring about the way Chef Li charred the string beans and gave them a smoky, almost grilled taste. What a pleasant surprise!

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                              Another new creation is Chef Li's sour seafood curry-- distinctive and delightful

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: crowsonguy

                                                                                                                                                                                The dish with the shrimp paste stuffing with small pieces of shrimp is stuffed into you tiou (oil stick). These are 12 inch long Chinese pastry that are traditionally eaten with heated soy bean milk (sweet or savory) for breakfast. The you tiou are made of flour and deep fried hence the name "oil stick".

                                                                                                                                                                                I must say we have been disappointed the last two times we were at GG. The dishes were not predictable. For example an eggplant dish we had grown to enjoy was covered with a sweet sauce to our surprise even though Chef Li knows our taste to be szechuan in nature. We fear they have begun catering to the American take-out taste. Also the last time when we were driving home we realized we were charged for a dish we did not get.

                                                                                                                                                                                Perhaps in comparison we find Hunan Taste to be a better dining experience as the food goes. You can actually appreciate the more complicated, multiple layers of flavor. I agree that the service leaves a lot to be desired and I have spoken to the owner about this. She indicated that she would correct it. The owners are sincere about desiring to showcase a truly enjoyable lunch or dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                Hunan Taste
                                                                                                                                                                                718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: zenim

                                                                                                                                                                                  I am not trying to discredit your opinion at all, but I can't disagree more. We were super excited when Hunan Taste opened up just 3 minutes from us. We've been there too many times to count now, both carryout and to dine in. We have sampled a very wide assortment of HT's items both on the traditional menu and Americanized menu. We have even tried items like the preserved fish and the fish intensines casserole. (Side note: don't order those two items. I tried hard to make myself like them, believe me.) To be fair, we have had a few excellent meals at Hunan Taste. The first few weeks they opened were by far the best, in my opinion. But after that, we gave them far too many chances and we are now happy to make the 25 minute drive to Grace Garden again.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Ironically, it was the reasons you mentioned about GG that drove us away from HT. Inconsistency, missing items, problems with the bill, and we find too many of the "complex" dishes to have the exact same flavor profile. And I always gave Hunan Taste feedback, but they didn't seem to care, whereas with GG, Chef Li and Mei always listen to what we have to say. Did you give Grade Garden feedback?

                                                                                                                                                                                  Grace Garden
                                                                                                                                                                                  1690 Annapolis Rd Ste A, Odenton, MD 21113

                                                                                                                                                                                  Hunan Taste
                                                                                                                                                                                  718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                                                                                                                    hey both HT and GG are heads and tails ahead of 99.9% of the chinese restaurants that are out there. I can't say that I have had a bad dish at either place.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                                                                                                                                                      I agree. My meals at HT have been solid, but no wow facter. If I am already going to H Mart then HT it is. But when I am making the effort just to go to dinner, then GG would win every time.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. I have only eaten at GG one time and the pork belly and fish noodles were fantastic. I will have to agree about the suspect pricing though. We ordered a side of baby bok choy that was not on the menu and it ended up costing like $15.00. We could have asked the price beforehand but didn't really think it would cost more than $10.00. No big deal we'll go back but we felt that was a bit pricy for a side of bok choy.

                                                                                                                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: tobynissly

                                                                                                                                                                                A large group of us had a not dissimilar experience at Hunan Taste some months ago. The owner came to our table, and suggested a bunch of dishes, all of which turned out to be among the most expensive on the menu. Of course, we, too, could have asked the price, but one would think that a competent business woman at a relatively new restaurant wouldn't have so brazenly decided to pad the check, since she should have known the value of word-of-mouth marketing and repeat customers. In fact, one dessert she suggested, some potato pancake thing, was a whopping $16.

                                                                                                                                                                                Nothing at that meal was outstanding. And, after feeling like human ATMs, I don't think any of us in that relatively large group has spread the word or is likely to return.

                                                                                                                                                                                Hunan Taste
                                                                                                                                                                                718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                  Wonder if the detected slippage to less-than-wonderful is a case of fabulous starter chefs in for the first few months to teach the staff and build word of mouth while operating at breakeven or loss, and now it's fly-on-their-own-and-make-money time?

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                    $16 for a potato pancake dessert??

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: hon

                                                                                                                                                                                      Ok, it was a large potato pancake! ;-) (Even before I knew the price, I had canceled the order, preferring another dessert. But, alas the expensive plate of potatoes arrived anyway. The evening's fleecing just wouldn't have been complete without it.)

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: hon

                                                                                                                                                                                          My husband and I went to HT last Sunday and consistent with their desire to be responsive to their patrons concerns, after we ordered they presented us with a bill indicating in Chinese and English all the six dishes we ordered and the cost and asked us to check it. We were stunned and didn't know what it was about, but I imagine they had complaints and this is there way to have no misunderstanding. It makes for no confusion when it comes time to pay the bill and you can check off the dishes when they come if you have concerns. They also placed the signs, explaining some conditions of the food, on the table as a response to people who are not familiar with Hunan cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                          It would also be good for GG to adopt a similar routine because we have often known their system for calculating the bill to be in error.

