Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob

Restaurant: Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob
Address: 620 N 50th St
Genres: mediterranean
Check Constraints: None, it's short-order.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Falafel Sandwich w Garlic Herb Sauce ($5)
  • Döner Kebab w Spicy Sauce ($5.50)
  • Curry Fries ($2)
  • Diet Coke ($1)
It would be very easy, walking by the place, to dismiss Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob as a hole in the wall gyro joint, striving for some sort of hipster pastiche decor and trying to lure customers via nothing more than flim-flammery. But if you did that, you would be depriving yourself of one of the most interesting takes on Mediterranean cuisine I've ever had, and you would be worse off for it.

For starters, the restaurant has only three things on the menu. That kind of culinary direction is really rare in an age when people seem to be adding more and more menu items in the hopes that they can satisfy everyone at once and claim some kind of Highlander-esque victory over other restaurants. There are places that can pull this off and still do well (see: Wheatfield's), but when you do this, you run the risk of delivering subquality portions of a lot of things. AFK (as they cleverly call themselves) seems to have dispensed with this mindset - they do three things, and they do them very, very well.

Okay, technically they have a fourth item on the menu in the store - a hummus plate - but it's not really a new food item, since you could get hummus on any of the sandwiches.

The sandwiches were fantastic. The döner kebob was delicious, especially with the spicy sauce, which was actually spicy to me! The falafel was perfectly cooked and nicely flavored, though the garlic herb sauce could have used a little more zip for my tastes. Neither of their sandwiches were served in pitas, as I was expecting, but rather in pockets of bread which could best be described as pita crossed with ciabata. It was pretty good bread, and as I said good meat/falafel and sauce, but what set the sandwiches apart were the toppings. Carrots, red cabbage, chickpeas, cucumber, and some unidentified diced white topping - all of which falls under "vegetable salad" on the menu - lent some good flavor variation to an already delicious sandwich. And they're large. I came just short of finishing both sandwiches, and I was pretty hungry that day.

The sandwiches are perfectly complemented by the curry fries. The fries are thin - not quite shoestring, but definitely not steak fries either - and they're served with a healthy dose of curry powder. They smell wonderfully of cumin and coriander, and if you eat them with your fingers, the turmeric will turn them yellow, so they helpfully provide you with a plastic chip fork, which is an implement I haven't seen since I visited the U.K. back in 1998.

Seating is a little sparse, but if it isn't pouring out like it was when we visited, you could easily take the food outside and enjoy the day in the Dundee area. Additionally, the place is open incredibly late (11 PM Mon-Wed, 2 AM Thurs-Sat), so if you're out late drinking at the Dundee Dell or Beer and Loathing in Dundee (which we have to visit at SOME point, I mean come on), you could definitely drop by for what that fabulously foul taco hell has dubbed "Fourthmeal". With food this good at prices this reasonable, it's hard to go wrong.

  • Döner Kebab w Garlic Herb Sauce ($5.50)
  • Curry Fries ($2)
  • Strawberry Fanta ($1)
With such a limited menu and Art's already thorough exposition, there's not a whole lot more for me to contribute, except maybe to give a better image of what you should expect from this place. Go to their website. I'll link it again here, so you don't have to scroll up: That picture right in the middle of the page--the one that smashes you in the face when you visit the site--is untouched. That's exactly how the kebab looks and tastes. There is no ad agency trickery going on here (except for the shots of the dining room. It's not nearly as large as they make it look in the pictures. The photographer must have been backed against the wall behind the counter to achieve that shot). It is pure delicious with a bread handle.

  • Falafel w Garlic Herb Sauce ($5.00)
  • Curry Fries ($2)
  • Diet Coke ($1)
The falafel is a similar setup to the kabob but with chickpea patties (falafel) instead of meat. The center picture on the bottom of the front page of their site is the falafel. The patties made it a vegetarian meal if you are aiming for that. The garlic herb sauce was light on garlic and a bit heavier on herb. I was a bit confused on the sauce selection the way they said it. I thought "spicy garlic" and "herb", but it's really "spicy" or "garlic and herb". The fries are tasty as is, but note that the seasoning isn't very strong. I got ketchup on the side as a precaution, and it wasn't needed. It drowned out the other flavors pretty well. The drinks are actually cans of soda. A dollar might be a bit pricy for a can, but it seems typical at places that do cans.

