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Oct 31, 2009 10:28 AM

A find equal to Grace Garden?

I just tried Hunan Taste, a new (opened last week) restaurant in Catonsville in the same strip center as H Mart. Large traditional Hunan menu and, except for us, all Chinese clientele the night we were there. There is a two-page sheet of Americanized Chinese food — sweet and sour, General Tso's, etc. — but all of the rest is the real deal, including ox. I was with unadventurous eaters (my wife and two of our children) so I was the only one who ordered off of the traditional menu, but my dish was as authentic as Grace Gardens (albeit Hunan rather than Cantonese).

More of a restaurant and less homey and friendly than Grace Garden, but it is in a much less sketchy neighborhood. I'll go back next week with friends who'll order off the traditional menu, and we'll see. Right now I'm pretty excited.

Hope to hear some other opinions soon.

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    1. re: hon

      It was a stir fried vegetable dish (can't recall the name) with several vegetables and whole cloves of garlic. Surprisingly it had a few bits of chicken in it, which were not listed in the brief menu description.

      1. re: DSattler

        What have you had at Grace Garden?

        1. re: hon

          At Grace Garden I've had tofu stuffed with shrimp, which was superb, and a couple of others that were also great, but I can't recall what they were. Jellyfish, maybe?

    2. I was at H-Mart this afternoon, and went in to HT to glance at the menu. Unfortunately, they don't have a carry out menu, but they definitely had stuff that I can't recall seeing other places. I can't remember most of them, but what sticks in my mind is a dish with goose intestines.

      The menu beyond the goose dishes seemed well worth a try. It's definitely on my list.

      1. Have you ever had anything from the "secret menu" at Hunan Legend? If so, how does Hunan Taste compare? I figure that a comparison of two nominally Hunan places might be easier to calibrate than Hunan Taste's presumably Hunan style against Grace Garden's "Szechaun by way of Hong Kong" strong suit.

        I've never felt unsafe at Grace Garden, so I'm not sure what the "sketchy neighborhood" comment is about. Both Grace Garden and Hunan Taste are in strip malls with their own parking, so I see that aspect as a wash if you are comparing GG to HT. I doubt anybody's going to get mugged in the fifty feet from car to door at either place.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Warthog

          I tried posting this last night after my dinner at Hunan Taste, but the new interface appears to have eaten it. This version will be a bit briefer - I don't feel like retyping it all.

          DECOR: Upscale, contemporary "shades of gray and black" with contemporary repro Chinese style chairs and accent pieces, all in dark wood. They seem to be shooting for an atmosphere where one would not feel out of place in a suit. Definitely NOT the "Mom and Pop storefront" look. Compliments to the decorator, as the effect is sleek and stylish without being sterile.

          MENU: Unapologetically Chinese Chinese, with nary a nod to Chinese American or those who want a hamburger instead. Unusual items included the goose intestine dishes mentioned by a prior poster; preserved pork, chicken and duck; dried snails; sliced <something> lung, served cold; pork, duck and hen blood; pork tripe; etc. Plenty of stuff to weird out one's unadventurous or squeamish friends, but the rest of the menu seems very broad, interesting, and "authentic".
          There were lots of "for sharing size" soups. One odd quirk - while many of the seafood dishes were "market price", which one expects, so were almost all the vegetable dishes. Without a price to cue off of, it wasn't clear if the vegetable dishes were meant to be entree size, side dishes, or "for sharing". I saw a couple of "sharing" soups and whole fish go by to other tables, and it all looked and smelled wonderful.

          The menu is extensive, with the numbering scheme for the dishes going well over 100, but there seemed to be many dishes, if not whole pages, that appeared identical in everything (description, price, and even {I think} the Chinese character description) except for the item number. I'm not sure if there is some difference that's not apparent, or if this was a mix-up at the printer's shop.

          FOOD: I had hot and sour soup, and twice cooked spicy pork with garlic tips. The Hot and sour was quite nice, with the unusual aspect being that I've usually seen hot and sour as featuring vinegar and black pepper as the source of the title flavors. In this one, it was vinegar and two types of sliced chili. Different, but good. The pork was pork belly, rather than the re-stir-fried red cooked pork one often sees. They don't back off on the heat - I was doing my Niagara Falls with runny nose bit, to the extent that one of the two guys in charge inquired whether I was OK. Ample portions, too.

          GENERAL: They seem to be geared toward authentic Chinese, and toward the Chinese style of sharing many dishes, rather than each person getting their own, all of which is very promising. There was a sign on the door saying "test opening", and many items on the menu were temporarily covered, so things might get tweaked and fine tuned as they figure out what works and what doesn't.