                                                                                                                                                                                          My husband's native province is Hunan and on Sunday there were only five of us plus a child who were westerners. My husband spoke with several of the other Hunanese and they also expressed their approval of the food. It is much the same as my mother-in-law cooked in Taiwan and delicious.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: zenim

                                                                                                                                                                                            I had the same experience at HT a couple nights ago with friends. The waiter took our order, repeated it, and then before any dishes came, he presented us with an itemized register slip, and asked us to make sure it was the correct order, and for us to alert him if any of the items failed to appear.

                                                                                                                                                                                            I can only assume that there must have been some rather spectacular failures to communicate or serious complaints that led to this step. I have noted that between the various menus (Picture book, laminated chef's special sheet, Chinese-Chinese menu book, American-Chinese menu book) there are duplicates (not always priced identically), and some opportunities for one dish to be confused with another similar dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                            It also seems that the average price point on the menus other than the "Chinese-Chinese" book seem to be a bit higher. One wonders if they are consciously (or even unconsciously) pricing things to give the best prices to those who like the "real" menu.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. Stopped into Grace Garden this weekend, and it looks like Chef Li's updated his menu with several new items. He added the Phoenix Purse as a preorder item. If you've been to special dinners there, it's a dish where he makes a dumpling with a skin of egg white filled with chicken and vegetables.
                                                                                                                                                                                  He's added a few new seafood items including conch, 7 preps on whole fish, and something called Cantonese Sea treasures, shrimp, scallop & sharks fin stuffed in cucumber.
                                                                                                                                                                                  I ordered the sichian dan dan noodles, noodles with sesame sauce served warm with sichuan spiced pork.
                                                                                                                                                                                  The new menu is up on the website.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Grace Garden
                                                                                                                                                                                  1690 Annapolis Rd, Odenton, MD

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. After reading this thread for over a year and still not managing to get down to Grace Garden, my wife planned a surprise dinner out for me last night. I had absolutely no clue where we were heading until I saw the sign for Odenton, at which point I started getting exponentially more excited every second. We recently suffered a pretty profound loss in our household and she judged the mood exactly right: This birthday dinner didn't need white table cloths, wine pairings, and fancy outfits. Just food that shot straight to the soul.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Holy cow, this place doesn't just live up to the hype; It CRUSHES it! My wife, being the food savvy gal that she is pre-ordered a couple of dishes: The Phoenix purse and the tea-smoked duck. The first dish up was the Phoenix purse. The broth had a lovely rich color but I thought the dumplings were going to be the main show, with their egg-white wrappers and mixed filling. As good as the dumplings were (and they were REALLY good) the broth was a revelation. I haven't ever had such a complex Chinese soup broth before. The smokiness took me back to flavors I had on a trip to Hong Kong about 15 years ago but they were far more clearly defined here than anything I remember. The pepperiness, the just-right amount of salt. Seriously unbelievably good. With the dumplings and the bitter bok choy this was the most comforting soup dish I could have dreamed up.

                                                                                                                                                                                    The next dish delivered was the crispy pork belly with bell peppers and ginger in a spicy black bean sauce. Wow. The textures were amazing, with the crunch of the pork and the vegetables contrasting with the dumplings so well. As much food as we were still expecting I knew this dish wasn't going to make it to leftovers.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Next was the tofu pocket, with its tofu and seafood elements whipped into a mousse and served as creamy balls bathed in a mushroomy sauce. Another texture experience. The mousse-like texture of the tofu was surprising and awesome. Plus I'm a mushroom lover and the big hunks of earthy mushroom in this dish got me really excited.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Finally we got our tea smoked duck. Holy cow! Cooked so perfectly, with the crisp skin and the creamy-but-not-at-all-greasy layer of fat, and finally the meat that was so soft it just melted in my mouth. We made tea eggs for my wife's food blog last year and that tea-soaked flavor was something that we were psyched to try again and this dish really perfected it. Just incredible.

                                                                                                                                                                                    At some point the chef came out and chatted with us about the food. He took greatest pride clearly in the broth, which he said takes three hours to make FOR ONE ORDER! He clearly pours love into his cooking. When I was packaging up the remaining broth I pointed out that I made sure to get every drop. "Every drop is gold" was his response. Love him!

                                                                                                                                                                                    The family was super-friendly to us. I could see that they appreciate that we appreciate their efforts. There were other tables desultorily there pushing around their general tso's chicken with forks and squeezing duck sauce packets onto egg rolls, and there was no interaction with the family. I can't fathom going there and ordering that stuff. I mean, it's not like you have to knock twice and say the magic word to get the special dishes. They hand you both menus, fer cryin out loud! We want to work our way through the menu and promised that we'll be back -- many times!

