Friday, August 29, 2008

Grace Garden

Blogging about Grace Garden is like beating a dead horse. Scads of bloggers and chowhounds have already made public this gem of an eatery, eventually even drawing the attention of "old media" such as the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. Still, I cannot contain my enthusiasm and feel compelled to do my part in the crusade to publicize what is obviously the best Chinese Food in America. Many are surprised to find such a place in Odenton, though I think it's a fitting home for food fit for a god.

We began with fish noodles, featured above. Are they noodles, or are they fish? The answer is "yes." It's hard to imagine something so soft, so subtle, yet so richly flavorful. They have a perfect ratio of give to bounce and are an absolute pleasure to chew. While eating them I thought: "Why is the idea of shaped, ground fish somehow familiar to me?" Then it came to me: gefilte.

Grace Garden might also be the only restaurant in a strip mall that features a rotating, just picked seasonal veggie dish straight from the owner's garden. In typical Grace Garden fashion, this attribute was in no way advertised, the only tip- off being a photo on the wall of some pea greens. When we inquired about these, we were told that they were no longer available, having been replaced by chive blossoms. After those peak, they plan to harvest their winter melon and serve it with soup that has been cooked inside of it.

This was the best single-vegetable dish I have ever eaten. Chives are so often so pathetic, so tasteless, nothing more that dry O's sprinkled onto a baked potato as an afterthought. Eating this dish was like only having seen dusty old dinosaur bones in a museum then finding yourself in Jurassic Park, surrounded by velociraptors of freshness and flavor. The szechuan fish fillets were even more mind-blowing.

This and the pork belly with rice powder were the two dishes that absolutely put me in a trance. I stopped talking and felt a surge of euphoria well up inside me, one not unlike the theobromine high I've gotten after an L.A. Burdick's hot chocolate. Beside the soul satisfying experience of eating great food, my only guess is that I was feeling the effects of the tongue-numbing szechuan, or sichuan, peppercorn. But I probably just think that because, like absinthe, it was until recently banned in the U.S.

Grace Garden is clearly the ├╝ber food blog darling. Unpretentious, ethnic, off the beaten path but close to a major city, it is the ultimate find. I thought it was the best Chinese food I've ever had, and Dave thinks it's the best food he's ever had. When we asked the owner, who is also the chef, what the secret to his cooking is, he said:

"Heart. You must feel the ingredients that you are going to cook. Also, you need very good sauce."

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Laura Kelley said...

Thanks for reviewing this DC-local gem of a restaurant. Your review is more personal and heartfelt than the those in the Post and the Sun and humorous as well.

I've become a regular reader and have linked back to you at the Silk Road Gourmet blog>. The books, by the way, provide a lot of great recipes from Central Asia through Southern China that feature that unmistakable tang of Sichuan or "wild" pepper.

Thanks and keep up the great blog!

BTW - I used to live in Cambridge & Sommerville when I was a grad student.

Carol said...

I know! That place is ridiculously good. You probably won't even see this as I am leaving it so late -- I've been in Arkansas myself at my family's farm. I am now trying to convince Sean that we should buy land up there and make wine and raise goats.

Aaron said...


Wish you would (raise goats and make wine)!


Thanks so much for reading and for the link. I'll check out the books, too.


Jacqueline Church said...

I wish I knew the Chinese equivalent of "Eureka!" My mom lives in 410 area code and laments (often) about the lack of good Chinese food there. Now I know where to send her. So glad to find your blog...

The Leather District Gourmet

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