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Chowmeet at Grace Garden, this Saturday, April 13, at 1PM

I'll probably call tonight and ask for certain dishes so that they can be prepared ahead of time. Please email me (found on my profile) if you're interested and if there is a specific dish you'd like to try.

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  1. Follow-up:

    Had a group of 7 CH plus 1 Teen Hound.
    "A lively time was had by all."

    1. 四川粉蒸魚 Sichuan Steamed Whole Fish with Rice Powder - Whole Fish Filet, Steamed & Topped with Chili & Rice Powder, Served on Crispy Bones.

    2. 石榴雞 Phoenix Purse- Delicate Egg White Purse filled with Chicken and Vegetables, served in Light Broth (Order 1 Day in Advance, Dine In Only)

    3. 梅菜扣肉 Braised Pork Belly with Mui-Choy - Thick Slices of Seasoned Pork Belly, Slow-Cooked with Preserved Mustard Cabbage

    4. 魚麵 Fish Noodles - Fresh Noodles Handmade with Ground Fish, Sautéed with Chinese Sausage, Mushroom, & Cilantro

    5. 脆皮茄子 Crispy Eggplant - Crispy Fried Eggplant Coated with Chef’s Spicy Sweet Sauce

    6. 茶葉燻鴨 Smoke Tea Duck - Whole Duck Steamed in Smoky Tea Flavored Sauce (Order 3 Days in Advance)

    7. 炒時菜 Sautéed Seasonal Vegetables-- stirfried greens in garlic

    8. 本樓沙翁 Chinese Donut Holes

    Most likely to order Every Time-- Fish Noodles[#4]. Unevenly shaped noodles [intentionally] with a light broth. We could have finished off 3 orders of this!

    Generally Most liked-- fish with rice powder[#1] Fish was delicate yet substantial enough to eat in chunks. The Deep fried fish skeleton was an incredible presentation, although not necessarily desired by all as a crispy treat.

    Generally Least liked-- probably the duck[#6]. In this preparation, the duck skin is not crispy and as the 6th dish, we were slowing slightly.

    Most surprising-Crispy Eggplant[#5] Not "obviously" eggplant on the plate. Not quite tempura fried but a light batter and a deeply flavoured sauce. Very very good.

    Most unusual-Phoenix Purses [#2] were striking and most unusual.

    Most "usual" - the greens [#7]; however, they were very well done

    Best finish-- the donut holes [#8] were genuinely light and liberally dusted with table sugar. Perfect finish.

    The bill, plus tax, tip, and a pot of tea, often topped off with hot water, the per person total was $27.

    The menu can be found here:
    http://gracegardenchinese.com/menu.html

    35 Replies
    1. re: Kris in Beijing

      Thanks for starting off the comments and gathering together the list of dishes. And much thanks to Mookleknuck for organizing.

      I count 8 Chowhounds, as the youngest had significant experience in both Chinese language and cuisine. Either that or a vivid imagination.

      Since I've posted about Grace Garden before, I will comment on the two dishes that were new to me:

      From the regular menu, Pork Belly with Mui-Choy. This was a good pork belly dish. Nicely executed, though not outstanding.

      Tea Smoked Duck (special advanced order only): This was a different preparation than I am used to, and that difference was in its favor. Instead of an assertively smoky dry-cooked duck, this was a wet version with a dark soy glaze and a background of smoke flavor. I guess I was relieved it didn't taste like kielbasa. The breast meat was tender and had a gorgeous flavor. I would get this again.

      We wound up spending close to 3 hours there, all of them in delightful company.

      1. re: Steve

        I'm sorry I missed this. You guys need to do this at dinnertime when I can actually eat enough to make the trip worthwhile!

        I concur on the pork with mui-choy... very good rendition, pretty much everything he makes is at least good, but not a dish I'd go out of my way to order. (Interestingly to me, the only places I haven't enjoyed this dish are New Big Wong, which I tend to consider the canonical place to go to try something unusual for the first time, and Peach Farm in Boston, both Cantonese. I've had an excellent Shanghanese version, and even a Sichuan version with a much blander meat and much more flavorful ya-cai.)

