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Aug 29, 2010 08:14 PM

Golden Garden Review and Photos 8/27/10

Hit up Golden Garden in Belmont on Friday. The tl;dr is that it's a great addition to the neighborhood and the Boston area in general, but I would say the technical skill in the kitchen is lacking. This is food that would be better enjoyed at a big round table with copious amounts of alcohol.

Overall, dishes tended to be presented as a heaping pile with little textural contrast. Most dishes were a bit too heavy on the salt and MSG, overwhelming the palate. The standout was indeed the much-lauded dumplings. I would recommend making a meal out of a few types of dumplings and another dish for a little contrast.

We ordered:

Cucumber with garlic: basic smashed cucumber, fine.

"Dry" tofu with peppers: this is one of my favorite dishes at Fu Run (Flushing Queens NY). The Golden Garden version was almost inedibly salty, contained only a few slices of pepper, and had very little sauce, highlighting the "cottony" texture of the dry tofu. The Fu Run version is so successful becuase it juxtaposes the cottony texture with a copious amount of silky clear sauce, and a great amount of sliced garlic and jalapenos to offset the simple plain flavor of the tofu.

Beef with peppers: standard shredded beef and peppers, OK, not anything special.

Sour cabbage with bacon: they were out of bacon so we got some thinly sliced pork. Another monotonous pile, a bit too heavy on the salt. Nice if you've got a sauerkraut craving.

Lamb with dry chili sauce: we were hoping for a dry-spiced lamb but this just refers to the (outrageously delicious) dry chiles used in the brown sauce. The smoky, sweet dried peppers they use were the stars of the dish.

Shredded potato with chili pepper: standard crunchy stir-fried potato, served warm, very tasty.

Pickled daikon with jellyfish (not pictured): tasty pickled shredded daikon (Korean style) but only with a few bits of jellyfish thrown in. Another heaping pile that unfortunately lacked any textural or flavor subtlety.

Pork, leek and shrimp dumplings: man oh man. Normally I consider boiled dumplings (Wang's, MuLan) to be filling comfort food but overall kind of watery and bland. These dumplings have serious character, filled with big chunks of well-seasoned ingredients, and boiled just long enough to be tender but not too wet. Amazing.

Prices are reasonable- total all-in was under $100. There is a half-page of typical Sichuan dishes but we didn't get the chance to try any.

Make the trip for the dumplings.

228 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

Golden Garden
63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

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  1. While I think your review is mostly on, I thought it opened up a bit judgmental. They don't walk on water in the kitchen but they really just opened. They are doing well technically and hopefully they will improve in time. But thanks for the pics and I'm glad people are supporting them, as it's really the only of it's kind right now and it's really worth the trip and then some.

    1. These pictures are making me hungry!
      Hmmmm, I'm going to be in Belmont for most of tomorrow. Perhaps I'll head over for lunch....

      1. While perhaps not Fuloon quality, I think this place really adds to the Boston Chinese scene. The chef is VERY young, but not off to a bad start.

        In my mind more of a family style Dongbei (Manchurian) place then haute cuisine. But prior to the current explosion of excellent Chinese food in Boston I think we would have been thrilled to have this place.

        Honestly, I think you are being a little hard on the place.

        And as you noted, the dumplings are second to none.

        12 Replies
        1. re: StriperGuy

          just callin it like it is... I wouldn't tell anyone not to go.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Well, Luther's probably spoiled from Flushing, ha ha.

              I am totally obsessed with Golden Garden. I've ID'ed one Dongbei style lunch special on the back, it's called three flavors, or three something, it's not in front of me. In Chinese, 地三鮮 Di San Xiang and it's 3 veggies, typically potato eggplant and pepper. I've been highlighting the menu in anticipation of Wednes.

              Curiously it's not on the mains or apps. I would love to see a Cilantro salad on their menu too.

              I also feel the food is very homey and get the sense that Dongbei cuisine is akin to southern cooking in the U.S., culturally speaking.

              Golden Garden
              63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

              1. re: tatsu

                It's "Three Delight."

                On my second visit, the green bean noodle had some of the one-note-wonder issues that Luther describes -- an intense blast of chili oil, salt, and MSG leavened only with two buds of cilantro and a few Sichuan peppercorns. Nevertheless, I’m a fan – only Fuloon and JoJo Taipei (I haven’t been to Formosa Taipei) strike me as unambiguously better.

                Formosa Taipei
                315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                1. re: tatsu

                  I asked about the "3 Delight" which could be anything and alas in this case is broccoli, snow peas, and something else but I had quit listening. Preserved turnip with pork is a stir-fry of pretty think shreds (shreds isn't the word but I'm blanking on the right one--thicker than that--like big fat matchsticks) of turnip and smaller shredds of leanish pork, with scallions, very simple and hit the spot on a blustery day. The turnips didn't taste especially preserved, I'd guess they'd been salted a while, they had that dense crunchy texture.

            2. re: StriperGuy

              I stopped by to try the veggie dumplings and the bean curd strips with hot peppers. Both were good, the veggie dumplings were quite distinct from the usual mung bean noodles and chinese vegetables. The basis, aside from the other vegetables, was a very finely diced cabbage, I am not sure how it's prepped, but I can tell you, after making gyoza, chopping cabbage to fine pieces is a TON of knife work, and you just can't really do it in a food processor to this level. Also it needs to be salted and then drained after rinsing.

              Anyway, I talked to Amy and actually, the young chef is Amy's son, the head chef is Amy's husband. He has been a chef for 20 years, and they had a restaurant in China for 10 years before coming here. I got a glimpse of him, but that's all. The name of the restaurant in China was also "Golden Hill Restaurant".