  • Falafel w Spicy and Garlic Sauce + Hummus ($5.00 + 0.50)
  • Curry Fries ($2)
  • Grape Fanta ($1)
Soda in dollar cans makes me sad. At least they had non-caffinated options.

On the bright side, the meal was full of complex and interesting flavors, and that makes it an experience worth having. I don't know that I loved it, but I do know that I enjoyed the mix of flavors and textures in the falafel, and the price is, while seeming slightly expensive at first, not particularly abnormal (one might note that Chipotle's prices are in a similar range for a similar type of meal, although of a different ethnicity.) There was some good heat in the spicy option, but it wasn't killer heat, and that works just fine for me. In addition, the curry fries were really good, and either I have jaundice or didn't notice my fingers turning colors. If I weren't so far away, I might go more often, but I wouldn't turn it down.

(Also, there is a fourth thing on the menu, in the store, which was a Falafel Plate for 4 bucks. None of us got it. It remains a slight mystery.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lithuanian Kafe and Bakery

Restaurant: Lithuanian Kafe & Bakery
Address: 7427 Pacific St, Omaha, NE
Genres: Lithuanian, German, Bakery
Check Constraints: None
Chain: No (there is a main bakery location, but it's a pure bakery) | More Omaha Locations: No

  • German Goulash (Special, 8.50)
  • Cup of Chicken & Tortilla Soup (2.50)
  • Iced Tea (1.15)
  • Almond Strudel (1.25)
  • Napoleonas Torte (large, 2.95)
This place is mainly a cafe outlet sort of place for a larger bakery elsewhere in the city. It's located next to a laundry, so if you're going for lunch, you're probably going to be okay on parking. They were a lot of overworked when we got there, but we found out later that that's because someone called in sick and they had no replacement, so we can't really count that against them. The place has a very small dining room sort of feel, rather than a diner or something of that sort. There are no booths, just small tables in a rather small area. The rest of the place is taken up by a shelf of imported foods, cheeses, sausages, and a big freezer full of their Napoleonas Torte that you can buy for not much per slice.

First off, the food the place serves, aside from the sausage, doesn't really scan as "Lithuanian." We looked up some articles on Lithuanian cuisine before we went, and none of that stuff was on the menu here. This place is more bakery than anything else. The menu is mostly comprised of sandwiches of various decidedly non-"old country" types. The real star of the place are the breads and desserts. On the up side, we got four baskets of bread and butter filled with the best damn rye bread I have ever tasted.

The chicken and tortilla soup didn't actually have any tortillas with it. I'm not sure what's up with that. I'm also not sure what I was expecting, but what I got was basically a cup of salsa con queso with chicken in. It was excellent salsa con queso, mind, with an immediate heat that didn't linger, but still, not something you expect at a Lithuanian place. I used a bit of the aforementioned rye bread to soak up a bit of heat, and the two went really well together, though I think that bread would go well with almost anything.

We actually finished off their day's worth of German goulash. Take egg noodles, and over the top, ladle a sauce that is reminiscent of beef stroganoff, only with no tomato. It's a very bland cream based sauce that really could have used some spice. The real star of the dish, if there was one, was the beef, which uses the ages old formula of taking decidedly lackluster beef and boiling it vigorously for hours on end to make it nice and tender. It's a formula my beef stroganoff recipe uses to good effect, and it's used just as well here. It was worth going through the gravy just to get to the beef. I'm just not sure it was really worth eight fifty, when most entrees here are one to two bucks less.

I grabbed the almost strudel specifically to pass around the table for everybody to try, and everybody did, and it was good. It was a little flaky on the outside, but the inside was moist and very sweet, much more so than you'd expect from almonds. For a buck twenty five, though, you're not going to find a better dessert, and they've got a pretty good variety of strudels.

