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Dec 24, 2012 07:24 AM

Lotus Garden, Vienna, Va - 12/12 report

I'm down in the Rockville area for a family visit. Usually, we eat in the various Rockville/Gaithersburg/Germantown Chinese restaurants and never venture out of Md for food. But, my parents in law were in town and were staying in Vienna with a sil and her family (got it?). Anyway, they wanted to get together for lunch and I was torn as to what to do. My parents only eat Chinese food but they will sometimes branch out to Korean or Japanese food. My in laws have maybe had real Chinese food less then half a dozen times. Three of those times were with me. We had no reservations and the meeting time was going to be iffy. And it was a holiday weekend.

My inlaws were willing to try Chinese but since Va is kind of foreign territory for my parents in regards to Chinese food. So, we looked in the Chinese paper for ads in the Tyson's area. I had done a quick search off chowhound and not much came up, other then the food was better in Md. Anyway, we found Lotus Garden and there was a discount coupon as well. A quick yelp search yielded mixed results but the big draw for me were the hand pulled noodles and I knew my mil would get a kick out of the technique.

The food, overall, was excellent. Oddly enough, the noodles were the weaker part of the meal.

Noodles - we ordered three different kinds, beef noodle, lamb noodle, and zha jiang miang. The noodles were a tad overcooked and the broth was slightly underseasoned. The beef was delicious but the lamb was tough. The zha jiang was just not good. Overcooked noodles with a too sweet sauce.

Dishes - these we're very strong. Of note, was the special garlic chicken. This was amazing. The skin was very crispy and flavorful with fried garlic bits sprinkled on top. I would go back just for this dish. The other stand out dishes included salt and pepper short ribs, pea pod stems with tofu and mushrooms, cured bacon (really Chinese sausage) with Chinese broccoli, and the duck from the BBQ platter. We also ordered the twin lobsters with ginger and scallion and a few more items for the BBQ platter. I'm not a fan of chau sau but my mil loved it. The jellyfish was also very good. A tad too sweet but the consistency was perfect.

The restaurant also does knife shaven noodles for the soup noodles. I'm partial to hand pulled ones so I didn't order these.

I wish they would fry the noodles or improve the soup base. The broth tasted like canned broth and the bowls weren't piping hot. Just warm. But whoever works the fryer is an expert since the garlic chicken and the pepper salted short ribs were both perfect.

I'm not sure it's worth a special trip from Rockville. But my parents, spouse and I were still talking about that chicken at our dinner at mama wok.

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  1. Thanks for your post. Some of those dishes sound great. I hadn't heard of this place before.

    Too bad about the zha jiang mian, though I'm not surprised Not sure if the Cantonese 'get' this dish. I get regular cravings, and aside from making it myself (eh) only A&J can partially satisfy me.

    Two questions:

    Do you have a rec for zha jiang mian?

    What are your favorite dishes / places in Maryland?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      No recommendation for zha jiang mian in the area. I had hopes here, despite the regional difference, solely bc of the hand pulled noodles. I don't really like this dish at joes either. But there is a noodle dish that is superior at A&J that I am blanking on. My dad and my husband kind of fight for the last bit of sauce from this dish. I haven't been on this trip yet but will do so before we leave.

      I come down a few times a year for parental visits. Places on the regular rotation include Sichuan pavilion (water cooked fish, wontons in chile oil/hong hou chau shou, dan dan noodles), A&J, Michael's Noodles, Mama Wok (both branches even though they have different owners), Joe's shanghai and a new place I have to post about - Shanghai Taste. There are a few places in Gaithersburg as well. But we mostly stay in Rockville.

      The one Korean place that is in the rotation is Lighthouse something for soon dubu. Mushroom is my favorite.

      1. re: beetlebug

        The A&J noodle bowl I love is the suan la mian (hot and sour sauce).

        Soon dubu at Lighthouse Tofu (Vit Goel) is my favorite Korean dish in the area. They make their own tofu, of course.

