« Grace Garden | Main | Fiori di Zucca »

June 25, 2008

More from Grace Garden

Peacock Chicken Dominic Armato
I know, I know, I emerge from a two week hiatus only to bring you more Grace Garden. With apologies, I'm trying to get caught up on all of the stuff I neglected while concentrating on Top Chef, and I'm also in the process of trying to migrate to a new server (much as I love embedding cryptic messages in the site's images, that whole fiasco a few weeks back was the final straw -- I'm moving). But in the interim, I've managed to bring my Grace Garden dish count up to 34, I have a bunch more to add to the favorites list, and I want to pimp these guys just a little more before moving on (awesome recipe for zucchini blossoms coming on Monday). So for those who haven't yet made the trek down to Odenton, or for those who have but still muster the strength not to order the same thing on subsequent trips, here are a few more favorites of the ones I've sampled since the first Grace Garden post.

Sichuan Beef Tongue, Tripe and Tendon Dominic Armato
I'm not sure if I'm helping or hurting by putting the Peacock Chicken photo up top, but the American preference for nondescript meat that magically appears under cellophane is one of the reasons chickens and pigs taste so much better in China, and it's about time we got over it. At any rate, I'm always amazed by how a great Sichuan meal can take the same five or six central ingredients -- chiles, Sichuan pepper, garlic, sesame, vinegar, ginger -- and create such a wide variety of dishes with them. The Peacock Chicken, an advance order dish, highlights Sichuan's cool and sweet (though no less fiery) side. The chicken is steamed and served cold, topped with a typical ma la sauce that turns up the sugar, vinegar and ginger. Though it's almost pure meat, it's a cool dish made refreshing by the heavy dose of vinegar, and it still has a nice kick -- perfect for summer evenings.

Cantonese Wok-Fried Quail Dominic Armato
Another Sichuan dish that will probably fall into the "challenging" category for some is a recent addition to the menu, the Sichuan Beef Tongue, Tripe and Tendon. It's another cold dish and a perfect example of how altering the balance of the traditional ma la seasonings can completely change the character of a dish. This one, though vinegary, is pushed further back towards the chile end of the spectrum, and the sauce bathes thin slivers of tongue, tripe and tendon, which are in turn topped with chopped peanuts and scallions. In addition to its fiery intensity, the toothsome tendon, spongy tripe and crunchy peanuts exemplify the importance of textural contrast to so many Sichuan dishes. I had it for the first time a little over a week ago, and I returned last night with the intention of insisting that Chef Li add it to the menu -- only to find he already had. Apparently it's a very labor intensive dish, but thanks to Mei's urging, it should now be available as a regular item. Good thing too... I think it's one of the best dishes I've had so far.

Smoke Tea Duck Dominic Armato
On the (slightly) more familiar front, this last visit also netted a simple and delicious preparation of one of my favorite critters. There isn't much meat on 'em, but quail hold many rewards for those who aren't shy to pick them up and gnaw away. The Cantonese Wok-Fried Quail are seasoned just enough to accentuate the sweet meat, and they sit in a light jus (if such a term can be applied to Chinese cookery) that only adds to their succulence when spooned over the top. It's a simple, no-frills dish that's a nice respite from the more typically saucy creations. Another dish that puts the focus on the fowl is the Smoke Tea Duck, which is similarly minimal but significantly more intense. An advance order nets you a whole duck with deep, lacquered skin that's completely infused with an intense, smoky flavor. Like the quail, it does just enough to accentuate the flavor of the bird without obscuring it. This is also near the top of my personal favorites list.

Braised Pork Belly with Mui-Choy Dominic Armato
My obsession with Chinese pork belly is no secret, so this one shouldn't come as any surprise. My Chinese dining in the States is pretty much an endless quest for the kind of intensely sweet melts-into-nothingness on your tongue pork belly like the kind I have in China. Chef Li's Braised Pork Belly with Mui-Choy isn't quite there. It's not his fault -- we just don't have the pigs for it. But it's as good as I've had stateside, and it makes me exceptionally happy. The pork belly is sliced and braised along with mui-choy, a Chinese mustard green that's been salted and lightly pickled to provide a little sourness to cut the lightly sweet soy-based sauce. Though it doesn't liquefy on the tongue, it's meltingly tender and may be my favorite pork dish at Grace Garden.

Taiwanese Style Fish Dominic Armato
A dish that inspires some mixed emotions, but not enough to keep it off my list of favorites, is the Taiwanese Style Fish. There is nothing subtle about this dish. You have small chunks of fish, an abundance of ground pork, scallions, bell peppers and some kind of pickled cabbage that are stir-fried in a spicy, sweet sauce with plenty of dried chiles and cilantro stems. The reason I say I have mixed emotions is because while I like the texture of the little fried chunks of fish, the potency of everything surrounding them doesn't exactly put them in the spotlight. I find myself taking another bite and wondering if this is really a fish dish or a pork dish. Then I find myself taking another bite and just not caring. It's an explosively tasty dish and nitpicking in such a manner is probably missing the forest for the trees. I dig it, and that's all that matters.

Curry Beef Stew, Hong Kong Style Dominic Armato
And I'll bring this update to a close with a dish that I probably never would have tried if it weren't for the fact that Chef Li insisted, and I'm glad he did. Both from the description and my first glance, it looked like a very typical beef, potato and onion curry based on your typical canned Madras curry powder. And it was. But three or four bites into it, what struck me was that it was an unusually delicious version thereof. Its strength wasn't in the flavor. The flavor was very nice -- a very mild, comforting and lightly sweet stew that even the most spicy-averse could handle. But that's not uncommon. What struck me, rather, was its wonderfully silky, collagen-laden texture that was achieved, no doubt, by the fatty cuts of connective tissue that comprised half of the meat in the dish. Let's be clear. This is not a dish for the boneless, skinless chicken breast crowd. But for the rest of us, beef you could sip through a straw, floating in an unctuous, curried beefy goo -- well, maybe it doesn't sound good to you, but it sure snuck up and won me over. If you can't quite bring yourself to squeeze it into your menu, I say get an order to take home. As the empty bowl currently sitting in my lap can attest, it reheats rather well.

Grace Garden
1690 Annapolis Rd.
Odenton, MD 21113
Mon - Thu 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM
Fri - Sat 11:00 AM - 10:30 PM
Sun Closed


yeah, keep on making me drive down there, why don't you!
It's so good but so far away!

One of the big differences between US & Chinese hogs is that because the US market favors leaner cuts of pork, and the fattiness on American pigs has largely been bred out, even on the smaller organic farms. Ironically, the reduced fat also reduces fertility, and US pig farmers spend a lot of money on specialists to get their sows to breed (I'll spare you the gory details).

Yeah, I keep hoping we're going to see a reversal of that trend (now about 50 years old, I believe), but I'm not holding my breath.

Went there for a second time last night and saw your great pics of the dishes hung up around the restaurant. They looked great. Thanks again for turning me on to them.

Hey, it's my pleasure, 1000yregg! Yeah, I heard a couple of days ago that they put the photos up, but I haven't seen them yet. I offered them the photos and didn't want them to feel like they had to use them, but I figured they might come in handy and it's nice to see they're getting some mileage out of them :-)

Sounds like quite an adventurous restaurant! I'll have to check this spot out.

The comments to this entry are closed.