The real star of the whole thing, for me, was the Napoleonas Torte. This torte was heavily hyped going into this lunch, what with the three day creation process (that's 3000 GP market price, minimum!) and all. Luckily, the actual product did not disappoint. The large slice of torte is only 45 cents more than the small one, so you should pretty much always upgrade, unless you're watching your calories and such, in which case you should stay all the way across the room from this thing. One slice has 48% of your RDA of saturated fat. This is not a dessert for the weak of heart.

It comes lying on its side, optionally drizzled with apricot syrup, which I opted not to get. DO NOT turn it upright, because when you try to cut through it, you will squeeze out all the delicious filling. When you cut through it, I got best results by taking a full cross section of the torte. There's a big blob of filling right in the center, and it helps to keep that in the center. The taste is a strong vanilla flavor with hints of apricot and lemon. It's difficult to describe, really, but worth every penny paid to try it. You can take home a full large torte for 35 dollars, which seems like a lot until you read the box and realize it says "serves 16-20". It's a formidable dessert, and one worth stopping in just to try.

  • Turkey, Avacado, and Swiss (6.25)
    • Cup of Tomato Basil Soup
  • Garden Salad w/Dill Vinegarette (2.50)
  • Small round pastry (I'm sick! Don't judge me.) (0.95)
  • Napoleonas Torte (small, 2.50)
I didn't really think about the lack of Lithuanian feeling food, but ND's right. Mostly normal sandwiches, and then the plate of sausagey meat that nobody got.

They rye bread was very nice, and now I have a name to put to that flavor, as I'd tasted it before but not been told what it was. The tomato basil was pretty good. It didn't taste strongly of spaghetti-o's, thankfully, or else ND would have laughed. Solid, at least. The garden salad wasn't anything special, although the dill vinegarette is why I really got this, and it did have dill flavor, although not too strong. Just about right. I wonder if it would be better on one of their meal salads.

The main meal, as it were, was the turkey, avacado, and swiss, and it was exactly as advertised. It held together very well, despite being made of slippery things, and it was also solid. Nothing to complain about, but not amazing. Although having decent avocado sitting around is something, I suppose.

The place has made its general rep on desserts, and it's not hard to see why. All the desserts we passed around were good, and the torte in particular was a combination of good subtle flavors (as ND covered.) I cannot remember for the life of me, at the moment, what the small pastry I got was, but it's ultimately the same type of thing as the strudel, but it was good even though I couldn't tell what flavors were what when I chose it and I ended up with raspberry.

All and all, the place was certainly solid, with very good desserts, and the only thing that really made life annoying was them being understaffed. At some point we'll have to go back for the plate of meat, but everyone will leave plenty of room for dessert.

  • Rueben ($7.25)
  • Can of Soda ($1.10)
  • Napoleonas Torte w/ apricot and almond sauce ($2.95 + $0.50)
I was a little disappointed to see that the menu was mostly just American deli fare. I was really looking forward to trying some Ðaltibarðèiai. The rueben was pretty good. It was slightly tart and not drowning in Thousand Island. It came with a delicious dollop of mustard-based potato salad. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it wasn't something compelling enough to bring me back.

But then we have the desserts. ND already expounded on the torte. The only thing that I can add is don't get the apricot and almond sauce on it. It's a very strong sauce that just blows away any taste of the torte. I ended up scraping it all off and did not miss it at all. I also tried a bit of the Almond Strudel that was being passed around. It was delicious. I want to say it was better than the torte, but with the sauce tainting my torte I don't think I can make a fair judgement. The dough was flaky; the drizzled glaze added a wonderful random crunch; and there was a great nutty (and slightly cinnamony?) aftertaste that lingered for a little. I will definitely return for more almond strudel, which you can't beat at $1.25 for a healthy slice.

  • Salami and Swiss ($6.25?)
    • Potato salad side.
  • Apple Turnover Thing w/ ice cream (~$3.50)
The rye bread was indeed good. Simple and not too strong. This is a good thing because though the menu listed a "choice of bread" for the sandwiches, there was actually only choice: rye. I'm not saying that to be funny or because it was so good. It was slightly disappointing, but the rye did end up making for a good sandwich. As Mecha said, the sandwich was as advertised. Some hard salami, some swiss cheese, lettuce, and bread. No sauces or anything, which made it a little dry, and it wasn't the largest of sandwiches. I got potato salad with it which was mustard based and tasty as MapleSyrup mentioned. It came with a dash of herbs on top which appeared to be dill, but I couldn't taste it.