        Would love to hear something about Shanghai Taste.....

        1. re: Steve

          That's the noodle dish at A&J! I love it.

          I'll post about shanghai gate soon. It's on Nelson St. in Rockville and it will enter the rotation.

          1. re: Steve

            Sorry, I know it's off-topic: Does anyone know if Lighthouse Tofu in Ellicott City, MD is owned by the same people as this Lighthouse Tofu? If so, would you also know if they also make their own tofu at the Ellicott City location?

      2. I didn't know NoVa had a good Cantonese restaurant! My non-English-speaking Chinese friends took me here for lunch today. I thought it was the best Chinese food I've had since NYC Chinatown in May. We had the hand-cut and hand-pulled noodles, salted fish and chicken with eggplant, yummy tofu with minced crabmeat, some shrimp dish with heads and shells still on, Chinese broccoli with garlic slices, fish fillets battered and fried. I don't know the names for most of them because my Chinese friend ordered. I just enjoyed eating everything. Service was fine and friendly.

        We had tons of food to take home so my husband became the beneficiary that night. He is now a fan. We will probably become regular takeout customers from now on.

        1. Just got back from dinner there. Tried the special garlic chicken on your recommendation. Good, but really, really salty. Very garlicky, too, nice crispy skin and tender meat, but man, some of those fried garlic chips were probably sea salt. Took 4 glasses of water and half a pot of tea to get me through it.

          Kind of noisy, too, especially for not being very crowded. That room was a lot quieter when it was Panjshir.

          18 Replies
          1. re: MikeR

            Sounds like someone made a mistake in the kitchen. I had the special garlic chicken just this last Saturday for lunch, and it was fine with a delicious garlic flavor, but not overly salty. The only comment I would have is that I think the dish would be better with more fried garlic and a little less cilantro in the topping.

            1. re: bitstreamer

              I on the other hand have never had enough cilantro in a dish and almost never find anything (including unrefined sea salt) too salty. So I really have to try this dish. And I'm looking forward to the report on Shanghai Gate, if it's actually a Shanghainese restaurant.

              1. re: KWagle

                I don't use much salt in my own cooking and rarely add salt to someone else's cooking, so I might be more sensitive to "salty" than others. Still, this was a four-glasses-of-water (plus tea) dinner for me.

                Our go-to Chinese restaurant in Vienna is Chateau East (or is it East Chateau?) a couple of blocks away, which is the same ownership as Lotus Garden and the waitresses work both places. When one of them that we knew from the other place asked how we liked the food there, I commented about the heavy salt and she was surprised, saying that wasn't typical of their cooking.

                So maybe it's just me. Or maybe somebody goofed when preparing my meal. I took home some leftovers (kung pao chicken and Hunan beef - my friends are conservative eaters) and they were as good as I've had them anywhere. Kung pao chicken seems to be a little different everywhere - maybe there's no standard recipe - but I rather liked this one. It's no a reason to go to what's supposed to be a Cantonese restaurant though.

                1. re: MikeR

                  Chinese style fried chicken is actually supposed to be served to taste salty. I did not find the special garlic chicken to be any saltier than what is typical for that style of dish. Restaurants will typically serve a small dish of roasted salt along with the chicken for dipping, which is a common way of eating fried chicken. I would actually prefer it if Lotus Garden (and Hong Kong Pearl) served a dipping plate of roasted salt (with fried garlic) on the side so that one could control the amount if saltiness (in my case I prefer more saltiness).


                  1. re: bitstreamer

                    Salt and fried garlic on the side sounds like a good idea. I think I'd need to speak Chinese in order to ask if they can serve it that way, though.

                    1. re: bitstreamer

                      You could bring your own salt and garlic mixture. I bring huajiao to Sichuan restaurants, and also put it on Cantonese pepper-salt dishes.

                      The Wikipedia article didn't say what the Cantonese people use for the spicy part of the salt mixture; I've seen many cookbooks claim it's huajiao, but I never actually get that at restaurants.

