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Jun 8, 2012 07:32 PM

Oriental Garden – In Search of a Replacement For South China Garden (Part 1)

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I’ve been searching for a “go to” restaurant for family style Cantonese food in Manhattan as a replacement for South China Garden since it unfortunately closed. In Flushing, I go to Imperial Palace / East Lake Seafood, which you can read about here. However, since I live in Manhattan and can’t make it to Flushing as often as I would like, I’d like a place like South China Garden where I can get reliably decent Cantonese.

I started my search by trying Oriental Garden, which has been recommended to me several times. It’s known for having fresh seafood and being a little more expensive than other restaurants in Chinatown.

The restaurant is a typical Chinese banquet hall type of setting although it is definitely a little cleaner and nicer than most other Chinatown restaurants. The service was fine and they definitely speak English, so language is no issue. The clientele was interesting as it was probably 80-85% non-Chinese on a Saturday night, which was sort of surprising. Also, the prices around probably anywhere from 30-100% more expensive than other restaurants in Chinatown, but part of that is a function of them priding themselves on having fresh seafood.

Here’s what we got:

- Steamed Scallops with Garlic and Vermicelli: This was a special on the menu. It was fresh scallops steamed in the shell topped with minced garlic, scallions and vermicelli noodles. The scallops were fresh and sweet and the garlic and vermicelli complimented them well. However, I had to take off some of the garlic because it was too strong otherwise, but besides that this was a well prepared dish. 8/10
- - Braised Tofu: The waiter recommended this as a tofu dish. It was a typical preparation where the tofu is fried and then braised in a light brown sauce. The tofu was served with a spongy white vegetable that I couldn’t identify and some green vegetables. The sauce wasn’t gloppy and was decent, but it was a little too light handed flavor wise and was a bit on the bland side. 7.25/10
- Country Style Lobster: This was also recommended by the waiter. It was lobster sautéed with eggs, spring onions and pickled vegetables in a slightly dark salty sauce. The lobster meat was nicely fresh and sweet, but I wasn’t crazy about the seasoning. The eggs and pickled vegetables were good, but the overall seasoning seemed a little bit on the bland side even though it didn’t look bland at all. 7.25/10
- Peking Pork Chops: This was a typical preparation of fried pork chops in a sweet and sour sauce. These were nicely fried and the meat was good. The sauce was decent, but was a little too watery and didn’t stick to the pork chops well although it still tasted good. 7.5/10
- Sautéed Snow Pea Leaves in Egg White Crab Meat Sauce: I almost always get this dish and the version here was good. I liked the sauce and the snow pea leaves were cooked nicely. 8/10
- Fried Garlic Chicken: This was fried chicken with minced garlic, scallions and soy sauce. The version here is decent, but not great. The skin wasn’t crispy enough and I thought the non-dark meat pieces weren’t quite as tender as they should be. However, overall it was still tasty enough. 7.25/10
- Sautéed Broccoli Stems: This was a very simple preparation of broccoli stems with oil, salt and garlic. It was pretty decent although not amazing. 7.25/10
- Steamed Fish: This was one of the things that I looking forward to here given their reputation for having fresh seafood. I told the waiter I wanted a good ocean fish. He picked this fish out, which I’m forgetting exactly what kind it was right now. He did a good job; the fish was fresh and didn’t have any bad fishy flavor. It was cooked in the typical Cantonese fashion where you steam the fish then pour hot oil and soy sauce over it very quickly. Overall, this was quite good and probably the best dish of the night. 8.25/10

Overall, while the quality of their seafood was a little better than South China Garden the chef is less skilled in terms of how the food was prepared, seasoned, cooked etc. So I’d say I prefer SCG over OG, but that said it is probably one of the better restaurants in Chinatown. Also, as a side note, do not go here for dim sum, it’s awful.

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    1. re: AubWah

      well didn't meant to come out bleak, i liked it, but i think SCG was better as i thought the cook was more skilled and i think Imperial Palace / East Lake is much better. that said the two dishes they should've excelled at were quite good (scallops and fish) and those two dishes are the easiest to screw up

      all that said though, i've got a replacement place that i'll write up very soon

      1. re: Lau

        eagerly looking forward to reading your replacement place write up

        1. re: Lau

          would you pick imperial palace or east lake for a dinner for 2? is the food any better at one?

