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Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

gracegarden02 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

Grace Garden

410-672-3581

1690 Annapolis Rd, Odenton, MD 21113

Holy crap it looks like these images are from June 23rd, I know it’s been a while, but I didn’t think it was that long ago. Anyway if there is anyone left still reading, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been on something of a hiatus. This can be mostly attributed to major Godaddy problems, but I suspect it’s also related to the malware problem on citypaper.com a while back. Anyway it seems I was infected with a keystroke logger and some asshole bot screwed up my hosting account. Long story short, I’m back and now posting about Grace Garden seems almost passe. But thanks to Dmnkly over at donrockwell.com, I managed to check out this place quite a while before it more or less blew up, having been reviewed recently in citypaper and in the Sun, I think.¬† The praise is deserved I gotta say, although some of the more gushing reports may be a bit exaggerated.

It’s located in freaking Odenton of all places, which up til just a few years ago I only knew of because my grandfather used to take multiple buses from Baltimore to get his hair cut out there. Never understood why he went to all the trouble, until a) I realized later in life how important a good barber is; and b) there is apparently a mini-Korean business area in Odenton, the current remnants of which consist of a liquor store, restaurant, and a night club, I think. Anyway, driving west on 175 from 95, you’ll pass by the prison and then by a high school, directly across the street from which is Grace Garden on the left.

The dining room is spare but clean, and after all you don’t drive to Odenton expecting ambience. TIP: Ask for the “real menu“. Dmnkly was immediately recognized and we got the VIP treatment as it were, so in addition to the entirely excessive amount of food we ordered, we were treated to some extra goodies, such as taro soup, which was pretty subtle and clean tasting, but a bit substantial for a first course:

taro soup

the classic stir-fried kai-lan, or Chinese broccoli:

gracegarden08 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

and what turned out to be by far the best dish of the night, a trio of bovine anatomy: tongue, tendon, and tripe that the chef had not yet named and called simply “Lovely”. Now I love tongue, and his was amazingly well prepared, an excellent balance of tenderness and recilience. I’m not crazy about tendon, but again the preaparation here is unimpeachable and the tendon was just the right level of gelatinous. Finally, I usually despise entrails, but the tripe was probably the best I’ve ever had, with 100% of the usual funk eradicated expertly, its spongy texture subsequently soaking up the delectable peppery, savory, wok-hai-y flavors of the dish. Man it was good. In our post dinner re-cap, both Alvina (go-to food nerd and Chinese person)
I agreed it was the pinnacle of the meal:

gracegarden13 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

We thought for sure the star was going to be the tea-smoked duck, which requires 48 hours advance notice. And it was indeed very good, though not spectacular. The duck was well-seasoned, if a tiny tad salty, and really skillfully smoked, and I know from smoking folks. Very light, sweetly fragrant smokiness pervaded the meat, which was tender and moist. Thing was, and this is a problem with all smoked poultry imo, was the skin, which tends to become rubbery in the low-temp confines of a smoker:

gracegarden05 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

Also outstanding was the Taiwanese-style fish, with very fresh-tasting tilapia(maybe?) fillets in an incredibly savory, aromatic, and bracingly spicy broth offset with little bits of Chinese pickles and bright, crunchy celery slivers. I think I liked it so much because it was essentially a Chinese jigae, the meal soup of Korean food:

gracegarden10 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

And the much talked-about fish noodles, which in made from fish paste squeezed out into boiling liquid to form delicate, flavroful protein strands that look like noodles. Pretty cool, taste and texture similar to a quenelle as one might imagine:

gracegarden03 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

In the less than overwhelming category were the kinda interesting but uninspiring hak-ka tofu:

gracegarden07 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

crispy eggplant, which I ordered because I’d heard the chef used to work at Hunan Manor, which used to have an exemplary version of the somewhat touristy dish. It was really, very good, but I was chided to ordering such a pedestrian dish. Whatever yo, it’s one of my favorites, and Grace Garden’s is top-notch, if a tiny bit too sweet:

