Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Savory Garden

I noticed that 168, the Taiwanese cafe in the space at the front of 99 Ranch had been replaced by Savory Garden a while ago.  I decided to give them some time to work out the kinks before trying them out.  I finally did last week.
One of my "aunts" is Taiwanese and I always enjoyed going to her house for dinner when I was growing up.  Either she or her grandmother would make delicious taiwanese dishes for dinner parties and get togethers.  I loved it so much that I (mostly) didn't mind that all the dishes were vegetarian.  
The restaurant health inspection rating at 168 kept me from braving the threshold.  Especially since it was always mostly empty.  It's one thing if the food is so good that everyone disregards the letter taped to the door.
The food at Savory Garden didn't knock my socks off, but it's decent enough that I would stop by whenever I need to stock up at 99 Ranch.
I first went in for a really early lunch by myself.  It wasn't even 11am yet, so the restaurant was pretty empty.  There was an older couple and a 20-something year old waitress who started to speak to me in Taiwanese until I responded back in English.  The older couple retreated behind the counter while the waitress seated me.  
The place had definitely been through a make over.  That and the "A" rating made me feel better.  I ordered the House Beef Noodle Soup and a hot milk tea.  There was only one other customer, so my food came out pretty quickly.

I expected a mug for my milk tea, but I got an entire tea pot and a chinese tea cup instead.  

Each cup was nice and hot.  

The House Beef Noodle Soup came with just 4 pieces small pieces beef, but they were flavorful,  tender and juicy.   Since the June gloom weather made me a little chilly, I dumped a big spoonful of chili paste on top.  The bok choy wasn't overcooked, but I still prefer my vegetables to be more on the al dente side.  The broth and noodles were ok, nothing to write home about.  When I tasted each component of this dish on its own, it was nothing special.  
Then I started to mix the tiny bits of finely chopped fresh chinese celery that were floating in the broth into each spoonful of swirled noodle and broth.  That tiny burst of celery flavor and crunch was really pleasant.  Mmmm.  What a great idea. 

When I paid for my bill, the older lady noticed that I still had some milk tea left in the tea pot.  She brought over a plastic cup with a lid and straw.  

A few days later, a friend and I were out and about.  I talked her into getting lunch at Savory Garden so that I could try out some other items on the menu.

We split an order of Green Bean kabobs (2), Salt & Pepper Chicken Wings (6), and Steamed Pork Bun Dumplings (10).  I got an order of Chicken Heart Kabobs (2) for myself as well.
The waitress set down a little shaker of paprika when she delivered our kabobs.  I didn't ask which dish it was for, so I just sprinkled it on both the green beans and chicken hearts.

Ever since I tried them on the streets of Bangkok, I have always liked grilled chicken hearts more than any other offal.  They have a nice firm texture and do not taste metallic or gamey like other organ meats such as liver.
My skewer of green beans still had a little crunch to them.  That satisfied my need for a vegetable to go with the rest of our meal.  Food grilled on a stick is always a good idea.  Always.

The Salt & Pepper Chicken Wings did not have a salt and pepper taste to it.  It was still nicely seasoned, big and juicy.  The cornstarch batter was light and crunchy, not overpowering the wings.  I really liked these, even though they should just be listed as plain "Chicken Wings" on the menu.

Eyeing the little container of rice vinegar on every table, I ordered the "Steamed Pork Bun Dumplings" hoping that it was code for Xiao Long Bao
and I was right! The huge steamer came out piping hot.  The waitress forgot to bring us spoons, but I scarfed them down before I even had a chance to flag her down again.  The wrappers were not too thick and there was a good amount of broth left in them.  Of course, the broth was mostly absorbed into the wrapper by the time I got down to my 4th dumpling.
That is just what happens with Xiao Long Bao.  It's one of those dishes that needs to be inhaled as soon as it is made.  There is no time for politely-waiting-for-someone-else-to-take-the-first-piece table manners.  They need to be scarfed down before the soup inside disappears into the wrapper.  The filling was nicely seasoned.  The gingery pork tasted just right with a bit of vinegar.  Ahhh.   Not the best I've ever had, but definitely decent and satisfied my craving.  I was not disappointed.

My friend was not too happy with our waitress for bringing her a regular Iced Thai Tea when she specifically asked for no milk, but I was pretty happy with my cold Milk Tea.  Can you get Thai Tea without the condensed milk or is there evaporated milk already in the mix?

I sure hope business picks up so this place stays open.  I want to try out the rest of their menu.

Savory Garden
7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92111
($20 minimum for credit card purchases)

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