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South China Garden (formerly Cantoon Garden) – Still the Best Restaurant in Chinatown

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**For full review and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2010/11/south...

I originally wrote about South China Garden (formerly Cantoon Garden) in January 2009 (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/589457) as one of the best restaurants in Chinatown. Since then not too much has changed except for the English name; the Chinese name remains the same 粵江春餐館 (yue jiang chun can guan) which literally means Cantonese river spring restaurant, but really is referring to the Pearl River. The menu, staff, manager and cooks all remain the same. This has led to it also being the most consistent restaurant in Chinatown, which is actually quite a feat seeing how many if not most restaurants in Chinatown seem to suffer from ups and downs in quality as their kitchen staff comes and goes.

I probably come here about once a month maybe more, so I also come here much more frequently than any other restaurant in Chinatown by a long shot. I’ve also slightly changed my order patterns as I’ve found other dishes in the restaurant that are very good. I decided to write this post as an update since things are always changing in Chinatown and this is my re-affirmation that this is my favorite restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Here’s my latest meal here as well as my typical order now:
- 黃 龍魚兩食 (Huang Long Yu Liang Shi / Yellow Dragon Fish Cooked Two Ways): the one type of dish I always felt was missing at SCG was a good Cantonese fish dish, which I feel is pretty emblematic of Cantonese cuisine. I’m not a big fan of the type of fresh water fish they used in their qing zheng yu (steamed fish) as it has that sort of fresh water fish taste that I’m not a big fan of (think the fish equivalent of being gamey). This time I asked the waiter what fish is good and he told me to order the 黃 龍魚 (huang long yu). Unfortunately, it is not listed on the menu and only listed on the wall in Chinese (hence I’ve provided the Chinese characters to make things easier for anyone who wants to try this). First comes out the a very light fish soup that boils the fish, tofu, mushrooms, ginger and baby bok choy together and then they separate the soup from the ingredients. The soup is excellent, very light, not fish and goes great with a dash of white pepper. The other ingredients they give you on the side, but they’re not all that tasty since you’ve sapped most of the flavor for the soup. The second preparation is diced pieces of the fish that have been lightly sautéed in a light clear sauce with peas (in the shoot), some other green stalk vegetable which I couldn’t identify and mushrooms. This is a big winner, the fish is much higher quality (not remotely fishy), very tender and just a really good dish. I highly recommend this as it’s one of my favorite dishes on the menu now. 4.5/5
- Lobster in XO Sauce (XO Jiang Chao Long Xia): this has been another staple dish for me and is not only quite good, but a steal for $25 for two lobsters. I’ve tried most of the preparations and I prefer the XO sauce the best as it has good flavor and a slight amount of spice that really make it quite good. The lobster is always tender and the sauce is great. 4/5
- Fried Stuffed Hot Peppers: this is another one of my newer favorite dishes here. It is spicy green peppers stuffed with a fish paste and then sautéed in a black bean sauce. The peppers are really delicious and the fish paste and black bean sauce go really well with the peppers. Surprisingly, the green peppers can be very spicy (it depends sometimes they are spicy, sometimes not) as Cantonese food isn’t usually even remotely spicy. If you don’t like spicy food, I suggest removing the fish paste (it comes out easily) and scrapping out the seeds as the seeds are what is actually hot. 4.25/5
- Salt Baked Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu): along with NY Noodletown, SCG has the best version of this dish in Chinatown (I think NY Noodletown’s breading is better, but SCG has more tender squid). The saltiness of the batter along with how non-greasy it is and the fact that the squid is still tender makes this a solid rendition of this dish. 4/5
- Fried Garlic Chicken (Suan Xiang Cui Pi Ji): for some reason this dish is called “Fried Chicken w. Sauce” on the menu, but it’s actually a fried chicken with minced garlic on it. However, it’s not like American fried chicken as it’s not breaded and it actually looks like rotisserie chicken. The meat is very tender and the skin is perfectly crispy, but not dried out. The garlic compliments it’s really well. I definitely think this is one of their strongest dishes. 4.5/5
- Steamed Big Crab With Ho Fun and Garlic: This is great dish that consists of a large crab that has been steamed over a bed of ho fun (thick rice noodles), garlic and scallions, so that the juices from the crab mix with the garlic and great it’s own sauce that is really good. The star is the noodles rather than the crab although the crab is still good. 4/5
- Peking Pork Chops (Jing Du Pai Gu): this is the Cantonese very of sweet and sour pork chops. The pork chops are fried and coated with a sweet and sour sauce that is not gloppy or weird tasting. It’s a very solid dish although it is sweet in case you don’t like sweet dishes. 4/5
- Stir Fried String Beans with Preserved Vegetables: I very recently started ordering this dish at the request of a friend and it turned out to be another good dish to add to the rotation. It’s the classic stir fried string beans with minced pork, minced pickled vegetables and dried chilis. They do it well here as you can taste that great wok flavor and the minced pork and pickled vegetables really compliment the dish and are not overly salty. 4/5
- Pea Leaves With Crab Sauce (Xie Rou Pa Dou Miao): this is dou miao (pea leaves) sautéed and then covered in a egg white and crab claw meat sauce. Pretty self-explanatory, but very good. 4.25/5