          1. re: AubWah

            i think the food is basically exactly the same although i usually go to imperial palace since it's the original...check my blog for dish recs

            however, i would recommend going with at least 4 people (preferably 5-6+) since its family style you won't be able to order everything and its def best to have like 5+ dishes

            1. re: Lau

              i know these cantonese restaurants are best with groups but my girlfriend is all i can muster. We used to have dinner at Cantoon all the time with good success

              1. re: AubWah

                ok check my blog, its got a hit list of the dishes def get the crab rice and the lamb chop as they'll be a little bit different than wha tu can get at other cantonese restaurants in NY although u can't really go wrong with any of the dishes in my post on imperial palace

                also if you get the fish make sure to tell them u want a good ocean fish and ask them what they recommend, its worth it to pay up an extra 15-20 bucks for a better fish

                1. re: Lau

                  I wish, a 2 pound fish at $25 a pound blows my budget

            1. re: Polecat

              probably the highest on my places to try in flushing

              1. re: Lau

                I assumed that that was your replacement. Yeah, try it. The joint has been packed since day one, at least during dim sum hours.

                Have been there twice, intend to return. The one seafood dish I had - that being scallops with conch - was excellent. Have only been able to hit there solo thus far, so haven't really got the lay of the land, and that's only been during dim sum hours. It's kind of like hitting up Disney World alone in a business suit; the food might be good, but it just feels wrong.

                Looking forward to your take on the place.


                1. re: Polecat

                  haha yah

                  its not that packed at dinner and while it is packed at dim sum that completely confuses me b/c their dim sum is not good at all

                  1. re: Lau

                    Just checking...are we talking about Lake Pavillion? I was. Did you try the dim sum?

                    1. re: Polecat

                      ohhh no im talking about OG, havent tried lake pavillion

                      1. re: Lau

                        i keep meaning to get over to LP with reinforcements. like i said, the one seafood dish I had showed promise. I'm hoping we have another quality Cantonese on our hands.

                        1. re: Polecat

                          ah yah def want to try LP for dim sum and dinner for sure

        2. I believe the spongy vegetable with the tofu was bamboo pith.

          1 Reply
          1. The steamed fish looks like a split open codfish.....

            1 Reply
            1. It can be tough to review a "replacement" place - it's bound to come a -little- bleak, since memories of the old favorite are still fresh. I remember I had a hard time eating any modern Italian after Falai closed up - no one really compared, for me. Even meals at another favorite - Babbo - felt a little underwhelming for a bit.

              That aside, I think your review of OG hits on some good points. The first thing is, I don't order anything but seafood when I go to OG - that's their specialty and I stick to it. There are a couple of dishes I'd recommend if you visit again - the Oysters with Ginger & Scallion are always fantastic, and I'll usually pick out a few other sea options - a scallop dish, a prawn dish, clams (razor or otherwise) and mabe a conch or something to mix it up some. The black bean and black pepper sauces are solid - the mussels in BB sauce are in our regular rotation. The only thing I generally avoid now is their XO sauce - it used to be better, but it's been on the bland side the last few times I've been, unfortunately. Or I should say it's inconsistent - I remember it being bolder in the past, but it's like they've been watering it down or something. I noticed the price of conpoy has gone up considerably over the last year or so, though, so perhaps that has something to so with it...

              And yeah, their dim sum is - I'd just say forgettable, I wouldn't go so far as awful. But nothing to go out of the way for.

