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.

1 comment:

McNerd said...

Thank you for this review. I was looking around for a new place that had delivery... GOOD delivery mind you. I think you've found it for me !