Overall, still my favorite restaurant in Chinatown and definitely the most consistent. Highly recommend.

Address:
22 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 964-2229

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South China Garden
22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. Okay. Had dinner at South China Garden last night and didn’t even look at the menu. Just ordered the Lau dinner. Fried Chicken in Sauce (how would one have known?), Salt Baked Squid; Lobster in XO sauce (would definitely have ordered it in scallion sauce if I hadn’t had a cheat sheet).

    Can't recall ever having had such gorgeously crisp skin on such moist chicken. And that garlic! They could sell it by the jar.

    Didn’t even know what XO sauce was. Just took your word for it. Now I’m hooked.

    Least enamored with the Salt Baked Squid. Been a while since I had it, but my recollection is that I preferred that dish at NY Noodletown. Not at all bad, but the coating wasn’t as crispy as I was hoping for.

    Three of us ordered three dishes and I took home the leftovers. Enough for two meals. Can’t wait to go back. Next time with a larger group and some who are meat eaters. With very grateful thanks.

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    South China Garden
    22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

    10 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      glad you enjoyed i actually had dinner with a big group their last night

      i think ny noodletown's batter is better, but the squid is more tender than ny noodletown, but if you ate their last night their squid was a little off, it was good, but normally its a little better...not sure why, everything else was fine

      1. re: JoanN

        > clear sauce with peas (in the shoot)

        Looks like snow peas to me?

        XO sauce
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XO_sauce

        I wonder if they make their own....sounds like it.

        Thanks for the post, Lau!

        1. re: kathryn

          XO sauce is widely available in jars in the Chinatown supermarkets like Kam Man.

          1. re: scoopG

            In my experience, the jarred stuff never tastes "right" to me. It could also be that I'm a bad cook. :)

            1. re: scoopG

              Yes, I've always seen it on the shelves but never bothered to look at the ingredients list. And since nearly all of my Chinese cooking is Sichuanese or Hunanese, I hadn't run across it in my cookbooks, either. Even my bilingual Chinese cookbooks, gifts from my Chinese sister-in-law, make no mention of it.

              @ kathryn: Yes, I did look it up after the fact because it was so good. And I liked that it had a bit of heat to it.

              How is the bottled stuff? Doesn't sound as though it would be all that difficult to make at home, though.

              1. re: JoanN

                XO sauce is very cantonese and particularly very hong kong....it also never really tastes exactly the same restaurant to restaurant, one of my favorite restaurants in HK actually sells it by the jar, but only in their restaurant. I always want to bring it back, but i think the jar is too big for airport security

                http://www.lauhound.com/2010/10/fu-si...

                1. re: Lau

                  AFAIK, they make their own XO sauce, which is somewhat old-style and hard-core, and is surely meant as a serious compliment.

                    1. re: Lau

                      i googled afaik, i think it means as far as i know

                      1. re: daffyduck

                        yep, As Far As I Know. I am not 100% positive (I never asked) but what I tried there on a number of occasions could only be homemade.