              And honestly, though I've promoted them in the past, the last time I went there were a few dishes that felt a little bland to me as well... I find myself craving Ping's (partly because his menu is a bit more varied and experimental) and Fuleen (for the classics) a bit more. I'd give each of them a whirl, too - though I'm guessing from your tastes and past reviews Fuleen is probably the one more likely to win you over. I can't speak to too many of their land-critter dishes, as the ones I tend to order aren't the ones you usually go for (I'm less partial to the fried chicken, lean more towards hearty casseroles and such) but what I've had I've liked quite a lot - the chicken with salted fish were both really good (there's one with eggplant, another with tofu) and the taro casserole flavored with preserved duck is something I often find myself craving in the winter months. They've also got some good dishes for those who like the more extreme flavors - i.e. 1000-yr-eggs, fu ru, etc. (And unlike some places in Flushing, they don't stare at me quizzically and second-guess my order when I order such things... but maybe they're more used to adventurous gweilo in Manhattan...)

              3 Replies
              1. re: sgordon

                i tried to get razor clams as i really like razor clams in black bean sauce actually, but they didn't have them that night, ill give some of the other seafood dishes a try. their customer base, at least when i went, was very non-chinese, so you're probably right as alot of chinese restaurants seem to assume that if ure not chinese / asian that you're just not going to like "weirder" stuff

                ping's - its been so long since ive eaten at ping's that i don't even remember what its like

                fuleen - i went to fuleen a few years ago, it was good, SCG was better, but i should go back its been a long time. next time you go they have this clam soup this is very light, but quite good probably one of the best soups ive had in chinatown

                1. re: Lau

                  Ping's has had it's ups and downs - there was a period where it seemed Chef Ping was spending all his time at the Elmhurst location and the Manhattan one kind of slipped. Over the last year or two, though, I've had a number of really solid meals there - but again, I don't go there for classic dishes like crispy chicken, etc, though he does do them well enough - at the ones I've tried. Most of the pick-a-seafood / pick-a-sauce dishes are very solid, and I'll usually get one or two with a group, but for me it's all about his flights of culinary fancy - some work, some don't, but I appreciate that unlike a lot of Cantonese chefs, he's not afraid to look outside the box a bit - probably his Hong Kong upbringing has something to do with that. His Jicama Siu-Chow I've waxed poetic on before - it's one of my favorite dishes in Chinatown. The shrimps with mayo and "fried milk" are among the better renditions of that HK specialty. Other things, like the Thai-style Soup were less than succesful. I'm working my way through the "fusiony" menu items one at a time... eventually I'll have to compile a list of the good ones. Though I could use some help getting through the menu... Lotta work for one man (not that I mind...)

                  1. re: sgordon

                    yah i remember a long time ago people thought ping's was really good, but then people started saying it had gone down hill, but this was a long time ago

                    most of those fusion dishes turn out either quite good or quite bad, i don't like shrimp with mayo as a dish, ive actually hated it since i was a kid haha. anyhow, ill give ping's a try

              2. Hi Lau,

                When we were in Manhattan last September, my wife and I ate at Oriental Garden. As soon as we walked in the door, I was drawn to the acquariums with the fresh fish. I ordered directly from the glass cases and didn't even look at the menu. The waiter, or perhaps the manager, took my order, and dissuaded me from the geoduck. He said it would cost $45; the price of geoduck had rocketed because it was so popular in Japan. He recommended something else, scallops I think, and then we had one of the best meals ever. And the cost of the meal was no higher than what we had paid in other restaurants in Chinatown. I can't wait to go back.

                2 Replies
                1. re: bcc

                  Geoduck is expensive, but it's worth it if you've got a group. If you think about it, you'd pay $6 a slice for Mirugai at most decent sushi places, and here you'll get a dozen or so slices of sashimi PLUS a plate of fritters from the belly. At OG and Fuleen the price varies by weight - it's been anywhere from 55 to 80 - but split six to eight ways, not so bad.

                  That said, I've consistently found the quality a little better at Fuleen, though they prepare it identically.

                  1. re: bcc

                    yah i actually wanted to get geoduck, but i didnt think the rest of the table would all like it and while i like geoduck, but i dont love it so i didnt make a big fuss about it. i did see a couple sitting next to us eating it though and it looked good

                    i eat in chinatown very regularly and the prices at OG are noticeably higher than other places although honestly i dont really care b/c its still fairly cheap vs a non-chinatown restaurant. we spent $50 per person and anywhere else in chinatown for the same meal would've been ~$30