The apple dessert was awesome though. The waitress had initially forgotten mine, but she apologized and said it'd be worth the wait. It was. I can't remember the name, but I think it was an apple turnover with ice cream. It was the most expensive dessert on the menu at about $3.50, so you can't miss it. It came out warm with two small blobs of vanilla ice cream. It was flaky, gooey, and very good. It had apples and both golden and regular raisins. The sandwich may not have been quite worth the price, but this dessert sure was.

  • German Goulash (Special, $8.50)
    • Red Cabbage
  • Cup of Turkey Noodle Soup ($2.50)
  • Napoleonas Torte, with Apricot/Amaretto Sauce ($2.95 + $0.50)
Everyone complains about the lack of hardcore Lithuanian cuisine, but nobody tried the sausage or the cabbage. For my part, the goulash sounded too good to pass up, and I definitely think it was. As ND mentions, it was a tad on the bland side, but a dash of salt and healthy dose of pepper took it well into delicious territory. The meat was scrumptious, and honestly the only thing that stops me from really raving about it was the lack of homemade noodles. Still, well worth the money. Talking about it afterward, ND and I concluded that the sauce was primarily flavored with paprika, which would explain the orange color without the tomato taste. It's also traditional for a lot of Eastern European cuisine, which is the case with the sausage, and also their red cabbage side.

Not having a ton of experience with beets, I couldn't tell you if the red cabbage did indeed have beet juice in it. However, it was pleasantly smooth, just barely sweet, and I'm pretty sure I could have eaten a larger bowl of it, though might perhaps have regretted such later. The turkey noodle soup was definitely made in-house, and was perhaps one of the better such soups I've ever had. The noodles had been cooked a little long and the broth was a tad watery, but it had a lot of good turkey flavor and an overall good mouthfeel. I feel I should also mention that the rye bread here really is as good as everyone says, and I say that as someone who is not all that fond of rye. There's no overpowering caraway taste, and the bread is firm and good for sandwiches etc.

As good as the rest of the meal was, the dessert was pretty much the star of it (as everyone is saying). The torte was light in flavor and not at all dense, which is kind of shocking given the particulars of its construction. The sauce, as MapleSyrup suggests, is very, very strong, but I thought it went very well with the torte's flavor. I very much recommend relocating the bulk it to the side of your plate, where you can use it to dip chunks of the torte into, thus controlling the application of the sauce to your own personal flavor desires. The almond strudel were good, and from the comments around the table the kolaches (Mecha's "small round pastry") were good as well. They offer counter-side bakery service, and along with that a selection of Eastern European and Lithuanian foodstuffs, as well as (apparently) a wide variety of sausages, up to and including blood sausage, so when you're done eating I recommend browsing for a little if you've got the time.

The owner of the restaurant was on-site though mostly in the kitchen, and I regret not catching her name. She did invite us to come back, and I suspect we definitely will.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Candy Review: Mint Crunch M and Ms, Snickers Adventure Bar, Pop Rocks Chocolate Bar

Comestible Type: Candy
Procured at: Walgreens
Limited Time: The Snickers Adventure Bar and Mint Crisp M&Ms are definitely limited time. No word on the Pop Rocks bar.

  • Mint Crisp M&Ms
  • Snickers Adventure Bar
  • Pop Rocks Chocolate Bar
The latest attempt to revive a long-deceased franchise is the new Indiana Jones movie, which I am going to see as I am a horrible sucker for all the Lucasfilm franchises, be they game, movie, book, whatever. I have probably personally financed a whole couch in George Lucas' palatial abode. Regardless, the resurrection has brought with it the host of expected merchandise tie-ins, not the most insignificant of which is Mars, which has brought two of its larger candy brands to bear on the expected summer blockbuster - Snickers and M&Ms. Instead of just branding the candy with the logo and calling it done, they've opted to release - or perhaps re-release - actual new versions of the candy, which I'm reviewing here for you today.

