Friday, March 28, 2014

Worth Repeating: Grace Garden Makes The Region's Best Chinese; Go Pick What You Want

Fish noodles at Grace Garden
I'll leave Howard County for great food, and the easiest drive is for Chinese food off Rte 32 in Odenton.

Grace Garden serves hands-down the best Chinese food in the area.  So good that we had our best Chinese meal in years even though we ordered in part by just pointing at the dish that just happened to be served to the only other guy in the restaurant.

Of course, our table included some great favorites.  The fish noodles are a perfect dish -- actual noodles made from a paste of firm, white fish and flavored with an incredible mix of mushrooms, green onions and slivers of pork.  The sauce provides a warm richness, but there is no oiliness or grease.

You can't go wrong at Grace Garden.  It's a one-chef operation in a forlorn part of Rte 32 just across from Fort Meade.  But the "authentic" menu has an array of amazing dishes from simple vegetable platters to complex whole poultry that need to be ordered two or three days in advance.

The bottom line is that every single dish that we have eat at Grace Garden would be on the table of the best Chinese in Howard County.  We really like places like Noodles Corner in Columbia, but Grace Garden's dishes are simultaneously more subtle and more flavorful.

Cantonese braised chicken
What was the dish that just happened to be served while we looking at the menu?  Cantonese braised chicken -- chunks of meat on the bone served with a sauce made from onions and garlic.  Like all the Grace Garden dishes, there is no gloppy sauce.  It clung to the meat, and there was just a little bit that I obsessively tried to spoon onto rice from the bottom of the bowl.

The braised chicken is an absolute winner, even for Mrs. HowChow who doesn't normally want to nibble meat off a bone.  It was a random win for us, although I later realized that it is repeated rave on the Chowhound thread that first introduced me to Grace Garden.

Seriously, read that thread or my old posts about Grace Garden.  Pick a few dishes that interest you.  Tofu pockets?  Eggplant with plum sauce?  Pork and squid stir fry?  Then just drive to Odenton.  It's a basic place -- maybe a half-dozen tables and photos on the wall that I think were provided by diners who love the restaurant.  You go for the food.

This is part of a Worth Repeating series highlighting dishes and places that you should hear about even though they aren't new.  I'm suggesting sandwiches, Cuban pork chops, ground chuck and other items that have been HowChow favorites for years.

I think Grace Garden is incredibly kid-friendly.  There is no atmosphere to the place except for the friendliness of the chef and his family.  That's a great atmosphere for kids.  No one is going to be disturbed by children at your table.


Zevonista said...

Not on Route 32 - it's on Rt 175. But not far from Rt 32...

(I think I made this comment when the article originally appeared, as well!)

HowChow said...

@Zevonista -- Thanks for the catch. For some reason, this computer has a version of Explorer that won't let me edit the post, but I will fix that. The restaurant is on Rte 175, but I always think of Rte 32 because we drive that to get there.

Jim S. said...

Tried them over the weekend. My wife and I weren't to impressed. The food was excellent but can't get over the cleanliness issues. Between the nasty hallway with cobwebs and dust to the food and dirty food processor stored on the floor in the back of the restaurant. Where we were seated, the floor needed moping and the walls needed wiped down. No problems going to "dive" type restaurants as long as they are clean. Wasn't to clean on the night we were there.

Gabrielle said...

The first time we went it was great - food, service, everything was wonderful. Then we came back recently for lunch and I don't know if it was because my husband and son ordered off the American menu and I wanted a traditional Chinese dish, but the service was awful. They actually tried to convince me to get something from the American menu because the traditional dish would take too long to cook. Not going back there again (although I have to admit that the fish noodles were wonderful when we had them at the first visit)

CrunchDaddy said...

I enjoyed two meals at Grace Garden this week because of this recommendation and both meals were OUTSTANDING. I'm a lover of authentic Szechuan fare and Grace Garden rocks it. My first choice was the vermicelli with ground pork and peppers, known in Chinese as "ants climbing a tree". This is made with bean thread noodles, ground pork, a variety of peppers, green onions and spices. This afternoon I enjoyed the "Dan Dan" noodles, thin rice noodles with pork and vegetables in a delicate but spicy sauce, along with an order of the spicy wontons. I'm very much looking forward to trying more of their offerings in the near future. It's worth the drive, for sure!

Yaofu said...

I went there once following this post as well. It was just Ok, I guess. I guess I was not impressed either. I ordered the fish noodle. It is a new idea, but I do not think it taste any better than the fish balls or any other fish/starch products. The price is on the high side as well, in my opinion.

For Chinese food, I will still go to Hunan Manor, Noodle Corner and Hunan Taste. I think we definitely need some more good Chinese restaurants.