                                                                                                                                                                                    Grace Garden
                                                                                                                                                                                    1690 Annapolis Rd, Odenton, MD

                                                                                                                                                                                    27 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                      The color of the soup is achieved at other Chinese restaurants using food coloring, but his version is the real thing. The fish 'basket' (whole crispy flounder with vegetables) takes 45 minutes to prepare, so ask for that when you first walk in or call a bit in advance.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Photo is below:

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                        Here is a photo of the "Phoenix purse" from about a year ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                          We took pics of our dishes as well. It's either going on my wife's food blog or something. How can you not snap pics when the food is this beautiful!

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                          The fish with vegetables lookslike a fairly boring (to my taste) Cantonese preparation. However, they also make a fish dish with rice powder served in the same basket made from the fish carcass; it's excellent, but takes half an hour to make.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                            If you would like a fish dish that is not boring try Szechuan Fish. It is spicy and you can taste all the elements that went into its preparation. Delicious! The fish dish with rice powder and bone basket sounds good. Do you eat the basket? What kind of fish?

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: zenim

                                                                                                                                                                                              i had it and i think it was either a grouper, snapoer or sea bass. it was very good. it was deep fried then the meat is taken off the carcass and then the carcass is dredged in rice powder and then deep fried and you can eat bones and all. crispy like a potato chip. I have tried about 12 dishes there and it doesn't seem to matter what you order.... everything we have had has been great.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: dining with doc

                                                                                                                                                                                                The one I had had rice powder sprinkled on top, *I think*. Someone Steve knows may have pictures of it--was at a CH group dinner. It's on the menu, but takes a while to cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Now I'll have to try the Sichuan fish as well... Too much to eat on my list already.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                  You wouldn't be disappointed. The szechuan flavors are all there in their exciting glory to treat and challenge your taste buds.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: zenim

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sadly, I've found their Sichuan food to be a bit light on the huajiao. It's a very tiny shortcoming and the only one I've found, but it's noticeable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Li will make the dish according to your taste. Tell Mei and or Li you want it made in true Szechuan style and the huajiao will not be an issue. Once they know your preference they accommodate you on future visits. They aim to please. I would advise you to take your own chopsticks. Theirs are way below standard now for the prices they charge. Has anyone else noticed this? Sichuan Pavilion still uses standard size chopstick.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Here's a (low-quality) photo of it from two nights ago. There are photos of many of the dishes on the walls of the restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                            Glad you liked it. It really was the place that taught me that I didn't hate Chinese food. I'd just never had really good Chinese before.

                                                                                                                                                                                            I've actually been sort of curious about the General Tso's chicken and similar dishes -- with his talent it seems like they'd be excellent versions of what's usually pretty crappy fare. I doubt I'll ever find out though -- I can't imagine wasting a trip there on anything less than the real menu.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: JonParker

                                                                                                                                                                                              Well I think I might need to call ahead for the Phoenix purse now someday. It sounds like I should give him 3-4 hours? I can bring a small group (about 4 total) - I'm sure that would help him on his end?

                                                                                                                                                                                              JonParker - on the Tso's, thing, I expect it will be a clear cut above average, and possibly the reason many would go there and order it (It's not like Tso's at most places - you gotta try this!). I base this on a China Star visit when Chang was still there just starting to rock the boat around here. That was my eye opener to good Chinese. I ventured into the Chinese menu, but my 3 companions got flighty and went back to the Americanized menu. What they got was hand-crafted versions of those dishes, so they resembled the joint type places, but with fresh sauce and hand cut veggies.

                                                                                                                                                                                              I know from a visit to a place in Leesburg about 11 years ago that there is at least one company many of those places order from, and along with fortune cookies and chop sticks, the sauces and mixes for many of those dishes can also be ordered, which is what I'm sure happens.

                                                                                                                                                                                              China Star Restaurant
                                                                                                                                                                                              6717 Reisterstown Rd, Baltimore, MD 21215

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Dennis S

                                                                                                                                                                                                I think the Phoenix Purse is an advance order of 1 full day. It's so labor intensive and has so many ingredients! When I was like "How do you make these amazing dumplligs?" his answer was something like "Pssshhh the dumplings are easy! It's the broth....."

                                                                                                                                                                                                That broth really is a masterpiece. I can't believe we have a huge container of it in our fridge right now. I feel like we need to post guards in front of it to make sure nothing happens to it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Is it always a sizeable order? I so want to try it, but would hate to order it just for me (the other three potential people aren't foodies and are quite satisfied grabbing Quizno's for lunch).