The Mint Crunch M&Ms are, initially, extremely off-putting. They come out of the bag in two shades of green and a white, and while they each bear the trademark "m", some have Incan-style ziggurats, small other markings, and things I generally assume are meant to evoke imagery from some forgotten temple. Some are even missing the marks entirely, which I assume is from the next issue: these things are seriously irregular. Each one of the things varies in size, shape, and look, which might have made me think I got a bad batch except for that I got two, and both of them look like this. It's no big deal in the long run, it just makes you look twice.

They taste good, though. Instead of being filled with peanut, peanut butter, or whatnot, they're filled with something not unlike the center of a malted ball, without the taste. The mint taste is pretty prevailing, and there's not much chocolate to it until the mint taste fades. If you like the mint Three Musketeers, you'll like these.

The Snickers Adventure bar can perhaps be seen as a flavorful takeoff on the standard Snickers bar. There's not much different about it, with the exception of the nougat filling, which has gone from ye olde standard nougat to something quite exciting, with "exotic spices and a hint of coconut". I don't know about the exotic spices, but there's more than a hint of coconut to the new flavor profile. It's not overwhelming, and it pairs well with the nuts and the lighter caramel load of the bar. It's a little lighter in color, but other than that the cross-section of the bar looks just about the same. If you like coconut and nuts, go for it. If not, give it a pass. Not that hard a decision on this one, but I thought it was pretty delicious.

While in the checkout line at Walgreens, which is a remarkable store if only for its rather diverse candy selection, a display caught my eye. Pop Rocks made a slight resurgence in the early years of this decade, and now they're apparently trying to shake things up a bit by releasing a chocolate candy bar. I couldn't let the chance to taste it go by, so I grabbed one of these as well, and am kind of glad I did.

The color of the words "POP ROCKS" on the label is red, so I had this lurking fear that the actual Pop Rocks inside would be cherry - not that chocolate and cherry is that bad a flavor combo, but I can't see it working with the popping and etc. It turns out they're flavorless, and are just little sweet lumps of fizzing goodness. They're pretty well-spread throughout the bar, so the initial impression upon bite is that of a Crunch or Krackel. Then the trademark Pop Rocks fizz kicks in, and the whole things becomes a lot more like an action-packed chocolate soda (such things exist). The package contains two bars, roughly four inches long, and divided into three sections each, so even if all you're after is the novelty value, you can get one and have enough to share. Looking around a little online seems to indicate there's a Mega Bar out there, which I assume is just more of the same.

All three are pretty decent candies, and I recommend giving each a try before they vanish from store aisles.

Bredeaux Pizza

Restaurant: Breadeaux Pizza
Address: 245 W. Broadway, Council Bluffs, IA
Genres: Pizza, Pasta, Delivery
Check Constraints: $2.00 delivery charge
Chain: Yes | More Omaha Locations: No

  • Tortellini with Alfredo ($6.49)
    • Breadsticks
  • Cinnamon Breadsticks ($3.99)
  • Toasted Nacho Cheese Ravioli ($3.99)
  • Ranch Baked Potato ($4.99)
If you think this looks like a lot of food, you'd be right. I found this place last night, courtesy an ad in my mailbox, saw that one of the coupons provided was for pasta, and gave the website a check. After a quick call this afternoon to confirm that they have both pasta in general and alfredo in specific (as the pasta section was inadvertently left off the local branch's menu), I ordered a decent cross-section of their menu. We don't generally review delivery places, but I felt this one deserved it, as it's a very regional chain that could use a little good publicity.

All of Breadeaux's pizza crust, bread, and breadstick type menu items are made in a manner derived from French bread. While this doesn't make a hell of a lot of impact on the breadsticks, it does make the pizza stand out from the competitors.

Okay, we'll start off at the beginning. The toasted nacho cheese ravioli was a bust. The ravioli ended up mostly hollow, the nacho cheese was too spicy for an appetizer, and the whole thing was just generally not very high quality. Much lower than you could get even at a supermarket and bake yourself. The meat ravioli will likely be better, but not significantly so.

