Jade Garden Seafood Restaurant

Fresh as can be and well-priced. What’s the catch?
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 4, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

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Jade Garden Seafood Restaurant | 18–20 Tyler Street, Boston | 617.423.3288 | Open daily, 11 am–2 am | AE, Di, MC, Vi | No valet parking | Beer and wine | Up eight stairs from sidewalk level
Ready for some reasonably priced lobster after years of paying too much? You’re in luck, since a price war seems to be unfolding on the streets of Chinatown, with various window signs advertising twin lobsters in ginger and scallion for as low as $14.95. Jade Garden isn’t quite that cheap at (recently) $18.95, but the lobsters are kept in the live tanks in the dining room, and come to the table hot and aromatic. Each chunk is lightly breaded and fried, with lots of scallions and sliced-ginger garnish, and is hacked into pieces that even a neophyte could eat with chopsticks.

Like every other Chinese restaurant in America for the last 160 years, Jade Garden has two menus: a bilingual one of unlikely length, and a whiteboard set of specials entirely in Chinese. I have no patience for code cracking any more, so I just ask the waiter what the whiteboard specials are. “Seafood,” he says. Pointing, I guess, “Like, in the live tanks?” “Yes.” So I walk over to the tanks with him and he points out mantis shrimp, which look like small, elongated lobsters. One has somehow found himself in a tank with some eels. The waiter describes three ways the chef might prepare the eels, then whole fish, and of course the twin lobsters.

My pick is the mantis shrimp (seasonal, recently $20.95) — not actually shrimp, but longer creatures with what are said to be the most complex eyes known in nature, some species having receptors for six or more colors in the ultraviolet spectrum and some in the infrared. They are long-lived and allegedly very smart for invertebrates. Too bad they taste so fantastic fried with spicy salt, more like lobster than shrimp. I eat the first couple carefully, trying to spit out the heavier tail and head shells, but pretty soon I am crunching up the whole thing, savoring the salt and chili pepper. It’s a lovely pile, and a fine new species to add to the list.

On two visits I wasn’t tempted by the ordinary-looking appetizer selection, and never had enough people for soup. I did get some broth in a seafood and assorted vegetables hot pot ($11.95). It was smoky and rich, suggesting chowder, and clearly enriched by a variety of seafood, including fresh and dried scallops, squid, fish loaf, and shrimp, as well as exquisite tiny bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, strips of celtuce, and florets of occidental broccoli.

One of the best fusion entrées is the prime beef house special ($16.50). What makes it fusion is not so much the exquisite string beans — so much tastier than Chinese long beans — as the use of prime rib (likely “choice” grade) cut into squares and stir-fried, yet still rare at the center. Chinese meats are almost always fully cooked, but the chef here has clearly visited American steak houses. Another entrée designed for a knife and fork is the beef with peppers and onions ($13.95), which seems to consist of many flank steaks the size of one’s hand, stir-fried with a tang of black pepper and strips of green bell pepper and onions. This was served in a sizzling iron pan.

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