I've been meaning to try Cantoon Garden for a long time, well to be fair I think that I tried it once when I first moved to NY, but I don't think that really counts b/c i don't really remember it. It came recommended to me from a friend who's from HK / Vancouver (i.e. she's a foodie and knows what cantonese food should taste like) and who's family eats here when come to visit relatives in NY. So, I finally got around to it saturday night with my gf and i, which is not the optimal amount of people for a cantonese family style seafood restaurant, but screw it the LES is so close to ctown that I'm going to just try everything now.
Cantoon Garden is pretty non-descript in front, its on Elizabeth close to Jing Fong. It's got a run down yellowish onning with the name in red and a bunch of fish tanks in front and looks sort of beat up and dirty (just what I like). When you walk in its deceptively large with very high ceilings, bright white lights, mirrors on the side and white walls with the specials listed in chinese on different color sheets of paper. It's all large tables with lazy susans and there are no table clothes rather there are plastic sheets stacked on top of each other (when one table it done they simply take off the plastic sheet and there is another below it).
It's a total madhouse full of chinese families (probably 90% cantonese, 9% other chinese, 1% non-chinese), I talked to the hostess (if you can call her that), it was literally the first time i've ever had to wait in ctown, I literally waited 30-40 minutes, but all that said, I knew the minute I walked in and really knew once there was a big wait that this had to be good b/c there is no way chinese people (especially cantonese people) are going to wait in some crowded ass place for 30-40 minutes unless it's good. Plus this is a straight up family place, reminding me of the places I went to when I was a kid (literally its the whole family, grandparents, parents, kids, other relatives).The hostess must also be the owner b/c she was walking around, chatting up with customers and generally seeming to be having a good time. You'll notice her b/c she's got kind of crazy hair and was wearing very casual clothes (she had fur lined boots and a vest on) while the other waiters had the typical black slacks and white button up shirts. She kept track of the customers on a note pad with a crude numbering system. She was pretty nice and kept talking to me in cantonese even though I probably only understood about 1/3 of what she was saying.
So anyhow, I got sat upstairs where there is a small room with two big tables (filled with a birthday party) and one small 4 seater where my gf and I sat. I was so hungry at that point I probably would've eaten just about anything.
So here's what we got:
- sauteed ginger and scallion lobster (jiang cong chao long xia): CG is known for its lobster and crab, I believe its a better time to get lobster (crab is out of season), so we got lobster. They have a selection of 6 different types of preparations (unfortunately for most, they are all in chinese, but i'm sure the waiters can translate for you or I can translate if you plan to go here). I ordered the ginger and scallion version although it wasn't exactly what I was looking for b/c the version I wanted has garlic in it and this didn't. The lobster is sliced into pieces and sauteed in oil with ginger and scallions. The lobster is easy to eat and is very nice and tender. The sauce was good, but didn't have as much flavor as the preparation I was looking for (probably going to go back this weekend and try the XO sauce version). That said the lobster was very good. Also this was a pretty good deal btw at $25 for 2 lobsters.
- salt baked squid (jiao yen huo chao xian you): definitely best salt baked squid I've had in NY (admittedly I haven't eaten this at my favorite cantonese restaurant Imperial Palace) and the best dish of the night. The batter was perfect and fresh, not too heavy or salty (although salty enough), the sliced peppers and fried garlic were delicious and most important the squid was still tender (this is the only place I've had in NY where it's still tender even NY Noodletown's heralded salt baked squid is somewhat chewy). Highly recommend.
- crabmeat w/ pea leaves (xie rou pa dou miao): this was excellent, it's basically sauteed dou miao (if you don't know what it is think something like spinach, but better) covered in a sauce made of egg whites and crab meat. I really like this dish as it's not too heavy or salty. Its not a flavor bomb if thats what you're looking for, but has a great subtle flavor. This version was as good as the version I get at Imperial Palace.
I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the dishes I had at Cantoon Garden, they don't use MSG (at least in the dishes I had), but a friend of mine told me they don't use it in any of their dishes, the prices were reasonable and the quality of the seafood was excellent. There are alot of other dishes that other diners had on their plates that looked delicious....whole fish, bo zai fan (the real deal in the clay pot...its a baked clay pot rice w/ various toppings served with a very dark soy sauce if you've never had it, delicious), fish soups, jing du pai gu (peking pork chops), whole garlic fried chicken, salted fish fried rice, casseroles etc.
This is the type of cantonese restaurant I've been looking for in Manhattan and I plan on being a regular here.
It won't post my pics (probably too big), so check them out on yelp (I'm R.L. on yelp):