Chinatown Garden

A stop for Taiwanese cooking in Chinatown.

From March 2005 “Best of Chinatown”

Housed in the former premises of the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association–whose opening in 1931 marked the move of Chinatown from Pennsylvania Avenue to H Street–Chinatown Garden is a much-improved restaurant under its new ownership. The personable floor staff's willingness to explain dishes encourages Occidental diners to try unfamiliar offerings.

The kitchen's specialty is Taiwanese cooking, which means that most dishes come from the Szechuan/Hunan repertory and are prepared in all of their oily glory.

Three appetizers worth seeking are a plate of mildly pickled cucumbers; conch in a peppery sauce; and Nanking Salty Duck, a brine-soaked poached duck whose pearly flesh has the flavor of country ham. Chinatown Garden's other treatments of duck are less successful. Its Cantonese roast duck has a crisp skin, but its flesh is less than tender.

Chinese-style shredded beef has the hallmark oiliness of Taiwanese cooking: Every shred of meat and cut of vegetable–celery, onion, bell pepper, scallion, and bamboo shoot–glistens, and slices of fresh green chilies fuel the dish's appetizing heat. A stir-fry of snow-pea leaves with shrimp–a preparation closely identified with Hong Kong–had too much oil.

The two best main courses were the pork with dried bean curd–on Hong Kong and Cantonese menus, this dish is often given the cryptic designation "Fried Two Kind"–and a palate-fooling Vegetarian Pork Home-Style, whose slices of wheat-gluten "meat" were absolutely convincing.