Monday, November 03, 2014

Grace Garden

We've posted about Grace Garden many times here on Minxeats. It's also the answer I most often give to the question, "what is your favorite local restaurant?" Truthfully, my favorite restaurant changes from day to day, depending on where I've eaten most recently and what I  might be craving at the moment. But Grace Garden remains a favorite, and on days when it's not #1, it's definitely firmly in second place.

A hole in the wall in a strip mall in Odenton isn't always the first place one thinks of for a Chinese feast, but there it is.

We visited in September for my brother's birthday (an annual tradition) and the place was slammed. Thankfully we had made a reservation this year. (Last year we were yelled at for not doing so and urged to hurry though our meal so someone else could get our table. But as far as I can tell, they don't actually keep track of reservations.) There were still several tables available when we arrived, but the carry-out orders were stacking up. One group of three chicks ordered ten items. A father came in with his two noisy children. The kids didn't seem to want anything, so I imagine they'd be enjoying chicken fingers and microwave mac and cheese while Dad chowed down on fish noodles and XO chicken.

There are two dishes we order every time we visit Grace Garden, as the four of us, my picky father included, enjoy them: vermicelli with pork and pepper, and Sichuan pork belly. This occasion was no different. And despite having to wait nearly half an hour for our food (about 20 minutes longer than usual), and hearing the normally mild-mannered-seeming chef yelling in the kitchen (I could actually see him from my seat, and he seemed pissed at something or someone), there was no change in the quality or flavor of his food. Now that's consistency.

Sichuan pork belly with leeks, bell peppers, Sichuan bean paste
Vermicelli stir fried with ground pork and chiles
We also normally order the salt and pepper squid, big slabs of roughly chopped squid coated in a eggy-tasting batter, aggressively seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with fried shallots and slices of raw jalapeno. This dish did suffer a bit from the kitchen chaos; it tasted fine, but it was a bit oily.

Salt and pepper squid
We're always pleased to see new dishes added to the menu. A few years back, we ate some marvelous lamb chops served with lemongrass and scallions at a Chowhound Chinese New Year dinner and made a special request for them from time to time. The last time I called for them, I was told that it's too expensive to make, since they basically have to buy a case of the chops and then can't sell them. Instead, they used the same preparation on some pork ribs and put it on the regular menu. It's basically a variation of the salt and pepper squid, with a crispier batter and lots of deep fried lemongass bits. Yummy.

Pork spare ribs with lemongrass and fried scallions
Another new dish we tried is the house special chili pepper chicken. They do two versions, one a stir fry, the other with deep fried chicken. We chose the latter, which came to the table buried in a mountain of fried chile peppers and a big handful of stir fried Sichuan peppercorns. Pretty much everything on the Grace Garden menu is spicy, and to the newbie, probably incendiary. We don't notice so much anymore. But this dish was crazy spicy. Not so much hot--I didn't really get much impact from all those chiles, but the numbing quality of the Sichuan peppercorns was off the hook. Not really peppers, the dried berries of the prickly ash have an unusual floral flavor and might be off-putting to people not used to them. I normally don't mind them, but this dish was a little over the top. Just as I'd bite into a morsel of lovely fried chicken thigh, a peppercorn would assault my tongue. Eventually I grew tired of fighting and gave up.

Chili pepper chicken
No matter. There was plenty of other delicious items on the table to choose from.

Grace Garden on Urbanspoon

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