        2. Yesterday, for my birthday, I had a banquet at South China Garden as part of a party of 9. We ordered all the dishes you mentioned above except for Steamed Big Crab With Ho Fun and Garlic and Peking Pork Chops, and they were out of pea leaves, so we had Baby Bok Choy with Crab Sauce. In addition, we also got Tangerine Beef and Yangchow Fried Rice. It was a very good meal. I particularly liked the stuffed peppers, which were popular with the table. Ordering the fish you recommended did improve the Fish Two Ways. Also worthy of mention: I liked the Salt-Baked Squid here better than at New York Noodle Town, because it was less salty. There were saltier spots, but in general, the salt content was kept down to a good level for my taste. Also, the Stir Fried String Beans with Preserved Vegetables were actually long beans, and the preserved vegetables were just part of the overall taste, I guess, and not evident in themselves. The dish was chiefly pork and had a tangy, salty but good flavor.

          One dish that I didn't order that was missed was the sizzling beef chops with onions, and there's also a great circle-cut sea bass with onions, but the number of dishes I ordered was perfect for the number of diners.

          The meal cost $215 including a 20%+ tip.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Pan

            glad you liked it...haven't tried the beef chops or sea bass, ill try it next time

            i was actually around the corner for a pre-CNY dinner at hsin wong last night

            1. re: Lau

              >> .haven't tried the beef chops or sea bass, ill try it next time
              Striped bass is local to NY. When you order steamed fish there, what kind of fish do you prefer?

              1. re: diprey11

                well i actually think its varies depending on what they have, i forgot what fish they normally use, but im not a huge fan of it b/c it has this fresh water fish taste that i dont like, so now i only order it with the huang long yu (not sure what its called in english) which i think has a much better flavor

                1. re: Lau

                  Are you referring to the 長江 catfish they occasionally have? :-))))
                  Post-edit: got it, thanks!

              2. re: Lau

                How was it, and what did you have?

                1. re: Pan

                  it was good, ill write a review about it very soon

              3. re: Pan

                I love the salt baked squid at SCG. Happy Birthday, Pan!

                1. re: Riverman500

                  Thanks. I think this is the third year in a row that I've had a banquet there for my birthday, so it's starting to become a tradition for me.

              4. I had dinner there last week and had the Lobster with XO sauce. I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. The garlic in the sauce overpowered the lobster flavor, and the lobster itself was overcooked and not terribly tender. It was certainly edible, but I wouldn't order it again. It was also much messier than I was prepared for!

                4 Replies
                1. re: brighton312

                  it can vary slightly, its def better sometimes than others...its actually probably the only dish that varies in quality and its prob the least popular among the people i usually go with (i'm basically a regular there)

                  1. re: Lau

                    in your estimation will this place be a zoo on sunday? we are heading into town for the parade and it sounds like it might be a great place to go

                    1. re: Falk

                      I'd say so, and Lau would probably agree. They do take reservations if you have enough people in your group, though (I don't know what the minimum number would be, but it doesn't hurt to call).

                      1. re: Falk

                        you'll be fine if you make a reservation

                  2. The original comment has been removed
                    1. Had lunch at South China Garden today and really enjoyed it. We made our selections based on these threads so our order will be no surprise.

                      Lobster with XO was fantastic. I imagine that sauce would be good on nearly anything.

                      Fried chicken with garlic sauce was fantastic. Delicious tender chicken, delicious sauce. Not "fried chicken" like the typical US fried chicken.

                      Squid baked in salt. Excellent. Very tender. My young son Zeke says it looked like french fries and he loved it. He wouldn't stop eating it. He wanted to eat it all day long. Along with the lobster this was his favorite.

                      Pork chop with Peking sauce. Too sweet and a little gloopy. Not bad, but I wouldn't order this again.

                      Thanks for the recs!

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                      South China Garden
                      22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MRich

                        Most places make their own XO sauce. In Hong Kong one is often charged a special extra price to have it on the side of steamed fish, etc. It varies a lot, kind be quite spicy or not. It always has dried scallops and some kind of preserved meat (like Chinese ham).
                        I had steamed pork patty with salt fish at South China Garden, and it was excellent (almost as good as it used to be at the lamented Nice Restaurant). I don't if it is on the menu.

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                        South China Garden
                        22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013