        The smoked duck sounds like something I'd like to try, perhaps even on the same day as the sticky rice stuffed duck! And I'm disappointed you didn't get the ants climbing trees (which he calls something else on the menu, makes it sound very generic, but the Chinese is clear.) His rendition is qualitatively better than the usual rendition--I ordered it quite at random a few months ago and would certainly have it again.

        1. re: KWagle

          Thanks for the recommendations of the sticky rice stuffed duck and the ants climbing trees noodle dish. Although I haven't had the former, I would advise against having that at the same meal as the smoked duck unless you have at least twelve diners with very hearty appetites.

          Would you say that his version of Ants Climbing Trees is one of the best versions you've had? I've had some really good ones and nothing from our meal makes me suspect that his version would even make my top ten list.

          1. re: mookleknuck

            I've had it only occasionally, but his version has a lot more solid ingredients (pork, peppers, scallions, &c) than the other versions I've had. I wouldn't say it's at the top of my list, but it usually isn't even on the list.

      2. re: Kris in Beijing

        Kris, thanks for summing up our meal. I agree with Steve that the teen Hound was quite knowledgeable - so make that eight Hounds. It was quite the eclectic gathering.

        The following comments are in the same order as the dishes appeared:

        Phoenix Purse: Thin dried wrappers pleated around a filling of cooked chicken and shrimp; pleats were both regular and many (<15 per purse). This was served with blanched baby Shanghai bok choy. The umami-filled chicken broth was the highlight of the dish for me, as it had been made with some kind of dried seafood and possibly dried shiitake mushrooms.

        Fish noodles: Simple stir-fry of noodles and scallions; there may have been bits of Chinese sausage and dried shrimp. I was merely whelmed.

        Crispy eggplant: As many posters have noted on http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/520156, this was quite the crowdpleaser as it is basically an eggplant version of General Tso's with the thin and crispy battering contrasting nicely with the luscious eggplant. The huge platter disappeared by the time we saw the flounder.

        Braised pork belly with mei cai: Meltingly tender soy marinated 1/4"-thick pork belly slices served with a side of sauced mei cai and iceberg lettuce. Nothing special as it can be easily made at home, but competent.

        Pea shoots stir-fried with browned garlic cloves: fine, but the thick shoots indicated the end of the season for these.

        Flounder filets with rice powder may have been initially steamed, but were also eventually fried before being served upon the deep-fried bones. Great crispy exterior with a tender, not over-cooked interior. Would order this again with another large group. Crispy bones would be great with beer.

        Smoked tea duck: with minimum fat rendered, the meat was quite tender. It was also quite salty and would not have been out of place as a lunchbox (biandang) protein offering over a lot of steaming rice. As this was the last dish to come out before dessert, we did have to try and finish it.

        Donut holes: yeast-raised and about 1" diameter.

        Neither the rice nor the tea were good. I would avoid both unless necessary.

        1. re: mookleknuck

          I'm glad you highlighted (and explained) the broth of the Pheonix Purse. The complexity was outstanding.

          I felt the same about the fish, which is not really the same dish as listed on the regular menu. It is crispy whole flounder with rice powder and should be special ordered - or I believe it can be prepared in an hour if they are not too busy.

          The thing I love about the fish noodles is that he always gets them blistering hot in his wok, sealing in the gentle flavor and moisture.... too bad the greens did not receive the same treatment.

          1. re: Steve

            Actually, I believe what we got was the one that Kris mentioned in her post, which is on the menu; I've never seen the crispy flounder dish you mentioned on the menu there, and it's not on the online menu either that I can see.

            Re: the fish noodles, as I said there, I'm one of the only fans of GG who seems to think that they aren't all that--perfectly enjoyable as an adjunct to other dishes, and a good novelty dish as an example of an unusual technique, but in terms of flavor on its own, not my first choice given how much it costs.

            1. re: sweth

              Sweth--

              Fish noodles.
              I DID love them.

              However, in light of a few others' comments, I've thought through the WHY of my appreciation.