          Price point - $15.46 total before tip for soup, entree, rice, tea - no appetizers or dessert, no fortune cookies. I didn't expect any fortune cookies, given the "We're going to be authentic and serious!" (in a good way) vibe. Definitely worth repeat visits.

          1. re: Warthog

            Explanatory note to the "Niagara Falls and runny nose" reference in my prior post above. Some spicy food sets off torrents of sweat on my forehead, and drain my sinuses. Toward the end of the meal, the sweat and my reddening face can get to the point that it's been mistaken as a sign of dire physical distress by those who don't know me. After my original review didn't take, I didn't want to retype it all, so I cut and pasted from an email to a friend (who would understand the reference), and I neglected to edit it for posting here. Sorry for the confusion.

            1. re: Warthog

              I used to hit a great wings place during college before DJ'ing a college radio show. I'd get the BYFO sauce on the wings and on the side (BYFO = Burn Your Face Off). I'd dip the fries in the sauce (something I still do) and by mid-meal I'd be sweating in a similar way. One time another patron came in while I was eating at the bar. He was there to pickup. He looked at me and said "Looks like you're running a marathon over there". I could only nod.

            2. re: Warthog

              How did the food compare with the food on the "secret menu" at Hunan Legend?

              1. re: baltoellen

                I would say that the quality level, "Value for the buck" and skill of preparation is equivalent to Grace Garden and the Hunan Legend "secret" menu, considering each in the context of their respective stylistic strengths.

                Hunan Taste's menu is more extensive than either GG or HL, even with the duplications and taped over items on the current menu, and it includes ingredients and/or dishes that I've not seen elsewhere. Other than the "Chinese American" insert, though, Hunan Taste may be more problematic when dining with friends or relatives who do not wish to go beyond the familiar.

                I would not go so far as to say that one should stop going to either Grace Garden or Hunan Legend (other than perhaps to save drive time if one lives near Baltimore), but I think that Hunan Taste is in the same tier.

                From a geographic standpoint, this is a VERY nice addition to the Baltimore Chinese food wasteland. I think Asian Court on Route 40 and the one just outside the beltway on York Road (Szechuan House?) have much more reason to be nervous than either Grace Garden or Hunan Legend, from a proximity standpoint, because of their relative quality, and based on the degree of appeal to those looking for "real" Chinese food.

                I think that it's still to early to make firm proclamation, but Hunan Taste has the potential to become the "go to" place for Baltimore fans of Chinese food.

              2. re: Warthog

                "goose intestine dishes mentioned by a prior poster; preserved pork, chicken and duck; dried snails; sliced <something> lung, served cold; pork, duck and hen blood; pork tripe; etc."

                I've been wanting to try goose intestine for a long time now, but I certainly didn't see it on the menu last week. Nor did I see *dried* snails. Man, they NEVER give me the food I want to eat!

            3. I stopped by on my way home from work the other night (after hitting Hmart) to look at the menu, they have a limited carryout menu now thats mainly Chinese American. I told them I wanted to look at the regular menu, grabbed one from the counter and they said, "thats the real chinese menu." I said, "thats what I am looking for." It looks like they have 2 different menus. The real menu looked interesting, they did have alot of stuff, mostly in the seafood section taped over. I would go back to check out the food, the menu was alot more extensive then the Hunan Legend menu. For some reason, the one thing I remember off the menu was "sauteed sponge gourd".

              1 Reply
              1. re: hon

                I went back for a second visit, and it now appears that rather than the main menu being the "Chinese American" and the "secret menu" insert being the "Chinese for Chinese", this place has the "real" Chinese food on the main menu, but they now have a one-page laminated insert of "familiar" Chinese restaurant stand-bys.

                I also did verify that the many "market price" vegetable dishes are nominal entree or "sharing" size, not smaller side-dish portions. As with the rest of the menu, the vegetable section has some very interesting-sounding items, either due to the ingredients being unusual, or the preparation going beyond the typical. For example, there was one reference to Tea Tree Fungus In Casserole With Pork" or something like that. Is that dried tree ear fungus reconstituted by soaking in tea? Or a fungus that grows on the tea bush (tree)? In any case, it sounds interesting.

              2. So this is completely different from the Hunan Taste in Reisterstown? Im having a hard time finding anything online. Probably because its so new. Anybody have an address for it?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Insidious Rex

                  Hunan Taste
                  718 N. Rolling Road
                  Catonsville, MD 21228