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Perhaps some other folks would be up for joining me on a Wednesday around 1, after the New Year?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Dennis S

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I work on Ft Meade and have been tempted to break away for a lunch at GG for ages. I would seriously think of joining. Let me know the date so I will have my car that day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dpan

                                                                                                                                                                                                      dpan - I can't seem to find contact info for you in your profile.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      In any case, I will head up a Chow Lunch at GG on January 4th. I'll have my Mom in tow, and would really like to get the soup.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      If anyone else is interested, email me at dls at bocomo dotty com. I'm guessing I should wait until we have 4 folks to order the soup? If we have 6 or more, I'll call ahead for that reason - and if I should be calling ahead for other things let me know that, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Again - chow LUNCH opportunity January 4th.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dennis S

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Just a quick reminder that we discourage planning of these types of events on Chowhound. Please do as Dennis suggests and reply to him via email rather than on the board.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Dennis S

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I would imagine that you can't cook a broth like that in too small a quantity or it won't infused with all the flavors. I'm sure other Chowhounders will join you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      On another, sadder, note. I saw that the same night that we were there a delivery guy for a pizza place in the same strip was murdered delivering food to a cluster of houses very close by (Meade Village or something like that). So tragic. Anyway, even though anyone who wants to experience these flavors should run, not walk, to GG, if you go at nighttime please be careful. Hopefully the GG family doesn't do deliveries.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: JonParker

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Mei actually recommeded I try Chef's General Tso's Chicken a few months ago- it was really great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: 1000yregg

                                                                                                                                                                                                    On the Americanized side of things, we find his Sesame Chicken much better than the Tso's.

                                                                                                                                                                                                3. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thought you guys would enjoy some pics:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  (in order)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Phoenix Purse components
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Phoenix Purse serving
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Tofu Pockets
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Crispy Pork Belly
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Tea Smoked Duck

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                    woop woop planning a return visit very soon right now, Oh the choices!

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Anyone been recently? Any new specials/seasonal dishes?

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                      If you know in advance when you're going, then by all means take advantage of the ability to special order. many recs already in this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      From the regular menu, the fu qi fei pian 夫妻肺片 is a standout version of this Sichuan classic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                        We'll definitely be ordering in advance. Thanks for the rec!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                          What the heck is this on their website:
                                                                                                                                                                                                          Cantonese Sea Treasure (please order two days in advance
                                                                                                                                                                                                          Shrimp, scallop & sharks fin stuffed in cucumber, steamed and glazed with light sauce. $27.95

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Is that real shark's fin? Does anyone know?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                        We had the pea shoots earlier in the week, yum in my tum. But were told the season is coming to an end.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Tonight was a happy milestone. When I first walked into Grace Garden two and a half years ago, there wasn't another diner in sight. Tonight, we walked in to a completely full house. We had to wait for a table! Yay! I was doing a mental happy dance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    In addition to enjoying some of our favorites: fish noodles, fish filets with seasonal vegetables, Taiwanese fish, and spicy pork with dried tofu, we also tried something new for us: braised tofu, Pang-Ka style - which is triangles of tofu with sliced pork, tangy peppers and green onions, and a rich chili black bean sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    And next time, I'll probably call ahead for a table on a Saturday night. With pleasure.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Grace Garden
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1690 Annapolis Rd, Odenton, MD

                                                                                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I enjoyed the taiwanese fish for the first time about a week ago. Another successful dish of the many I've already had there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                        In honor of Small Business Saturday, we headed to our favorite restaurant small business for a post-turkey holiday lunch with a hungry bunch. The spicy braised beef, which I'd never tried before, is phenomenal. And quite a nice contrast to the fish noodles, which were the best I've ever had, (and I've had a lot). We also sampled the crispy eggplant, which is spicy, salty and sweet at the same time. Ridiculously addictive.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                          We went back the sat before thanksgiving with party of12 incl 4 newbies. Special Purse, 3 orders fish noodles, tea smoked duck, empress chicken, golden shrimp, steamed sichuan pork pelly, Szechuan fried pork belly, Chilean sea bass, Phoenix shrimp and chicken, fried eggplant, sauté bok Choy, sauté chive blossom, stuffed tofu, pepper braised short ribs of beef, whole fish with rice powder and fried bones, 2 orders donut holes..... Banquet for 12 was all preordered. Fantastic with ooos and aaaahs with each dish all for the grand total of $75 per couple. Was a litlle concerned that restaurant was pretty empty all night on a Saturday nite coming on the heels of a good Baltimore magazine review. You wouldn't be able to get a reservation if this place was in DC! What a gem. Had to warn the newbies to ignore the setting and neighborhood and not to leave once they go inside since the food is over the top great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dining with doc

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Going tonight -- anything else new and amazing? Anyone had the lamb chops w/lemongrass or golden fried rice? Neither on the menu, I think, but tempting photos elsewhere on the net . . .

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. Not much new to say except thank you to crackers and everyone else for this thread. I've been spending a lot of time in Crofton with my boyfriend and had been discouraged by the lack of good food in the area until I read this thread and tried Grace Garden.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        We went for the second time last week (last-minute trips so no call-ahead orders possible, but I would love to do that some time), and it was amazing. I had the spicy garlic pork -- OMG -- so flavorful and fresh. I lived in China in the early '90s, and this dish really transported me back. My boyfriend had the house special chili garlic chicken, and his daughter had the Sichuan spicy beef. Everything was delicious, but I liked my dish the best. My only regret was that I didn't order any of the eggplant or pork belly dishes -- I'll just have to keep going back, not only for those items but also for so many other items on the menu. I seem to notice something new I want to try every time I look.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Since we're relatively local, I'm wondering about the best times to visit to avoid crowds. We went on a Friday night once and there weren't that many people there, although I guess it was early (around 6:30pm if I remember correctly), and last week we went on Thursday around 7pm and they weren't very crowded, either. I'm guessing Saturday nights are pretty crowded? Did we luck out on the Friday night we went, or are Fridays pretty calm generally? Would we be best off just sticking to week nights?

