Authenticity makes for adventure
The menu at Golden Garden is populated with the same dishes you’ve seen at a hundred other Chinese restaurants: lo mein and Kung Pao chicken and various Delights. But skip past those familiar characters to the soul of the menu at this recently opened restaurant, where the cuisine from Dongbei, in northeastern China, prevails. Here the lamb is crispy and spicy, cabbage is sour, potatoes are plentiful, and no part of the animal, not tendon nor tripe nor kidney, goes to waste. One appetizer combines two kinds of offal: roast beef tendon and tripe with chili sauce ($7.50) in a slippery, spicy pile of meat.
Vinegar is popular in Dongbei cuisine, and the excellent, tender-skinned dumplings, pork with Chinese cabbage ($6.95), are served with little bowls of it. One of the surprises on the menu is sour cabbage with steamed bacon ($11.95), which tastes remarkably like pork and sauerkraut. Cucumber with fresh garlic ($5.95) is simple but wonderful: two vegetables in a light vinegar sauce, topped with a few leaves of cilantro. Jellyfish with sesame oil ($7.50), served over shredded daikon, sounds exotic but tastes so tame it is overshadowed by the other dishes. Jiggly white cubes called green bean noodle with spicy sauce ($4.95) would be bland without the chili seeping inside. Lamb teriyaki on skewers ($9.95) is crunchy and flecked with chili seeds.
Sauteed cumin lamb with spicy sauce ($12.95) is a popular entree, and for good reason. The tender slices of meat are mixed with carrots, green peppers, and ominous numbers of chilies, but the flavor of cumin holds strong. Preserved turnip with pork ($9.95) is crunchy and salty, a modest dish that is easy to eat but hard to recall. Fresh steamed whole fish with ginger and scallion ($16.95) is talapia small enough to fit on a plate, beneath green and brown slivers of vegetable. When a waitress sees us poking the fish with chopsticks, she quickly brings a knife, expertly slices open the fish along its backbone, and serves us. We try one stalwart of many Chinese menus: General Tso’s tofu ($8.95), which is more pillowy and less crisp than other versions of the dish.
An early visit to the restaurant after it opened last fall was fraught with service problems — the kitchen was overwhelmed — but Golden Garden seems to have worked through those issues. The decor is not a draw, from the staid brick exterior to the pale blue walls inside, where the lights are a bit too bright. But order adventurously and you’ll dine well and hardly notice.
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.