              1) they were not spectacular. They were done just right. It's the "just right" that appeals to me. Remember, I'm still in the hunt for stuff here in the DC area that "tastes right" to a palate that had street food and hole-in-the-wall food for 8 years in Beijing.

              2) dried shrimp in a broth. I'm a sucker for this.

              3) non fried Chinese starches. I always appreciate this.

              4) they are a great "basic" side dish

              5) Price-- um, actually, I didn't look. Now that I HAVE, you're sooooooo right-- it's a $12.95 side dish at best in my head.

              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                The fish noodles are made of fish. Is there some other starch in the dish that I'm forgetting?

                  1. re: Kris in Beijing

                    Hmm, this page claims there's flour in them, doesn't specify what kind. But the video claims they're just fish paste squeezed from a tube. There's also a recipe for first poaching, then frying, and a fourth link which points out that fish paste noodles are low-carb.

                    http://taiwanxifu.com/2011/03/30/tain...

                    http://youtu.be/wsDDDkgIxX0

                    http://thursdaynightsmackdown.com/200...

                    http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatinga...

                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                  The fish noodles were good, but nothing special.

                  I agree that the fish noodles were done with the right taste, in that it tasted like something I would eat from most decent Chinese restaurants (in Asia). This dish is more of a consistently executed dish that would be worth ordering if this were my neighborhood restaurant, but not something that I would order again while I have the rest of the menu to explore. It's a novel technique for this part of the States.

                2. re: sweth

                  " I've never seen the crispy flounder dish you mentioned on the menu there, and it's not on the online menu either that I can see."

                  Chef makes many dishes that are not on a menu. Over the years in discussion with Chef he has come up with many other dishes. Most are detailed on the GG monster thread.

                  Below is a photo of a different version of the Crispy Whole Flounder. The bones are shaped into a 'basket', and on top are the stir-fried fish filets with vegetables.

                  Next time out I am going to special order the duck stuffed with taro and the rockfish stuffed with sausage. Apparently they need a week's notice.

                    1. re: Steve

                      Nice looking fish dish, there.

                      I think I'd have to agree with Steve that the fish dish we ate is NOT the same dish as listed on the menu, as both the English and Chinese mention steaming. Usually, steamed rice powder does not result in a texture that's anything like the crispy coating that we experienced. I think I'd agree that this was a chef special that is off-menu. And while I was not clear as to what she said on the phone, I'm pretty sure that it was not steamed rice powder mentioned as the cooking method. Make sure to either order ahead or be ready for a lengthy meal!

                      1. re: mookleknuck

                        The online menu calls it "steamed fish with rice powder" and describes it as "Whole Fish Filet, Steamed & Topped [not topped and steamed--kw] with Chili & Rice Powder, Served on Crispy Bones." The Chinese just refers to rice powder: 四川粉蒸魚

                        1. re: KWagle

                          The Chinese translates literally to "Sichuan powder steamed fish." I don't know if the chef has the same packet as I do at home, but it's a packet of rice powder with salt and spices meant to be applied to protein before steaming.

                  1. re: sweth

                    AFAIK, the crispy fish with rice powder is in fact on the menu, and can be gotten anytime if you arrive early enough for the lengthy cooking process.

                  2. re: Steve

                    Thanks for reporting on your outing. After having at worst average meals for years, we had two bad meals in a row and have been very hesitant about returning. This gives me hope to try again.

                    It was the crispy flounder that actually really disappointed us. It was smothered in oil, and not in a good way like with the Sichuan Fish Filets. The rice powder and seasoning on top overpowered the fish, and I was equally bothered by the mouth feel and texture. The powder was either over-seasoned, applied too liberally, or the spices were old. Furthermore, the powder clung to my palate in a very unpleasant way and I couldn't get it down. I can't imagine that's the flavor or texture it's supposed to be. I scraped the topping off the fish, but couldn't save it. We just ate the crispy bones. Especially considering the price, I expected much better.

                    Also, I'm glad someone finally mentioned the rice and tea. I thought it was just me.

                    Although it's one of my favorites, I would recommend ordering the crispy eggplant only with a large group. Like with most fried foods, it's hard to crisp up again when reheated. It's a bit oily, but worth it when fresh and crispy.

