Sunday, January 27, 2013

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Exterior

Some time ago (March 2012, actually), Eat Drink + Be Merry's (EDBM) post on Flavor Garden and its beef noodle soup and its potstickers awed me. Through the photos and vivid descriptions, I knew I just had to visit!

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Spicy Pork Stomach

I was personally a bit surprised the first time we came here, as the blinds (as seen in the first picture) were completely shut--was the restaurant closed? Most of the other restaurants, unusually, also closed their blinds. The reason behind this though, was due to the harsh direct sunlight; as the sun set and it became dinner service time, all of the restaurants progressively opened the blinds!

Inside, we met a simple interior: completely white and adorned with beige furniture and some decorations. We proceeded with ordering quickly, hoping to sample a large number of different dishes. Our meal began with Spicy Pork Stomach (2.50 USD), which came directly from the cold plate fridge. Garlicky and slightly spicy, the chilled pork stomach was a competent start to the meal.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Boiling Vegetables (Baby Bok Choy)

Boiling Vegetables (3.50 USD) surprised us; how could just for 3.50 we could receive such a large plate of vegetables? (typically 5+ nowadays) The vague name in the menu, by the way, is intentional: the vegetable choice varies depending on what Flavor Garden has available. In this case, we had baby bok choy, which was cooked till soft then dressed with some sesame oil--a unique touch.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Green Onion Pancake

Likewise, we were extremely impressed with the Green Onion Pancake (3.50 USD).

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Green Onion Pancakes

Look at those flaky layers and the amount of freshly chopped green onions! This was like a hybrid of Earthen's and House of Mandarin Noodle's green onion pancakes; they had the light crunch of Earthen's  while having the thicker chew of House of Mandarin Noodle's. They go along fabulously with Flavor Garden's vinegar dipping sauce (provided for all their bread items and dumplings), which cuts down on the greasiness while adding sweet and tangy flavor. Like most of Flavor Garden's items, this were freshly made. A fantastic rendition, and my current favorite.

If you're complaining that the pancake doesn't look golden brown enough, that is because we specifically asked them to do so this time as one companion wanted it to be that way. Subsequent visits without making the request have resulted with golden brown, fragrant exteriors.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Flavor Beef Tendon Noodle (Thick Noodles)

Per EDBM's recommendation, we ordered the braised beef noodle soup with wide noodles, and for our own personal preference, ordered the Flavor Beef Tendon Noodle (5.99 USD) instead of the Flavor Beef Noodle, effectively swapping beef brisket and flank for beef tendon. Like the pancakes, these noodles were hand made and prepared right when we ordered: chewy and bouncy, with variances in texture and thickness. The beef tendon was gelatinous and soft, but what impressed us most was the broth; it struck a balance, being not as strong as May Cafe's, but more flavorful than that of Mandarin Noodle House and Din Tai Fung's, with a simple beef flavor accented with tomato, chili oil (to your liking--they ask for spiciness levels when you order), and other spices. This is my preferred beef noodle soup now!

On other visits, we have tried the regular Flavor Beef Noodle; the beef pieces are tender, yet May Cafe's beef is just even more tender and also gelatinous. I do, however, prefer the handmade noodles here.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Flavor Steamed Pork Ribs
Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Flavor Steamed Pork Ribs Detail

The Flavor Steamed Pork Ribs (fen zhen pai gu, 3.50 USD), or pork ribs steamed with rice powder, were also quite a steal. Not only was the steamer basket packed with flavorful, mildly spicy pork ribs, the bottom of the steamer also had a couple of potatoes, which soaked up the flavors and extra juices.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Chinese Leek Pancake (Chive Pockets)

Flavor Garden takes yet another unconventional approach with the Chinese Leek pancake (5.99 USD), or more commonly referred to as "chive boxes" or "chive pockets." Instead of being like large semi-circles, these are like individual, flat dumplings.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Chinese Leek Pancake Interior (Chive Pocket)

Inside, the filling was fresh, with zingy chives, puffy eggs, and little filler of the glass noodles. The thin, dumpling skin was crisp and also chewy. Tasty, yet different! The vinegar dipping sauce made yet another appearance here, and the chive pockets certainly went well with those.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Shrimp Pork & Sea Cucumber Dumpling
Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Shrimp Pork & Sea Cucumber Dumpling Interior

Since we had actually pre-ordered some frozen leek pork dumplings and napa cabbage and pork dumplings, we ordered the Shrimp Pork & Sea Cucumber Dumpling (5.99 USD) instead. No, these weren't the potstickers that EDBM ordered, but they were delicious nonetheless! Opening the thin, chewy dumpling skin led to an outburst of juice similar to that of xiao long bao, a pleasant surprise. The golf-ball sized filling was delicious-- tons of crisp, fresh shrimp, gelatinous sea cucumber, and tender pork. 