                      1. re: KWagle

                        I've been to several places that add roasted sichuan peppercorn to the dipping salt, but only up in the NYC/Philadelphia area.

                        Sichuan Village in Chantilly used to heap a lot of ground sichuan peppercorn on their Salt and Pepper Pork Chops which was awesome and very numbing, but they dialed it down these days, presumably to be more accessible to the general public. Still good though.

                        1. re: bitstreamer

                          Next time ask for it 加麻 (jia ma) and maybe you'll get what you want. :-/

                          1. re: KWagle

                            What does jia ma mean? "Not too much salt, please?"

                            I suppose I could ask for the seasoning on the side, but then it wouldn't be "special garlic chicken." I think maybe the Szechuan cook from down the block might have been on duty there the night I ate the salty chicken. I've been lunching on my friends' left over Hunan beef and kung pao chicken and both are excellent, nicely balanced, and pretty zippy for a dish (from the wrong province, too) ordered by Americans who didn't ask for it extra spicy.

                            1. re: MikeR

                              It means "extra huajiao" (lit. 'add numbing’.) huajiao is the so-called Sichuan peppercorn which produces the numbing flavor that bitstreamer and I enjoy. My post should've shown as a reply to his/her post.

                              1. re: KWagle

                                It's funny how 加麻 (jia ma) gets translated as "Canadian hemp" in Google Translate. I thought you might be trying to play a practical joke on me. ;-)

                                I should have translated each character separately, where I see that it means add/increase numb.

                                1. re: bitstreamer

                                  I thought that "ma la" was what they used to tell us to ask for when we wanted more "numb." Maybe it's the same thing in a different dialect?

                                  But I don't think that more of something would have helped the dish I received. if my Special Garlic Chicken had any of the Szechuan pepper numbing, it was overwhelmed by the salt. Simply, either it had an overdose of salt or I just don't like that dish.

                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    The 'ma' is numbing and the 'la' is spicy. Jia is what you request when you want 'more.'

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Indeed, and if they say "jia la" when you said "jia ma" you need to correct them. (This happens to me quite frequently.) You can also say "jia huajiao" for Sichuan peppercorn, or "jia la" if you just want more heat.

                                      And it won't help you. It'll help bitstreamer. But someone on here should be able to tell you how to say "no salt" in Chinese (assuming they don't understand that in English.)

                                      1. re: KWagle

                                        shao yan = less salt; qu yan = no salt

                                    2. re: MikeR

                                      Mandarin is the national language. While the dialects are as different from one another (as Italian is to German is to Swedish) the written language is the same.

                                2. re: MikeR

                                  I suppose I could ask for the seasoning on the side, but then it wouldn't be "special garlic chicken."
                                  I would not consider this an option - in general Chinese dishes are all seasoned in the kitchen, unless there is a plain poached or steamed dish for example that is served with a dipping sauce.

                  2. re: MikeR

                    Sorry to hear about the oversalted chicken. I agree with bitstreamer in that they must have made a mistake. While I adore salt, my mom is a minimalist. She made no comments about oversalting and loved the chicken. AFAIK, they haven't revisited Lotus Garden since they usually eat chinese in the Rockville area.

                  3. Took my little kids to Lotus Garden so I can acclimatize them to the food of the mother land. I remember always having kingdom pork chops as a kid because it's basically the Chinese version of sweet and sour pork. Too bad my kids didn't like them - because they're picky. I did find a few pieces of the pork really fatty and small bones. The beef and Chinese broccoli were terrific. The chefs here can definitely cook. Finally, some shrimp lo mein to stuff the kids in case they didn't eat anything else.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Worldwide Diner

                      I keep going back to this place, thinking I must have tried the "wrong" dish last time. Everything has been so oily. Maybe I finally need to try the noodles. Or re-read this thread again for specific dish recommendations.

                      1. re: VaPaula

                        You should try the hand pulled noodles, not the lo mein, which is oily.