The baked potato was... well, a potato. It was a -big- potato, though not the biggest I've ever had, but it was definitely a respectable baked potato. It was smothered in cheese, ham, and bacon, and came with ranch dressing, though I'd rather have had sour cream. The ranch, thankfully, came on the side, keeping it from going nasty from the heat on the way here. as it was, the cheddar cheese got just a little rubbery, but that just meant it cut easier. For the price, these potatoes could pretty easily be a good meal in and of themselves.

The cinnamon breadsticks are nice and dense, but not so dense that you have to work to tear them apart. They've got a scarily large amount of cinnamon and sugar baked onto them, and I do mean a LOT of cinnamon. If you are not prepared for a strong cinnamon flavor, be careful. They also come with an interesting dipping sauce that tastes kind of like heavily sweetened sour cream. I'm a big fan of sour cream donuts, and this reminds me a lot of those. it's a good flavor, especially with the heavy cinnamon.

The alfredo isn't chicken, though I think chicken might be available for an additional charge. The portion is actually fairly large, though the cost is perhaps a tad much. On the other hand, this is cheese tortellini, covered in alfredo sauce, with mozzarella on top. This is a plethora of cheese. This is only barely short of an orgy of cheese. The alfredo isn't stellar alfredo, but it's better by far than you're going to get from Pizza Hut. I haven't had a chance to compare it to Valentino's, since my local Valentino's dropped all support for alfredo products, but it probably compares fairly favorably. You're not going to be blown away by this alfredo, but as part of a delivery dinner that takes no work, it's not bad at all.

Bredeaux Pizza is an Iowa-based regional chain, but it's not all that prolific. If you're in Saint Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, Springfield, or Jefferson City, you can be pretty sure you're covered, but otherwise, it's not all that likely. Still, you can check the locater on the website, or your local phonebook, and maybe you'll get lucky. Give them a shot, they're a chain that deserves more business.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

China Garden

Restaurant: China Garden
Address: 8315 Tangier Way, Omaha
Website: None
Genres: Chinese
Check Constraints: None (they didn't split our check, but I don't recall asking)
Chain: No | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Lunch Special: Sweet & Sour Chicken (4.95)
    • Eggdrop Soup
    • Crab Rangoon
  • Dumplings (Gyoza/Potstickers) (4.95)
China Garden is a fairly generic looking Chinese restaurant from the outside. It's not quite a hole in the wall, but the building is tiny, the parking is even smaller, and the inside is, while not exactly "close", definitely not spread out. The interior seems sort of unfinished to me, like it really wasn't intended to be a restaurant, but is one anyway.

In any case, all this belies the truth of the place. That truth, the only truth, is that this is some of the best Chinese food in Omaha. Their lunch specials are a dream of economy, being five bucks more or less across the board, for a fairly incredible variety. You get a good size main dish, a bowl of either eggdrop or hot & sour soup, plus either an egg roll or a crab rangoon. For five bucks, you're probably not going to find a better deal in Omaha.

Their appetizer platters also weigh in at around five bucks, but again, are sized such that you're not going to care. If you go with five people, each of you kicking in two bucks can get you an order each of gyoza and donuts, each of which come in batches of ten. Their gyoza aren't quite so good as the Korean ones we had a couple weeks ago, but for the money, they're damn good. I'd certainly go with these over, say, Sakurabana's, and you pay significantly less for them here.

The crab rangoon here isn't the greatest I've ever had, but it's definitely in the upper half, and if it errs slightly on the side of having more cream cheese, well, at least it's not the dry nastiness that you get in worse places. The fact that the sweet & sour sauce here is high quality (and blessedly not catsup based) just makes it better overall.

The eggdrop soup was very eggy and chickeny. Eggdrop soup basically tastes to me like fried eggs and chicken broth, and this was probably the best I've ever had. It was a very well balanced blend of the two flavors, though nobody else who got it could taste the chicken broth flavor at all. Maybe I'm going a little crazy?