                    1. re: bmorecupcake

                      Maybe steamed rice powder is just not your preference? Not having tried this rendition, I can't accurately comment. It's always a shame when a dish is disappointing. Will also agree that the crispy eggplant is a dish for a large group of people as it's deep-fried and at least four eggplants' worth of slices.

                      1. re: mookleknuck

                        So there's a version with steamed rice powder and another with unsteamed rice powder? I thought the "steaming" applied to the fish only. Or even if the fish and rice powder were both steamed, I thought the rice powder would be finished some other way. It tasted sort of uncooked. Do you know what spicing goes with the rice powder? Aside from texture, that seemed off, too.

                        We ordered ours an hour in advance and it took about 15 more minutes after we arrived. Ours didn't closely resemble the pictures I have seen. That picture Steve posted, although a different dish, looks very well executed, as do versions in other pictures posted before. Imagine that bed of lettuce drowning in oil. I've seen another chef there before, so maybe it wasn't Chef Li. I just couldn't understand, you know.

                        1. re: bmorecupcake

                          Usually, rice powder is seasoned with salt and chili powder. The chef(s)/kitchen may use store-bought powder or may make their own. Meat is usually rolled in rice powder and then steamed, often with some starch catching all of the fragrant meat juices and fat. The meat is usually very tender covered by a sticky paste of flavored rice. This is NOT what we experienced with our crispy flounder as the exterior was quite crispy.

                          So I am unclear as to what the actual exterior texture of the crispy flounder was that you were served. At first, I thought that you didn't like the soggy exterior as it was "smothered in oil, and not in a good way...." But then, you mentioned that "powder clung to my palate in a very unpleasant way" which made me think the rice powder was dry.

                          No matter which version you experienced (sticky steamed version or dry crispy version), it didn't taste good and you didn't like it. I would hesitate at recommending another visit when you've already been disappointed twice (and I hope this isn't the beginning of a downhill alert).

                          1. re: mookleknuck

                            I've only had the fish once; I don't recall the rice powder being soft or sticky in any way. I've had the steamed pork belly with rice powder many times, I recommend it highly. The rice powder was crunchy or gritty.

                            1. re: KWagle

                              Interesting. I would normally expect it to be somewhat sticky from the fat and steaming. Now I'm quite curious as to how the kitchen does this!

                            2. re: mookleknuck

                              Hopefully my experiences were just isolated incidents and not a trend. I've always felt Grace Garden is inconsistent, but usually it's been inconsistently good to great. And there aren't many options for this type of food around Baltimore.

                              All the posts I remember reading here on Chowhound described the powder on top of the flounder as crunchy/crispy. Oddly, even though the dish was doused in oil, the powder was still quite dry.

                              Regardless of what I thought of the dish, I just couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be. I appreciate you taking out time to help me understand the different versions of this dish.

                    2. re: mookleknuck

                      Re: the duck, I prefer it in the way you suggest: I usually end up having the leftovers w/ rice for a few days afterwards. (That's actually the first time I've been with a group that has finished the entire dish at GG, in fact.)

                      1. re: sweth

                        Quite frankly, I don't recall Finishing the duck.

                        I was probably expounding on China Life.
                        ^ that's supposed to be an apology!!

                        1. re: sweth

                          Yes, as a solo diner, that smoked duck would have been my lunch and dinner with rice and veggies for at least three days. I like no leftovers.

                      2. re: Kris in Beijing

                        Wow, your menu looks exactly like my menu from a previous group visit to grace garden. Glad everyone enjoyed it. Place is such a hidden gem.

                        1. re: dining with doc

                          Looks like we missed out on the empress chicken, golden shrimp, Sichuan fried pork belly, Chilean sea bass, stuffed tofu, and the pepper braised short ribs. You didn't mention if you would order any or all of these dishes again - please share!

                          1. re: mookleknuck

                            I was with one of my diners from that memorable night at grace garden today and we each said we need a repeat. Every dish was top notch but I think if we do it again i may just call the chef ahead of time and tell him to cook for us whatever he wants. He is so good that I would love to just be surprised. That being said i honestly can say that each dish we ordered was great enough to order again

                            1. re: dining with doc

                              I think that would be a great idea, and I'd love to be a part of it.