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Just put in reservations for us and some guests! Pre-ordered the steamed duck stuffed with sticky rice and the whole Sichuan fish with rice powder. Pretty damn excited!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Man, I have still not had this duck. :-( and I did have the whole fish, which is awesome, but I disn't think it was a special order item, only an item that took a long time to make. Save me some leftovers!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Just back, will post more later, am on a serious food high right about now...

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. A group of about 30 chowhounds, friends and families gathered recently to enjoy a Lunar New Year celebration at Grace Garden. Among the twelve courses (plus rice, tea, and a fruit platter dessert) were some new dishes worth mentioning, and worth requesting - or pleading for - which Chef Li might be willing to replicate:
                                                                                                                                                                                                            The first was a stellar stuffed rock fish - stuffed with pork sausage in a mild brown sauce. Chef Li clearly appreciates seafood and enjoys trying new ideas - this was a beautiful idea.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Next was an ethereal tofu dish - it apparently was made by blending tofu and the fish that he uses in the fish noodles, pouring into a pie dish, (perhaps steamed?) and then topping with a crunchy blend of ground beans, chili peppers and other spices. Great combo.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'm not sure if duck with taro is on the menu - I suspect not - but it too was a great surprise and worth pre-ordering. There was also a fabulous rack of lamb.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            There was at least one chowhounding food blogger in our midst, so I'm sure better descriptions will follow.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            13 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I've never seen lamb served like that! Can you describe it? What kind of sauce is that?

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Oh MAN. You're so mean, posting about all this delicious food I will never get to try! :-(

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Is the duck with taro deep-fried with a layer of mashed taro on one side? I've had this before and it's interesting, but I've decided taro dishes are generally too heavy for me... like eating clay, I suppose. We did have another interesting taro chicken at Jo Jo Taipei last week, in a sauce which Lipoff believes was made directly from taro, but I'm thinking was more like a gravy thickened with taro. It was subtle and delicious, but had a lot of gravy and a lot of white meat chicken, a substance I find even more boring than standard tofu. (I like other kinds of tofu, but the usual kind is a very poor substitute for duck's blood.) I bet Chef Li would be able to do something along those lines pretty easily.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The lamb came out alongside several other delicious dishes on the table, so it didn't get my full undivided attention, but the sauce was mild with some garlic in it I think.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The taro in the duck dish was slices of whole taro, not a thickener. The slices absorbed the flavors of the duck gravy very nicely.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thanks for posting the dishes. I arrived at Grace Garden tonight just a few minutes past 6pm and it was already a full house. And I think there's another chow hound among tonight's crowd.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  After dinner we talked to Chef Li and Mei to ask about the dishes @crackers posted. The fish dish (Shunde Niang Lingyu 順德釀鯪魚, Cantonese) is extremely labor intensive. If made with the right fish (I looked the fish up in the dictionary and it says "Dace"), all flesh and bones of the fish will be removed, leaving only the head and the skin. The fish meat is minced with other ingredients and then stuffed back into the fish for further cooking. But with rock fish Chef Li said it's even harder so he made some modification there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  As for the duck steamed with taro, it is indeed off menu and also very labor intensive. Chef Li asked for at least one week's advanced request.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: charm21210

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yeah, we were there too! We were at the back table with my brother and his family. We were early birds and by the time we were settling up the place was packed so we didn't talk to the chef, but last time we were there we spent a good deal of time chatting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Ok, so here are some thoughts. First off, let me say that since my wife is a food writer we get to eat at a lot of the notable restaurants around here fairly regularly, but nothing compares to the food at Grace Garden. I mean, some of the other places are damn good, but they can't compare to the totality of the experience that is eating this food. On every level, each dish we've had in our two visits has been a masterpiece.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If I had to use one word to describe last night's meal it's "textures." I think that nearly every texture that you might want to experience in food was represented. We started with two noodle dishes: The Sichuan Dan-Dan noodles and the fish noodles. The dan-dan noodles have the luscious peanut sauce with a subtle heat plus the almost-crispiness of the minced pork and the fresh snap of the veggies, so they deliver a whole range of flavors and textures right off the bat. The fish noodles deserve their CH reputation: They are unlike anything I've ever had before. Really hard to describe but so easy to eat!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      After this great start the dishes started coming out like crazy: Tofu pockets in a spicy sauce (so different from the more gravy-like sauce we had last time), whole steamed duck stuffed with sticky rice and whole Sichuan fish with rice powder. The tofu pockets are a genuine lesson in how to surprise with texture. They're so airy and pillowy, it's hard to believe how many ingredients they have. The fish was another stunner, with the perfectly cooked and tender meat and the shatter-crisp fried carcass. My brother said to me that he wanted to scrape some meat off the carcass and I was like "Oh no, you can just eat the whole thing!" His eyes lit up, it was great. Just an amazing use of a whole fish and completely different tasting from what we expected.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The duck is a whole experience in itself. When presented it definitely makes a strange impression: It looks like an unseasoned steamed duck with the skin just sort of looking like it might have a chewy or fatty texture. For a moment we looked at it and thought "well how the heck are we going to serve this thing?" That was before we realized that the meat and skin were so tender that a spoon slid through them like it was made of warm butter. One of the best things I've ever had, this duck preparation shows both considerable skill, in how it was removed whole from the skeleton, and restraint, as the meat, sticky rice, and few other stuffing ingredients (including, surprisingly, chestnuts!) were allowed to shine on their own without application of any unnecessary spices. Without a doubt one of the most incredible and unique things I've had.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      So glad we went back after over a year. We've had plans to go a few times since then something has always come up. But now that we've confirmed what we already knew, that this is the best food around, we'll make the next visit a lot sooner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Organizing a lunchtime trip of eaters to GG next week: look for my post under Chow Outings at the top of the Balt/ DC Board, and respond if you're interested. The New Year meal there was spectacular.The tofu/ fish in a pie plate under lotus beans and chillis was a mind blowerr