              Amy was very happy to have all of us from the Chowdown. We chatted a bit about the Chinese food scene in Boston, and she mentioned that they weren't sure if Dongbei style food would be accepted here. I told her go for it!

              1. re: tatsu

                "she mentioned that they weren't sure if Dongbei style food would be accepted here. I told her go for it!"

                A few days before the big Chowhound crowding, I had been musing that restaurants that want to sell their local cuisine would have a much better chance if instead of listing dishes by the primary meat ingredient, they re-divided their menu to separate the American-style food from the authentic food. (That wording is deliberate, because I want to gently hint that the stuff most of us grew up on, aside from dim sum, isn't actually what Chinese people eat.) Then, divide *that* into (using Lao Sichuan as an example) Traditional Sichuan: hot, numbing, hot and numbing, neither hot nor numbing, &c, Chef's new Sichuan Creations, &c (including other divisions if the restaurant happens to serve food from several regions.) You can figure out what meat is in the dish by reading its description, after all.

                If you go to a restaurant that you know to be serving Dongbei food, you actually need to figure out what that is before you can order it. No matter how good a particular server's English is, it will never be as good as a menu carefully written with the help of people (plural) who actually understand, say, the difference between ham, bacon, and pork belly, or different methods of preserving vegetables, or parts of the digestive system, or whatever. And it's important that the Dongbei food be exposed to the naive diner, not just to people who have the secret knowledge, which (as I posted elsewhere) even if the knowledge is pictorial on an iPad, the server and cook might *still* not get it.)

                (As someone who can and does cook, I personally want to know more about my food than the typical server can tell me, and I don't just mean in Chinese. Is that vegetable salted, or vinegar pickled, or dried? And what species is it anyway? How thinly is the beef tripe sliced? This menu says "tendon, tripe, and meat." Are you using tongue or some other muscle? I was quite surprised when the hostess at "Wa Jeal" was actually able to tell me something useful about the way things were actually cooked? In many cases this becomes more crucial, as in "My friend will get sick if he eats anything with wheat or yeast in it. What kind of breading are you using and does the sauce contain soy sauce?" While I'm not expecting to get the level of detail *I* want, I'd like a lot more detail than I'm getting even by knowing how to read the Chinese names.)

                So if you happen to talk to Amy again, and if you believe she really wants to sell Dongbei food to Americans, you might suggest to her that they print a separate page of "Dongbei cuisine" that collects the stuff that we (educated eaters, not frightened restaurateurs) believe will be acceptable to the naive American's palate, and which they feel really showcases what their chef and cooks can do, and also (stealing a trick from The Grand Sichuan on St Mark's when they still admitted to serving Hunan food) a good description of what Dongbei cuisine actually IS. If that's successful, perhaps they could add a more experimental section for people who've learned to trust the kitchen and are willing to be more adventurous. And the sign in the window should also say "Chinese and Dongbei Cusine" since in the minds of the naive American, those are not the same thing.

                Can a "Chinese" restaurant in America be completely successful serving only the food its owners, chefs, and cooks love and want to eat? Probably not; even in this internet-savvy age. But I think the modest success of Sichuan (as well as Indian) restaurants in the US shows that they can certainly do much better than they do now.

                1. re: KWagle

                  how about a section entitled chinese american and another section entitled dongbei and another section called sichuan. These sections would make it easier for someone to understand and navigate the menu.

                  1. re: KWagle

                    I can't agree with this comment enough. As a adventurous, but non-Chinese eater, with limited exposure to authentic Chinese cuisine until moving to Boston two years ago, I constantly wish more Chinese restaurants with chefs that can produce serious and authentic cuisine would put more effort into creating menus that helped guide diners to the non-Americanized stuff a little more.

                    1. re: greenzebra

                      Of course, *you* have Chowhound to turn to. There are plenty of people on here who can steer you right.

                      1. re: greenzebra

                        I didi discuss this with Peter at "Sichuan Gourmet" Framingham. He said they had considered a separate American style section, but they felt that mixing things together would cause people to read the whole menu, and then they might order something they wouldn't have otherwise found. This argument has some merit, especially in the case of LSC, since outside of their appetizer section they have few Americanized items. However, I'm still inclined to favor a separate menu in the case of restaurants which have a larger number of Americanized items.

                    2. re: tatsu

                      Have you discussed the unevenness of the food with Amy? I've now had food delivered on three separate occasions (have not had a chance to eat there in the flesh), and I can see what some others have been saying about the dumpling wrappers, etc. Their variability does not bother me hugely -- I think of it as rustic food -- but I appreciate that it might bother others. The lamb skewers were superb the first time I had them and slightly dry the second. I've also had the bacon with sour cabbage and liked it. My bacon was bacon.

                  2. Do they have any non-pork dumpling options?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re:
                      this just refers to the (outrageously delicious) dry chiles used

                      Sometimes I get 15 or so of these at Shangri La... am I supposed to just pop 'em in my mouth and chew 'em up?

                      149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: okra

                        Well, you know, that's up to you.

                        (I personally do not, because dried chillis are much harder on my innards than fresh ones. I try hard to get fresh chillis when I want a dish to be extra hot, but I don't always succeed.)

                        1. re: KWagle

                          Fresh chillies freeze reasonably well. They no longer have the crunch of fresh ones, so are useless if you want to munch on them raw, but they retain their flavor and heat fairly well. You can use them in dishes, such as spicy scrambled eggs, where they are going to soften anyway. Just buy a big bag from an Indian grocery store (or fresh Thai chillies from Whole Foods the next time you have an extra $50 rattling around in your wallet) and try freezing them.