gracegarden06 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

Perhaps the only real disappointment was the salt and pepper shrimp, which had a batter here, something I haven’t really seen. The few times I’ve ordered in the past I’ve always gotten unpeeled shrimp burnished to a golden brown in a stupid-hot wok with just salt and pepper. The shrimp here had a coating that became soggy and a bit heavy, and the shell was thus not as crispy as it should have been. I got some shit for not eating the heads, as these specimens were head-on, but you know what? Head on shrimp are a tricky thing, and these guys didn’t taste impeccably fresh to begin with (although they were bo no means NOT fresh). From what I understand, head-on shrimp need to be alive or flash frozen and used immediately after thawing lest the flesh takes on that weird, slightly gritty, mushy testure. And these did have that, if only slightly:

gracegarden09 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

The chef very graciously ended to meal by treating us to an unusual dessert, basically a torte of custard, sweet red bean paste, and meringue, garnished with peanuts. He said it was a specialty of northern China, and was indeed a major change of pace from the mostly Taiwanese-style entrees. It was quite tasty, but a bit heavy to cap off the enormous and rich meal the preceded it:

gracegarden11 Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

If rumors are to be believed, the lease for Grace Garden’s Odenton space is set to run out. I’d like to say that convincing them to move to Baltimore would be a good thing, but I honestly can’t say if there is enough of an interested or savvy population in Baltimore these days to support this kind of place. Also I must comment on the incredibly efficiency of this guy – his wife and daughters attend to front of house duties, while the chef is pretty much alone in the kitchen. And yet, he manges to execute many, varied, and complex dishes at a formidable clip. Serious skills on display here, yall.

The other, perhaps equally amazing discovery of the night was made at the aforementioned Korean liquor store around the corner. Folks, I’ve had a lot of soju in my day, and the stuff we get here in US is utter crap. Even the cheap-ass plastic bottle stuff in Korea is superior to what they export to us. When I was researching building a soju still a couple years ago, I’d read on some random blog that one of the first exports to the US from the DPRK, or North Korea, was to be the governemt-issue soju, like Stoli is to Russia. Anyway, before we started our meal I walked over to pick up some beer, and lo and behold I see a small display of “Pyong Yang” soju. Pyongyang is of course the capital of North Korea, and I held my breath as I inspected the label – SWEET this was the stuff, straight from North Korea:

610x Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.

I asked to to kids behind the counter in Korean if they’s tried it or heard anything about it. They seemed nonplussed, indicating it was nothing special. Fools! People, this is by a long, long shot the finest, cleaned, smoothes, most delicious soju to have ever touched my lips. Seriously. I’ve seen it at two places now, this one in Odenton and te liquor store nest to Lotte in Ellicott City, but I imagine it’s available at any place that carried soju. It’s $5.99 per 350 ml bottle, which is a ridiculous deal, especially considering that a bottle of the relativley harsh Chamiseul or Green soju will run you over 15 bucks at a Korean restaurant. Stock up, this shit is the shit! But always remember that soju is the ultimate in “creeper” booze, and the smoothness of Pyong Yang could set you up for a major ass-kicking if you’re not careful. By the way, it’s pronounced “PYUNG YAHNG”.

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7 Responses to “Quality Chinese in Odenton. Yes, Odenton.”

  1. tiffany

    Oh baby… I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

    BTW– what do you thnk about dim sum in this area? Got any suggestions?


  2. Awesome recap of your meal, Henry – now I feel like I’ve “been” to the restaurant, even though I’ve yet to go. Great job, but then I’ve come to expect nothing less.

    Cheers!
    D

  3. tiffany

    Not to wax too poetical… but I just came back from that place and their homemade tofu (mixed with ground shrimp) was spectacular and the pork belly was sinful. I also had their quail, the fish noodles, and some stir-friend greens– all of them excellent. Thank you for the heads up!

  4. crackers

    That was a fun meal – thank you for introducing me to that smooth Pyong Yang soju!


  5. Hey Don and crackers! Oh man, that soju…. Next week I’ll be pairing it with fried insects as research for an article by another writer at CP. My feeling is I will be pairing a LOT of it with the bugs. Sorry I’ have been so completely MIA, but I am slowly trying to rebound from what can only be described as a spectacular cascade of horrible failures, both mechanical and personal. crackers – dim sum!


  6. tiffany- I’m so glad you got to pay the place a visit. Did you get to try the “Lovely”? I still think about that dish. But every time I am anywhere near Odenton it always seems to be a Sunday. The universe hates me, apparently.


  7. congratulations !! .. you have just won one new reader ;)

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