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A small group of us followed your advice and pre-ordered the Cloud Tofu (as they call it) and the rack of lamb. We also got a few standards like the fish noodles, the whole crispy flounder and the fried breaded eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce. This was one of the best meals I've ever eaten.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I've never had lamb with gravy before. It was super tender, cooked medium rare as ordered, and there was a lot of garlic in the gravy. The cloud tofu was so creamy - the sweet eggplant dish was super dark and crispy and was the perfect foil for the tofu. The spicy afterbite offered quite the kick.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We ate ourselves into a contented food stupor.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Next time, with a week's notice, we will order the duck stuffed with taro and the fish with sausage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Happy New Year indeed!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Next time pick a time when I can be there! What's cloud tofu?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Went back to Grace Garden and pre-ordered the lamb. Unfortunately, I found out that I needed to specify that I wanted the roast lamb medium or medium rare (your choice) with gravy. What we received was a tasty but oily fried lamb served over shredded lettuce. It was not at all the same.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The Taiwanese fish - more pork than fish- remains one of the standouts of the regular menu. A must order.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Had some of that fish last week. Very tasty, but as you say, there was more pork than fish. There were just little bits of fish. I was sort of expecting the Sichuan fish filet, which is also a winner. The fried pork ribs with toasted garlic and lemongrass was the knock-out this time, meatier and juicier than the last visit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. Charm City Chowhounds facebook group had a Sichuan dinner on New Year's Day with about 21 people. I couldn't list all the dishes but the Szechuan fish filets was my favorite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          FYI: They're on a well-deserved vacation through 01/16, in case anyone was thinking of driving out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Last night Chef Li treated our table to something new: Chinese fried oysters. They were lightly flour-battered and perfectly deep fried so they were crispy outside and still juicy inside. He served us the bowl that included puffy rice disks, along side a nice soy sauce dipping sauce. Not on the menu, but worth asking for.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Next week, I'll finally get to sample food from Grace Garden. I've read at length the many dishes recommended from various sites. Are there any "new" or hidden dishes that really haven't been talked about yet that can be recommended? Thanks!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Phoebe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Remember that some of the most impressive stuff needs to be ordered in advance, some items as much as 3 days in advance. Those are detailed in the this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm keeping it simple this trip. Most of my party is not that adventurous. China Garden has it on their "internet" menu the days required for their special dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Any new recs?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Phoebe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  What do you mean by 'not that adventurous?' Don't eat fish? Duck? Chicken? Lamb? Pineapple fried rice? Tofu?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Many of the special dishes talked about below on this thread are not on the online menu and feature the ingredients above.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Most of them will be ordering from the western menu. No lamb, no duck, no tofu, no heat....no fun! I however, plan on ordering several dishes from the eastern menu. Next time, I'll plan on a different group. ;O

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Phoebe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Is there some reason in particular you are asking for something that's not already been recommended? There are many dozens of suggestions among the 260+ posts already here that I'm confident will work for your group.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    If you're keeping it simple, and the group is not very adventurous, I'd suggest trying the regular menu because Chef Li will does a great job even with the Chinese-American standards. Alternatively, you could pre-order Empress Chicken or Tea Smoked Duck which are flavorful but not spicy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Because Grace Garden is on the fringes of Ft. Meade, they do a large carryout business with the GI's stationed there. They move tons of sweet and sour pork, eggrolls, egg foo young, etc., so there are plenty of the familiar though less exquisite choices for those who require them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Not really. Just seems the same dishes have been recommended over and over again. Not a bad thing. I just was wondering if there were something new, not previously mentioned. The Chinese fried oysters you recently tried sound great!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Phoebe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          If you've never eaten there, it's all new. Trust me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Just wanted to link a recent meal that eight of us shared: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/897965

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. Not on the menu, but if you like fried oysters, Chef Li does a very nice version, depending on availability. They are deep friend in a simple light batter, with a zingy dipping sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Our group tried to order this dish last month based on your earlier review (March 16). Mei said they did not have any oysters and that they had only served that dish ONCE before. So I guess you were the lucky ones. Please post if you can get this dish again. thanks..