                              1. re: dining with doc

                                It's wonderful to realize when you can put yourself completely in someone's hands like that. While I do not yet feel that trust for this chef, I, too, would love to be a part of your next Grace Garden "leap of faith" meal.

                                1. re: dining with doc

                                  Count me in, and probably Teen-Hound, too. [Lacrosse would be the potential interference].

                            2. Maybe if you do this again, later in the day when I'm actually hungry enough to eat, I could join you!

                              1. It's been a whole month since y'all did this... how about doing it again on Saturday? The fish stuffed with pork, cloud tofu, eight treasure duck, taro duck are all calling my name...

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: KWagle

                                  No! No! No! I'll be out of town again this Saturday.

                                  1. re: KWagle

                                    Sorry, I have plans this weekend. Would you like to email me and we can hash out plans with other possible interested parties through email for another time?

                                    1. re: KWagle

                                      Oh NO!
                                      I can't in May at all.

                                      Reschedule?

                                      1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                        A couple of us are talking about going back on Wed or Thu for a reprise of a couple of the new dishes as well as the fish with rice powder, if we can get at least 5 people. Since a number of you guys couldn't make it on Saturday, email me if you want to try for a weeknight trip.

                                    2. I'm up for this. Would you like me to post it on Charm City Chowhounds to get some more eaters?

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: curioussheridan

                                        Now you all know how I feel when you schedule a GG party while I'm in Boston! :-/

                                        Please do post it. I'm thinking 3PM, since I won't have much of an appetite earlier than that, and any later means we conflict with the dinner rush. Steve and I discussed it, and he's going to call them about the special dishes (stuffed fish, tofu pie, and taro duck) tomorrow.

                                        I have to head north by the end of next week, but if anyone wants to hit them in the middle of the week, I'm up for it. My email address is in my profile.

                                        1. re: KWagle

                                          I can't make it this weekend, but you ought to start a new thread - there are probably CHers who would attend but aren't following a month old discussion.

                                          1. re: KWagle

                                            Posted just now. Saturday at 3, right?

                                        2. Since a huge number of people can't make it to GG on Saturday, maybe we should meet up at Hunan Taste in Catonsville early in the week.

                                          And, read this, it's excellent. Time for a roadtrip to St Louis!

                                          http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2007-0...

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: KWagle

                                            KWagle, since you're familiar with Boston, I though I would ask you: Two years ago we stayed at a hotel in (I believe) Arlington. Very close to our hotel, we found a good Chinese restaurant, mostly takeout, with very few tables for sit down. I want to say it was Taiwanese, but I don't know enough to be sure. We went there every day and I couldn't get enough of their stinky tofu. I haven't been able to find the name of the restaurant. I also remember there was a pastry shop or bakery a few doors down, if not next door. Does any of this sound familiar? Would you be able to provide a list of possible suspects?

                                            1. re: bmorecupcake

                                              Probably Jo Jo Taipei, and Yi Soon. Assuming the bakery was Chinese, you were in Allston, not Arlington, and it was the bakery that clued me in. I've had some good food at JJT; I haven't had their stinky tofu but it's quite popular there. But, JJT is not a few doors down from Yi Soon, it's across the street and part of a short block away. If that isn't it... I don't know of Taiwanese in Arlington.

                                              http://www.jojotaipeiboston.com/

                                              1. re: KWagle

                                                The bakery wasn't Chinese, it was a "regular" bakery. We were actually sitting in a Taiwanese bakery in Flushing a few days ago when a friend helped me remember this Taiwanese restaurant: Formosa Taipei in Lexington. I hope the owner hasn't changed. That guy was very passionate about his food.

                                                http://formosa-taipei.com/

                                                1. re: bmorecupcake

                                                  I'm glad to hear you figured it out. I've never been to Formosa Taipei. We have a glut of excellent Taiwanese places in the Boston area, and I still have many places on the list to check out. There might be some discussion of FT on the Boston area board.