On a side note, we've had similar experiences following with the frozen dumplings, and have continued to order them! They're a great deal considering how packed these dumplings are.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Sweet Rice Ball
Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Sweet Rice Ball (Sesame + Peanut) Interior

Ending our first visit to Flavor Garden was a bowl of Sweet Rice Ball (2.99 USD). These are actually handmade sesame and peanut glutinous rice balls served in plain, hot water. Why plain water? The filling is quite sweet, with bits of sugar and crushed peanuts and black sesame; the water serves as a palate cleanser.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Spicy Auricularia (Wood ear)

On subsequent visits, we've tried other dishes and appetizers, like the Spicy Auricularia (Wood ear) (2.50 USD). The wood ear wasn't spicy, but it was mild and tender, with bits of garlic and other vegetables.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Flavor Dry Tofu Slice

The Flavor Dry Tofu Slice (2.50 USD) was a typical bean curd thread salad, with bean curd threads mixed with green onions, carrots, and celery with sesame oil and seasoning. It was refreshing, however, and even prompted us to make our own version at home!

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Flavor Sauce Bean Pork Noodle

Trying to branch out from our usual favorites, we ordered the Flavor Sauce Bean Pork Noodle (5.99 USD). Simmered green beans, spicy ground pork, and numbing sichuan peppercorns made for quite an interesting experience! There was plenty of oil on the surface of the noodles, however (as seen to the left of the photo).

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Flavor Beef Soup Noodle (Clear)

We also like the Flavor Beef Soup Noodle (5.99 USD), or the "clear" beef noodle soup. Instead of the bold flavors of braised beef noodle soup, this one is simple, with distinct beef flavor and richness. It's a lighter option that's pretty well received; several times we've come to Flavor Garden and find that this has already been sold out!

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Ton Ton Pan-Fried Bun

Each visit, we like to order either the Regular Steamed Pork Bun (5.50 USD) or the Ton Ton Pan-Fried Bun (6.50 USD) seen above, which is simply the "regular steamed pork bun" pan-fried. These are large, fresh buns that have tons of juice--a soup spoon's worth--and a ground pork filling flecked with the white parts of green onions. It's imperative to savor these buns fresh for the juice, and for the pan-fried buns specifically, the fragrant and crunchy bottoms.

There's not much filler; the bread exterior is thin on the sides and thicker on the tops, and it's delicious by itself or dipped with the vinegar sauce.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Chinese DanDan Noodle

When a friend came to visit us, he ordered the Chinese DanDan Noodle (4.99 USD). It was like the Flavor Sauce Bean Pork Noodle minus the beans and plus a sesame/peanut sauce and some preserved vegetables. The sichuan peppercorn flavor could still be tasted here, but was subdued by the sesame sauce.

Flavor Garden- Alhambra, CA: Spicy Beef Roll Cake

We were so stuffed by the many other items we ordered that most of us didn't try the Spicy Beef Roll Cake (6.50 USD), essentially niu rou juan bing or the Chinese beef pancake roll/ wrap that recently gained popularity through the restaurant, 101 Noodle Express. By the time I got to this dish, the pancake was cold, rendering a less than ideal response: chewy, thick pancake that could use a slight bit more of hoisin sauce. The amount of beef to green onion/cilantro was balanced to me, however. I'll have to order it again for a more accurate review!

That was a lot of items, wasn't it? That's actually 15 of 52 items on the menu. Although it seems like I've tried the entire menu, I've left a number of sections uncovered. The "pies" are quite popular with customers and there are couple of other dumplings, noodles, appetizers on the menu!

I wish Flavor Garden were not so far away; the emphasis on quality (food-wise, service, and servingware--porcelain, with barely any melamine items) always leaves a good impression after visiting here, and has made me look at my previous favorite restaurants in a different light. The very reasonable prices are even more icing on the cake!

*Note: As the majority of Flavor Garden's items are freshly made, you'll need to wait usually around 10-20 minutes for your food with the exception of the prepared cold plates.



Flavor Garden (Facebook)
1269 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
Tel: (626) 284-3549

Flavor Garden on Urbanspoon

P.S. Happy 2013 and to the fifth year of the blog! The past few months have been loaded with major events and deadlines, which is why I couldn't post major reviews like this (I was looking to post this during the end of summer, which was when I started to visit the restaurant) for longer than I expected.

Some recent news: The Guardian has featured my eggette picture in its Hong Kong City Guide map feature and also its article, "Top 10 dishes to try in Hong Kong." You'll see the picture in the article; on the map, you'll see the picture when you click the the food recommendation, Lee Keung Kee! The original post with the picture can be found by clicking HERE.

Thanks for reading!

3 comments:

KirkK said...

Looks great, I'm going to have to check them out!

BeeRLeO said...

It's great.

EatTravelEat said...

Kirk,

Definitely! Hope to read your report on it sometime!

BeeRLeO,

Agreed!