Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christmas Eve: BCD travels to Mecca

by Xani

I know you are all waiting, at the edges of your seats, for the BCD takes NYC: Holiday Special posts... how could you not?? But, here's the thing. I know EP really wants to write about the very first place we went to in NYC, and she is currently down in the bayou doing a week of community service, without internet access and possibly without modern plumbing. So, I'm skipping over NYC (for now) and zooming all the way ahead to Christmas Eve. How is this night different from all other nights? For us (jews), it means Chinese food! But not just any Chinese food will do for the BCD family- oh no! We just had to go to the newest Chowhound darling, Grace Garden.


Grace Garden, in Odenton, is now widely believed to be some of the only decent Chinese food in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. While the place is off the beaten path, and has exactly ZERO atmosphere, the Chowhounders are right-- the food is out of this world! It's also gotten praise from the Citypaper, The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. Folks are talking about this place, and for good reason.

First of all, anyone visiting Grace Garden needs to know the inside scoop. They have an "American style" menu that I've never even seen-- forget all about that. You have to go for the real-deal Chinese menu, that's where the real goods are. Also, if you want the full experience, you need to do a little pre-planning; a few of the dishes need to be ordered in advance (the tea-smoked duck, which we ordered and loved, needs to be ordered 3 days ahead of time). But wait! I've gotten ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning....

We arrived at Grace Garden on Christmas eve to find the place PACKED. Luckily they were holding one large table for us (because of our advance order). We had perused the menu ahead of time and were quickly ready to order. We sipped hot tea and soda (GG doesn't have a liquor license) while we waited for the following dishes to come out of the tiny kitchen:
  • Chicken Dumplings
  • Fish Noodles (Fresh Noodles Handmade with Ground Fish, Sautéed with Chinese Sausage, Mushroom, & Cilantro)
  • Sichuan Chili Shrimp (Lightly Fried Head-On Shrimp Sautéed with Hot Sichuan Chili Paste)
  • Smoke Tea Duck (Whole Duck Steamed in Smoky Tea Flavored Sauce)
  • Braised Pork Belly with Mui-Choy (Thick Slices of Seasoned Pork Belly, Slow-Cooked with Preserved Mustard Cabbage)
  • Cantonese Stir Fried E-Fu Noodles (E-Fu Noodles Sautéed with Shitake Mushroom)
  • Snow Pea Leaves with Garlic (daily vegetable)
What a meal! The first thing to arrive was the fish noodles:


Omg, what a treat. "Fish noodles" might not sound delicious, but oh my, they were. Not fishy at all really, just thick, handmade noodles with a light sauce, thin strips of flavorful sausage, and some still-crunchy veggies. Excellent dish-- and you're not getting anything like this at your local take-out joint.

Next, the dumplings. While fairly standard in concept, they were perfectly executed, with a very tasty filling and homemade, soft (but not TOO soft) wrappings that seemed handmade. These barely made it around the lazy susan before we gobbled them up.


Onto what was arguably the star of the show, the duck. This bird goes through a multi-step process of drying, smoking, steaming, etc, which is why the kitchen needs three days notice to prepare it! But man, is it worth it. Like no other other duck you've had, it was super-rich, fatty and flavorful. It's also served in the traditional "chopped up into random pieces each of which had many bones in it" style-- very Hong Kong.


The snow-pea leaves are a favorite of the BCD family. They are usually served braised (with wilted leaves but still very crunchy stems) and in this case with loads of roasted garlic.

Then onto the pork belly. I hate to talk bad about pig in any form, but sadly this was our least favorite of the evening (although in all fairness, on a previous trip to Grace Garden, it was the best dish of the evening!). The pork belly was just waaay too fatty, and the sauce was kindof blah. GG has several other preparations of pork belly on the menu, and I would definitely try one of those, next time. I'd even try this again-- the first time I had it it was rich and meaty, and the mui-choy (preserved mustard cabbage) had a very unusual texture and flavor. So, let me rephrase: not only would I try some of their other pork belly preparations, I would try this one again, too!





The shrimp and e-fu noodles were up next, and even though we were slowing down, these dishes were irresistible. We've discussed head-on shrimp before... they made headless shrimp seem like a waste of time! So much more flavor. These were lightly fried (shell still on-- adds lots of crunch!) with a nice, spicy sauce. The E-Fu noodles were another repeat from our first visit to GG, and just as good this time. Nice and chewy, with a strong (but not overpowering) mushroom flavor. Just the thing to fill in the corners from all the rest of our dishes.

What a meal! And what a way to celebrate NOT celebrating Christmas. I also want to say that the staff are incredibly helpful and friendly, and the Chef even came out to all the tables to chat with regulars and ask us if everything was up to par. A true diamond in the rough, if you are in the area, and looking for good Chinese, Grace Garden is really one of your only options (unless you know of others, Dear Reader... suggestions welcome!). And with all the great press they're getting, it won't be long until a seat is impossible to come by. Stop by while you still can!

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