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: comestibles

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        She said that she couldn't get hold of the big oysters, but that if brought some with me they'd prepare them. I didn't pursue this any further.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I had some again last week. They must have been a special purchase (the container was packed in Washington State - it's not really the season for locals).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Big fan of GG as I have recently moved from NYC, and the chef's flavors I feel stand up easily (if not exceed to most) to many of "great" flushing establishments.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I do feel though that him being a Taiwanese (from what he told me) while trained under a Szechuan chef makes him unique in my mind as several of his subtle dishes like fish noodle seems to have Taiwanese flavors (maybe it is Taiwanese dish?).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I've been shying away after trying a few deep fried dishes (aromatic squid, a frid shrimp dish, and fish with fried bones) as they were overcooked or too oily personally, but I am glad to know that fried oysters are available occasionally since I miss this dish from a Taiwanese restaurant we used to go often in Flusing; their version comes with a salt mix on the side. Looking forward to trying it in near future.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Another question for ones who know is that reading through the description of tea smoked duck on another post decribes the skin being not crispy. I had the chicken version (excellent) in the past with similar experience. As I am looking forward to trying the duck, I wonder if this is how it is suppose to be or otherwise...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Kurtis

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Chef Li is Cantonese from Hong Kong. My wife and I had a long conversation with him and his wife (in Cantonese) when we dined there. He is a skilled master chef who has mastered Cantonese, Shanghaiese, and Sichan cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: dpan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Any of you folks interested in the ChowMeet this Saturday? I know it will have the taro-filled duck, and more to come

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dpan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ah, I see. I must have misheard then, but do remember him mentioning Taiwan in relation to his life story...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            dpan, do you know what regional chinese cuisine is represented in the fish noodle dish?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Kurtis

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              According to the chef, the Fish Noodles are definitely from Chiu Chou. This wiki explains more specifically although it doesn't mention the fish noodles:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks Steve, and I was also told this from a friend from work who I have learned is from Chiu Chou region. He did tell me that the language and cuisine share some similarities with Taiwan as they are geographically close.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Ten Chowhounds managed to have a very worthwhile meal at Grace Garden. curioussheridan convinced them to prepare in advance the pheonix purse, duck with taro, a brand new dish of pork, squid, and cashew stir-fried, dry pepper chicken, and fish with chinese sausage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          We also had from the regular menu shui zhu yu (sichuan boiled fish), sichuan triple treasure, chive blossoms, snow pea leaves, and dan dan main.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Duck with taro was completely new to me and I think spectacular, served in a pot wiht a special bamboo tray. Most others at the table seemed to prefer the pork, squid, and cashew: Chef Li came out and explained this dish gets cooked in three different ways, so is a time consuming process.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Every time I have something new, I find a new favorite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I liked how he said, be sure to specify "Traditional Regional" dry pepper chicken, otherwise he will use about 1/3 of the peppers as we enjoyed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Thanks for the important detail for ordering GC. Just to clarify, are you referring to the house special chilly pepper chicken that is ordered as dry version (and "traditional regional"), or the crispy chicken that can also be ordered as dry version?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              As for the dry version of the house special chilly pepper chicken, the chef brought out an empty dish to cover the dish at the table and asked us to wait a minute or so to enhance the ma la effect which really helped to permeate it into the meat. We really enjoyed this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Apparently the missing ingredient for the tofu pie is some kind of dried soybean paste lump, the size of a tennis ball. I've never encountered that before.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The bamboo tray was a steamer tray--I think the duck was steamed after being roasted. It was good, but it didn't knock my socks off like Pacifica Cafe's sticky rice duck.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The dry crispy chicken was an excellent rendition of one of my favorite dishes. The only improvement I would suggest is smaller chunks of chicken so you get more cruncy outside goodness. If I've had better, I can't actually remember where it was.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The pork and squid stir-fry was easily my favorite, and got its richness from dried shrimp and dried fish. I'm not generally a fan of bell peppers, but Chef Li uses them very well in both this dish and the stir-fried pork belly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              A couple of us are thinking of a return trip on Wed or Thu. If anyone is interested in joining up, email me. If we get enough people we can order the fish with rice powder and crispy bones.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The fish with chinese sausage is the only dish I've had at GG I would not order again. Expensive, bland, with only a few microscopic curls of sausage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The duck with taro is not similar at all to his other duck or chicken dishes: it comes with a thick taro gravy and the skin is browned.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: KWagle

