The only dine-in Chinese restaurant on Pasadena's Mountain Road peninsula has undergone an amazing transformation.
Good but not remarkable in its days as the Lotus Garden, the tiny restaurant quietly closed with nary a sign of farewell. It reopened a few weeks ago under new management and with a new name: China Garden Restaurant.
But for our money -- and very little money at that -- it was nearly a Garden of Paradise.
Induced by an impending deadline for our restaurant review, a "grand opening" banner and a coupon in a neighborhood flier offering the second appetizer at half-price (remember, we're the cheap guys), we gave it a spin on a recent Monday night.
A table of four was just finishing. Asked what was good, the answer was "everything."
Then the four at the table were gone, leaving us as the only customers in the place. So we had time to chat with our waitress, Helen Voong, 16, daughter of owner-chef Tom De Wong. She helped us wade through the extensive but inexpensive menu (the most costly entree was $9.95).
We figured the coupon was too good a deal for the editor paying for our meal, so we ordered three entrees. We rationalized that this would prove a tougher test for the restaurant. It also resulted in two days worth of leftovers.
We started with spring rolls ($2.20 and so-so) and Yang Chow won ton soup for two ($4.50 and sensational). Helen brought out a hefty bowl of delicious broth laden with vegetables, meat, and large shrimp and won tons -- and two cups filled to the brim. Leftovers, round one.
The main courses were a special of the day, chicken with asparagus ($7.25), and two of the menu's "chef's recommendations" -- Hunan combo ($9.75) and orange-flavored chicken ($8.95).
Half a pound of asparagus must have given its life for the first dish, each stalk cut high and tender and diagonally sliced. The chicken (the restaurant cooks only with white meat) was thinly sliced, the white sauce subtly tangy.
More large shrimp and slices of chicken and tender beef were plentifully arranged in a spicy brown sauce in the combo dish.
The orange chicken was delicately crisp outside, tender and moist inside, and coated with a thick but not overly hot sauce (unless, of course, you took a nip out of the red peppers).
We chose pork fried rice rather than steamed white. Helen, attentive not only to our water glasses but cultivation of customer loyalty, said she would not charge us the extra 50 cents per serving for fried. This kid knows restaurant management.
Our feast -- with fried noodles, tea, two fortune cookies, and the leftovers that lasted until Wednesday -- ran $32.65 before tax, tip and a deduction of $4.48 for the coupon. (By the way, boss, our expense account includes a $5 tip. We just had to make up for that deal on the rice.)
China Garden needs only to lose some of the old spring-worn, bench-style seats inherited from the Lotus Garden (we moved to a conventional table), pipe in a little soft music with a hint of the Orient and be filled with the customers who rightfully should beat a path to its door.
That door can be found just off Mountain Road, on the western side of the Long Point Shopping Center, nestled behind Pop's convenience store.
David and Bonnie welcome readers' suggestions on Anne Arundel restaurants with a good meal for two, priced under $50 (before tip and taxes). Write to them at P.O. Box 1152, Pasadena 21123.
Where: 4732 Mountain Road, Pasadena. 410-437-6606. Hours: Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $1.40-$4.85; entrees, $5.95-$9.95.
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover.
Rating: *** 1/2
Ratings: * culinary wasteland
**** culinary heaven
Pub Date: 5/28/98