Anyway, the sweet & sour chicken. This is another of my sort of default dishes, much like chicken alfredo. I've had sweet & sour chicken in at least six major cities, from restaurants ranging from totally unrated to Zagat's four star. I know sweet & sour chicken. The sweet and sour here was high quality, with excellent flavor, just sticky enough to not drip much, but not so sticky that the flavor overwhelmed the chicken. The chicken did not measure up, though. I'm a big fan of larger strips of chicken, and what I got was nothing but bite size pieces, so that the breading almost overwhelmed the chicken flavor. I might have got the last dregs of a batch of chicken, I don't know. The overall experience was good enough, though, that I'd happily give this place another chance.

Luckily, they deliver, so the next time I have occasion to order out in the area, I may well order here. I understand they have a fairly large delivery area in Omaha, too, so do yourself a favor and see if you can try some.

  • Lunch Special: Chicken w/Almonds (4.95)
    • Hot + Sour Soup
    • Eggroll
    • Fried Rice (choice of Fried or Steamed)
  • Donuts (Dough w/Sugar on it, 10 ct) (2.55)
This is a place I regularly order delivery from, and I do it because it's very solid food. There's a place that, IIRC, competes for flavor, but not for price. Also, the delivery charge is 2 bucks, IIRC. Always good to know!

I actually disagree with ND on the Potstickers. Not that they're bad, because they're not. I get them quite a bit. I disagree that they're better than Sakura Bana's. But whether steamed (which is what we got) or fried, they're always delicious, and the price is excellent. (Edit: A bit of crosstalk between ND and I causes me to note that the sauce that comes with them is very, very good here, probably better than Sakura Bana's. That may be the difference.)

I'm not a huge fan of crab rangoon (cream cheese, not my thing), but it's not bad here either. The sugar donuts are exactly as described, warm doughy balls of flakey donut consistency, about a solid palmful, and covered in sugar. And fairly cheap as far as such things go. If you want some extra sugar, go for it.

Their hot and sour soup is really quite good, and it's even spicier on delivery, in my experience. It's one of the things that got Cham to really love the place. As the eggdrop tends to be too eggy for me (especially in delivery), hot and sour is the way I like to go. I'll leave that caveat for those who are wary of the taste of eggs and delivery. The eggrolls are pretty standard, really, probably the least impressive part of the meal.

My regular is Sesame Chicken, but since that wasn't an option for the lunch special, I went with Chicken w/Almonds. It's a chicken and vegetable medley in sauce, including celery, mushrooms, almonds, and chicken of course. It's a good mix of flavors and I like it, but not as much as I like some of the other options there, in my opinion. Mainly because, while the celery worked for the dish, I'm not a huge fan of celery. If you are, you might find it more appealing. And, of course, fried rice. Apparently, the lunch portions don't have veggies in them, but the normal combinations do have vegetables in them. Not sure why they make two different types of fried rice.

I recommend the place highly, and although I've only eaten there in person twice, it's never been hugely busy, but the food has always been worth it. I don't know why they don't get more business, I really don't, but do yourself a favor and duck in if you get a chance. And pick up a delivery menu on the way out.

  • Diet Coke ($0.99)
  • Szechuan Chicken Dinner Combo ($6.80)
    • Fried Rice
    • Eggroll
    • Hot and Sour Soup
  • Crab Rangoon Appetizer (6 ct, $3.55)
As Mecha mentions, we were introduced to this place via their delivery option, which I was made aware of via a menu dropped off in the vestibule of my apartment building not too long after I moved out to Omaha in the first place. As I mentioned in the review of Han Kuk Kwan, ethnic restaurants can go one of two ways: true to their roots, or Americanized to better suit the palate of the consumer. As with most Chinese restaurants, this one lands solidly in the later category. You're not going to be surprised here by unfamiliar flavor combinations, or intrigued by dishes you couldn't get on the menu of any other Chinese delivery place. It's just not that kind of restaurant. But that said, I have never looked for another Chinese delivery place since getting it from China Garden. Why?