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Is the dry crispy chicken bone-in?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: curioussheridan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I'm assuming this dish is his interpretation of Chongqing style chicken. It's apparently also sometimes called "hunting and pecking" because you have to look for edible morsels in a sea of dried chills. Steve says he's had it bone-in before. If I've ever had it bone-in I can't remember. In any case, aside from the chunks of chicken being a bit large IMO, it was an outstanding rendition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Vida and I went back for a rerun of the pork and squid stir fry, which was even more laden with crunchy tiny dried fish and hard bits of dried shrimp, as well as the dry pepper chicken. I think the chicken wasn't quite as good this time around, a bit chewier and less crispy, but it's the only thing I've had there that really satisfies the huajiao buzz.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Having now had it twice, I think it isn't high enough on my list to have again, since there are SO MANY good things on and off the menu, including the Taiwanese minced fish, and the tea-smoked duck, which another table ordered; they offered us their leftover bits, after we had recommended they try a bunch of the other duck dishes. Even though it's not crispy, I think I liked the tea-smoked duck (and its excellent sauce) more than the duck with taro. And the 夫妻肺片, AKA Sichuan Triple Treasures, which continues to be the best version of this dish I've ever had, so much better than every other version that I'm willing to speculate that it's the best on the planet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I also asked Chef Li if he could make a pork belly version of the squid dish, since I really wanted more of that and also wanted the Sichuan pork belly. He discussed this briefly with us and decided he could do it, but without the squid because it would release too much water. So we got some small shrimp in the dish instead.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I didn't like this version as much, because the pork belly was cooked until crispy, and I prefer pork belly with only the edges crispy (which he does excellently in the Sichuan pork belly.) I also think some of the lusciousness in the original comes from the juices released by the shredded pork (丝肉, BTW is always lean.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  BUT, if you like crispy bacon and also like dried baby fish and dried shrimp, you'll really enjoy this variation. Vida suggested he might do the shredded pork version with oysters, and he countered with dried oysters. I think we'll have to try that next time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I also got the story on the missing ingredient for the cloud tofu. It's 豆酥 (crispy soybean) and you can see a picture here. A Google image search turns up many dishes covered with this crunchy deliciousness--I believe MuLan uses this on their tofu with crunchy soybean toppping.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Apparently it's not that obscure; if I can find it I might bring some along the next time I come down. And oysters, lots of oysters. Maybe I need my own deep fryer...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  On the way home I stopped by RG's BBQ Cafe, which was closed for the evening, but the owner and chef were around while they worked on building the back deck. I knew the owners of the Barbecue House, which never quite managed to excite me, so I wanted to see what the new guys were doing. They were doing braised lamb shanks, which looked quite delicious. And a friend who was a big fan of the original BH recommended their mac & cheese very highly. I might have to stop by on my way north.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Vidute

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Interesting. Chowhounders, as well as Todd Kliman, often criticize meat that's "falling off the bone." However, in my winter experiments with smoking ribs, we found that when enough collagen breakdown had occurred to make the ribs tender, the bones did in fact come loose from the meat with just a tug or less.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Of course, Todd Kliman lost his credibility with me when he wrote about "the famous ma la peppercorn" in the Oxford American, and then a bit later in the same article claimed Knoxville was west of Atlanta. So I can't take his complaint any more seriously than I do the Chowhounders in the barbecue threads.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. Found another excellent item on the regular menu: Cantonese Braised Chicken. Chunks of chicken on the bone with some onion and lots of whole cloves of garlic served in a small pot, furiously sizzling away. The high temp is what sells in the flavor, which is outrageous. Nothing else Cantonese in this area comes close to GG.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Steve, I mentioned this dish in the very first post in the thread! We had it at our first meal at Grace Garden: "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."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: crackers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Right you are.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ..... at any other restaurant it would be a highlight. Here, it gets downplayed or forgotten about. Now I'll have to reread every post in this thread!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Just because I want to grab reply #300 I figured I'd say that on the eve of our moving away from the area our only non-moving conversation is around what we're going to have at our farewell meal at GG. We don't want to preorder anything (in case we have to bail due to some moving craziness) so what are the top same day dishes? Fish noodles, pork belly, and Sichuan fish in rice powder are some of the ones that spring to mind...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Taiwanese fish, spicy tofu pockets, cantonese braised chicken.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Mapo Dofu with plenty of ma la. Whichever green veg Mai recommends. And start with the cool blast of Sichuan triple treasures. Sorry you are going

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: kukubura

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Deep fried pork rib with fried lemon grass, onion, and garlic (not on the menu)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        House Special Chilly Pepper Chicken- Dry Version (ask for extra plate and cover the dish for a minute before eating for extra ma la taste, and take home the stack of leftover chilly and ma la to add to your ramen broth)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sichuan Triple Pleasures

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      3. According to their website:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Grace Garden will be closed from May 8th - May 19th. Chef Li is scheduled for an small operation and will need time to recover.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Thanks, Graydon
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          So who would like to join the Charm City Chowhounds on a dinner outing to GG next Tuesday the 29th or Wednesday 30th of April? Respond on the CCC Facebook site. Want to keep it to one table of ten, with a couple of special orders if I get quick responses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Hi All,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mei asked me to update that due to some reasons Chef Li didn't have the operation as planned. He is doing fine.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            GG will open for business next Monday 5/12.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. At least you know they will stay open