Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chang's Garden- Arcadia

Exterior

For those in Arcadia who just want to eat in Arcadia and no where else, Chang's Garden is one out of two Shanghainese restaurants to pick from. Arcadia and the surrounding area doesn't offer too much in terms of Shanghainese food, but at least the good thing is that the several choices are at least recommendable for people visiting. The other one I recommend, as you probably know if you have been a long time reader, is Shanghai Bamboo House in Monrovia.

Interior

Chang's Garden isn't necessarily anything special when you look at its interior. You just may even be surprised at why there are modern elements combined with regular Chinese restaurant decor. The reason for this is that the prior owners probably about 10 years ago were American restaurants. Before Chang's Garden opened, it was a Chinese style-steakhouse and everything was modern still, but with a combination of Chinese food and steaks. By the time Chang's Garden moved in, the whole entire plaza was changing from a old style shopping center with a 99 cents store at the helm to what is now a busy Chinese shopping center, along with an Asian supermarket to boot. Nice history lesson, no?

Plate Setup

Each table is simple. There's a placemat with a Chinese Zodiac lesson which just might want to make you think that this place is not authentic after all. And after that, there's just a plate, napkin, and bamboo chopstick. No plastic or metal chopsticks here- it's all cheap throwaway bamboo chopsticks and plastic soup spoons, not ceramic.

Chang's Garden Lunch Special Menu

For those who don't like to order special items from the menu and want to save money, the Lunch Special menu is the definite go-to menu. And certainly, it is a money saver. The portions are a bit smaller, as you'll see in the photos, but the prices are also cheaper, with a wide selection of dishes to choose from.

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

Just like every other Shanghainese restaurant in the area that offers lunch specials, you get a hot piping bowl of hot and sour soup to go along with your order. This one was quite nice, with thin strips of bamboo and wood ear along with tofu and egg. Nicely spiced, it was pleasant to sip on as our items were cooking.

Wine Marinated Chicken

Since I personally don't eat lunch here quite often (you'll see why in a few photos later), I'll do a rundown of items we ordered in the two visits I have been here. Above is the Chicken In Wine Sauce (5.99 USD), or sometimes seen as Wine Marinated Chicken or Drunken Chicken. This was pretty good, but since I've made it at home before, I do prefer my version since it has more wine flavor compared to this version, but this version is pretty good, served chilled.

Dou Ban Yu

For both visits I ordered the Fish Filet with Hot Bean Sauce (6.99 USD). Typically I order the Fish Fillet with Wine Sauce when I visit Shanghainese restaurants, but Chang's Garden doesn't have it on their lunch special menu. The main difference? The spiciness! Other than that, both are virtually the same, with the exception of the lack of vegetables in the hot bean sauce version at Chang's Garden. There are still pieces of fermented sticky rice as well as green onions for garnish. Unlike some places, the fish was nicely cooked and did not feel awkward in texture, while the sauce provided a very deep heat to the dish. If you like spicy dishes, you'll like this dish for sure!

Lamb

Another dish we liked to order in the past was Lamb with Green Onion (7.99 USD). With plenty of thin lamb slices cooked fragrantly with the green onions, it seemed like a good dish, no? Well, after finding cumin lamb, this is a bit lacking in flavor. Plus, it is exceedingly oily. An example of what I mean will be shown later in the post. :)

Lions Head

However, the Pork Balls in Brown Sauce (6.99 USD), also known as braised lions head, is also very good. The meatball's texture was very tender and smooth, while the brown sauce gave additional flavor. Glass noodles, napa cabbage, and bamboo were also added for some vegetables to cut down on the heaviness of the dish.

Garlic Sauteed Pea Sprouts

But what about vegetables? Chang's Garden's version of Sauteed Big Pea Leaves (7.99 USD) (aka pea tips or pea sprouts) are nicely done with a nice crisp and some garlic flavor. Not too bad on the price either since these cost a lot in restaurants anyway.

Bean Curd Skin with Mustard Greens and Soy Beans

Another cheap and affordable choice? The Snow Cabbage with Peas (Edamame) and Bean (Curd) Sheets for 5.99 USD. With crisp and fresh snow cabbage and plenty of bean curd sheets and edamame, it is a light and delicious choice to a go along with your meal, only being lightly seasoned with salt and very little oil used during the cooking process.

And the lunch meals end with a plate of oranges. Fresh, refreshing, and sweet.

Peanuts

On the other hand, dinner starts off quite differently. Not only are there tablecloths, you start with a small dish of marinated peanuts rather than soup which is a la carte.I like 888 Seafood Restaurant's peanuts more than this, but this is ok for marinated peanuts.

*No prices for this section since I don't have an updated menu. Prices have risen quite a bit compared to the menu I have! Some even by 4 dollars. Lunch menu, all up by 1.04 dollars.

Yellow Fish Soup
Yellow Fish Soup Small Bowl Detail

One of the popular soups to order at Chang's Garden is the Yellow Fish Soup, sometimes called Mrs. Song's Fish Soup as well. It has tiny strips of egg, fish, ginger, green onion, ham, and mushrooms cooked in a broth and finished with a cornstarch slurry. With the ginger, there is a slight heat to the soup and you can add some white pepper if you want some more heat.