Vegetables. If you order Kung Pao chicken from your average delivery joint, you are going to get something that is predominantly chicken, peanuts, and sauce. The expected celery and sometimes carrots are mere afterthoughts to meat that doesn't even deserve the center stage. The dishes at China Garden are delightful panoplies of vegetables paired with delicious meat, and - this is critical, here - not a surfeit of sauce. The sauces aren't overly sweet, either, so you feel more like you're eating a dish and not something that's purely carbs. The szechuan chicken comes with celery, onions, zucchini, and carrots (at the very least), and I recommend ordering it
extra spicy (that puts it close to medium for my capsaicin tolerance).

One thing worth noting, though; the soda here comes in cans, so don't expect a refill. Still, at 99c you could get two and not be too bad off. I'm not sure why they don't have a fountain, but I'm guessing it's because most of their business is takeout and delivery.

Their hot and sour soup is the best I've had anywhere, with real pieces of chicken and mushroom in it, and it's actually, you know. Spicy hot. Granted, I've never had it at anything other than the occasional buffet. The eggroll which comes with is good, but not much to write home about. The fried rice is delicious, and you're likely to encounter pieces of actual egg alongside the vegetables. I'll agree with Mecha here in that the gyoza were good, but not as good as Sakura Bana, and I'll conclude the discussion of the appetizers by saying that here and Heng Wing, in Palatine IL, are the only places I'll eat crab rangoon.

China Garden pairs exceptional cooking with exceptional value; they're a Chinese-American restaurant that hasn't cut corners to get food out the door or on the table, and when you drop in you're going to be very glad that they haven't.

  • Chicken Lo Mein Lunch ($4.35?)
    • Eggroll
    • Eggdrop
I too was introduced to China Garden by a menu on my doorstep. I could review a good number of things on the menu right now, as my wife and I have ordered delivery from here many times. This is the first time I've actually set foot in the building, however. It was mostly empty, but I do believe that most of their business is delivery or take-out as Cham has said.

The crab rangoon was crispy and gooey. I had ordered them once on delivery, but they are a bit rich for me to eat more than a couple of. I hadn't tried the donuts before, but I am a fan. They were perfectly warm, light and sugary. I didn't actually try the gyoza this time around, but at this point the main dishes were beginning to arrive. The food came in a fairly quick manner, and this ended up being one of our shortest lunches yet.

I chose the lo mein because it's one item I don't usually get. My wife gets it nearly every time. First, the soup. I've ordered the soup for delivery a few times (with a dinner combo), and every time I have been disappointed. I do not like the soups on delivery. I'm not sure what it is, but I can't finish them. That being said, I was surprised that eggdrop soup served at the restaurant was actually pretty good. The eggdrop on delivery is somewhat thicker and a bit unpleasant to me. My theory is that on delivery the soups get more condensed, which would explain the thicker and spicier soups. The main dish came as a heaping pile of noodles with a few vegetables and pieces of chicken throughout. It was heavily sauced, but it was good. I actually had a hard time finishing the whole thing.

A couple of comments on other dishes: The size of ND's chicken in his sweet and sour looked fairly typical to me. Most of the chicken in their dishes is bite sized with a few larger pieces appearing now and then. Those are probably ones that have stuck together. I'll agree that it does have a lot of breading, but the Sweet and Sour is one of my favorites. I attempted the Mongolian Beef at one point, and there was way too much onion for me. If you like onions, go for it, but otherwise watch out. The Curry Chicken also tends to have a lot of onion, but I don't think it's always like that. At one point I got a batch that could have been called Curry Onion. Though, it's generally decent. Finally on the top of the "Things I Avoid" list: the Egg Foo Young. Oh man. It is very deep fried egg, and even the sight was unappealing. It came with some kind of syrup, and that just made it harder to eat. Three fist-sized blobs of heart attack. On the positive side, there are a lot of dishes I do like. The Hunan, Szechuan, and Kung Pao are all delicious. The Mandarin Beef is pretty good and may be the only thing that comes swimming in sauce. Garden Beef is near the top of my list and so is Princess Chicken. It's a chicken dish in the style of their Sesame or General Tso's (both of which are also great) with just a little spiciness and a little sweetness.

As a whole, I'd recommend this place to anyone who is looking for Chinese food. I order delivery often, and they do deliver to a very wide range.