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Restaurants & Bars

Cantoon Garden--review

banquo | Feb 18, 200706:33 PM     12

Went here for the first time. I had hoped that they would have a New Year's menu but, as far as I could tell, they didn't. The place was jammed packed at 6:30 and remained that way until we left at around 9. The interior has zero appeal. The tables were topped with many layers of plastic sheeting. After a table finished the waiters would just wrap up the sheet along with the napkins and scraps of food. Voila. A new sheet would await it underneath. Happily, I've never seen this before. A waiter was scooping a fish out of the tanks at the front window, and the fish got away from her. It made a nice splash, wetting those unfortunate enough to be standing and seated near the tanks.

The place looks a little run down overall, but because of the New Year's frenzy it was sort of exciting to be there. It took about 20 or so minutes before we could get a table. Took about another 15 minutes for us to peruse the menu and flag down a waiter. Unfortunately, they were out of the oysters with black bean sauce. So, we ordered the lobster in XO sauce ($19.99 for two lobsters). Good deal. The meat was firm and the saucing was appealing with its mild spice and garlic notes. Don't expect greatness. The meat was not in any way delicate as some Chinese lobster preparations can be (e.g. at Oriental Garden), but for the price, I would order it again. We ordered the pea shoots with two types of egg. Great dish. I haven't had the 1000 year old eggs in quite some time and that lent the dish a little excitement. The other egg was mildly poached (?) and then mixed with ground pork or was it chicken? Overall, the effect is to add a salt dimension to the standard pea shoot preparation. The price on this seemed steep when we ordered it ($15.95), but the portion size is ridiculous. Must have been around 2 lbs of pea shoots--surely enough for 4 people. Last dish was lamb casserole. I didn't see it on the menu, but the table next to ours had it so I just pointed and told the waiter to bring us that. Fantastic for tonight's cold weather. Incredibly rich stock thickened with flour. Like eating gravy. The casserole had various parts of the lamb: loin (frenched!), knuckle, neck, and who knows what other things were in there. There was also tofu skin and napa cabbage and jujubes. The overall flavor profile was dominated by anise star, although it was far from overwhelming. The meat was suprisingly tender. At $14.95, this is a steal. We ate this with a helping of white rice (which was terrible). Why can't most Chinese restaurants serve decent white rice?

The total was $55 before tip; but, we took home about half the pea shoots and half the casserole. Great deal. If it weren't for my obsession with Sichuan cuisine, I would plan to go here all the time. As it is, I'll be back, but not before I head to Grand Sichuan East and see if they have a 2007 New Year's Menu.

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