Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grace Garden, A Kitchen That Never Disappoints

Pork and tofu with eggplants in the bowl behind
We have gone a little restaurant crazy in the past few weeks, and it just reminds me that few kitchens can compete with Grace Garden in Odenton.

The tiny Chinese restaurant sits across from Fort Meade, and it has zero ambiance.  But it has all the great meals that you could ever want.  We ate some fancy celebration meals over the past month, but I had just as much fun exploring a bit at Grace Garden.

Of course, I started with a known dish -- fish noodles, actual ground fish formed into sweet, long noodles.  But then we stretched out with an eggplant in plum sauce and a pork with dried tofu.  The eggplant was delicious.  Vegetable cooked perfectly tender, then a sweet and spicy sauce.

But the pork was a new reason to drive all the way out Rte 32.  Crisp pork and thin-cut pressed tofu offer contrasting texture.  A light char flavor from the pork.  Bright color and taste from green onions.  Most of the dish is tofu, which has a meaty texture and a light coating of oil that adds richness without grease.

The sauces make Grace Garden my favorite Chinese restaurant.  I can saute vegetables, but I can't make the dishes where a sheen of oil coats everything in flavor without ever tasting oily.  Every dish at Grace Garden tastes unique.  From XO sauce to seasonal vegetables to braised pork, the single chef turns out variation and surprise.  Honestly, the food was as much fun as our big-ticket dinners.  It's the only place where we consciously order more than we can eat -- three dishes feed two with lunches for tomorrow.

(Update: Grace Garden is on Rte 175 in Odenton.  We drive out Rte 32 and then turn north on Rte 175.  If you're farther north, then note the first comment below that it's probably faster to drive direct on Rte 175.)

Grace Garden is a great place to bring friends for a feast.  You can't order wrong.  But you can find what you like by reading all my Grace Garden posts to make a list of dishes that sound good to you -- and follow the links to Chowhound and Yelp for more-expert advice.


Zevonista said...

Pretty sure you mean Rt 175, right? Unless you've found some clever way to get there from Rt 32!

But yes, agreed that their food is outstanding. I've yet to try the chicken dishes that need to be ordered 2-3 days in advance, but it's on my list!

HowChow said...

Actually, we drive Rte 32, then turn north on Rte 175. That is may work only if you live south in the county. I added an update to make that clear. Thanks.

theminx said...

We went to Grace a couple of weeks ago, after not having been there since last year.(It was the first restaurant we went to after finishing the book!)It was as good as ever, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the place was packed at 6pm on a Saturday; we were even asked if we had reserved a table! There are two dishes we always order - the vermicelli with pork and pepper, and the Sichuan pork belly, which is sliced very thinly and served with lightly cooked leeks. The four of us always order 6-7 dishes and don't always have leftovers unless we get a big ticket item like the advance-order duck.

We'll probably go again in early September, to celebrate my brother's birthday. It's become a tradition. I usually call a few days in advance and order a lemongrass lamb chop dish that they've served at the Chowhound Chinese New Year dinner. Giant lamb chops, cooked perfectly, with a savory, but not crusty, coating. So good!

Rob said...

I went to Grace Garden on July 20th with five co-workers, which turned out to be a great idea. We each ordered something different and tried them all. One of us ordered the Salt Pepper Squid and it was excellent. I usually don't care for squid because it ends up chewy, but the chef cooked it tempura style, making the squid much more tender. The Taiwanese Style Fish was a winner with everyone at the table. It may have had something to do with the ground pork or the spice added to give it a little kick. But the Sichuan Braised Beef was like a drug. It came in a bowl floating in oil and a lot of chili pepper. It was just hot enough to leave you experiencing some pain, but wanting more.

And to top it off, the chef busted on one of my coworkers for looking like she was a cast member Saturday Night Fever!

You are right about the lack of physical charm, but the owners more than make up for it with their food, hospitality, and wit.

Kiki said...

The eggplant is my absolute favorite dish, and Grace Garden does it like no other! Don't even bother ordering it anywhere else because you'll be disappointed. Hunan Manor manages to come close-- probably because they use the same recipe-- but theirs often comes out soggy.

bmorecupcake said...

Even the American-Chinese dishes are cooked well. (Sometimes I bring along less adventurous people who must have General Tso's.)

Chef Li is human and every now and then a dish isn't up to par, so I always encourage disappointed patrons to try again. This place is a true gem.

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