West Lake Beef Soup
West Lake Beef Soup Small Bowl Detail

If you use the same soup broth and add cilantro, egg, ground beef, and mushrooms you get the West Lake Beef Soup. What makes Chang's Garden's soups different is that there is slightly less cornstarch and thus you might feel that the ingredients are separated from the rest of the soup. Plus the serving bowl is very large, pretty much feeding 10-12 bowls! Typically most restaurants have only about 6-8.

Xiao Long Bao v1
Xiao Long Bao v2

Being a Shanghainese restaurant, we like to order steamed pork buns or juicy pork dumplings or xiao long bao. And Chang's Garden serves a nice rendition.

Xiao Long Bao

These are quite similar to Mei Long Village's (pre 2007) version, with a skin that is not too thin while not being too thick. And unlike Shanghai Bamboo House's version, the top of the dumpling doesn't have as much dough to bite on.

Xiao Long Bao Juice version 1

Xiao Long Bao Juice verison 2

And yes, there is plenty of juice. With the pork filling being tender and nicely seasoned, Chang's Garden has one of the best Xiao Long Bao in Arcadia, pretty much tying with Din Tai Fung's version depending on what you prefer. Plus they come out right away after they finished steaming (set time), so you are ensured a hot and delicious batch.

Pork Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf

How about another steamed item? The Pork Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf are quite interesting.

Pork Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf Interior

They are however, quite oily, as you can see in this photo. But there's more to this dish than just sparerib.

Pork Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf Opened Meat

Pork Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf on Rice

These have been steaming for quite a long time, and the meat just falls off the bone. There's also some flour added to this, which you can see in the photos as little bits. These have all the flavor that the meat has and are excellent with rice. Actually, you probably want to eat it with rice, since it is just so rich.

Sea Cucumber with Brown Sauce

Just like any other Shanghainese restaurant, Chang's Garden also serves sea cucumber, but not at a very low price though. Even the old menu's price is higher than Shanghai Bamboo House's large portion of sea cucumber.

However, Chang's Garden comes with two varieties of sea cucumber- one drenched in a sauce with shrimp eggs, another with brown sauce. The one you see above is with a brown sauce, and the sea cucumber was quite tender and the sauce was more savory versus Shanghai Bamboo House's version. No vinegar apparent though.

Pork Ball in Brown Sauce

Like most restaurants, items from the lunch special menu are carried onto the dinner menu, like the lions head. Unlike the lunch serving, you get three meatballs instead of two, and there are more veggies included as well.

Snow Cabbage with Bean Sheets and Edamame

Same is the case with the Snow Cabbage with Bean Curd Sheets and Edamame- you have a larger serving.

Shredded Pork with Dried Bean Curd

Ok now, I saved the oily dish for the last. This is the shredded pork with dried bean curd, a simple dish that has simple flavors of salt and spice added to the original ingredients. But why does it require so much oil? Only for the crispy feel for the bean curd. And if you thought the steamed pork spareribs were oily, wait till you see THIS photo. (Oil= reflecting pool!)

Did you click on it? See it? It is a pool of oil residing in the bottom of the dish. And there is barely any trace of sauce. Special instructions needed: remember, ask them for less oil, more sauce, if you want to order this dish. It's tasty but way too oily. Or, just make it at home. That way you control what you want in the dish!

Barley and Mung Bean Dessert

What about dessert? I've gotten this mung bean and barley dessert soup once, and it was great to cut down on all of the fatty and oily items. Maybe I got it only once, because it was this visit when one of the waitresses noticed me taking a picture of the Mrs. Song's fish soup using my old camera. She then made sure every dish was good for me to photograph and was happy at how someone at my age liked to take pictures of food. As she stated, "Most kids don't even care for the food that we serve." (in Chinese, not English) Common stereotype which does seem to be quite true, sadly.

Funny thing is, no one really cared for my new camera when I brought it in later on for lunch and dinner! Guess that server wasn't around.

Oranges

However, what I usually get is just oranges, also another nice way to end the meal. Guess it depends on the volume of customers and if they run out of dessert soup or not, or if they even make the soup that day.

Now, which Shanghai restaurant do I prefer? Chang's Garden or Shanghai Bamboo House? I prefer Shanghai Bamboo House more, as it is less oily and the prices are more affordable. Plus you will never have a parking issue there, since the shopping center there is quite empty, versus Chang's Garden which has horrendous parking on the weekends and meal times. However, Chang's Garden does have some interesting dishes that Shanghai Bamboo House does not offer, like the spareribs. When visiting, do take a look at the pictures of the food posted outside Chang's Garden- those are their specialties! Take those as a guide to what you want to order.


Chang's Garden
627 W. Duarte Rd.
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 445-0606

Chang's Garden on Urbanspoon

Chang's Garden in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

2 comments:

elmomonster said...

You say it's similar to Mei Long pre 2007...did something change with Mei Long? I haven't been there since...well, 2007?

EatTravelEat said...

Elmomonster,
Well, I haven't been back to Mei Long Village since 2007. I've gotten food poisoning from them twice and the last time I went there the filling was sour. I don't know how it is now, so I'll just say "pre 2007". Ask WC if its still good? I don't know.