On another visit, a vivacious woman at the next table who knew the staff touted that dish and the chicken with vegetables ($10.95), which, except for straw mushrooms, were supermarket standards like broccoli, white mushrooms, carrots, and string beans, plus chicken breast in a bit of white sauce. If that sounds like the moo goo gai pan of the old Chinese-American menu, it rather was, with one difference being the even more Americanized pieces of chicken and vegetables almost too large for chopsticks. Yet the dish came to the table so quickly from the wok, and with such freshness and panache, that the natural flavors were outstanding. This was Cantonese-American food done with respect.
Many years ago, a friend named Chester Yee told me to pay attention to the white rice in restaurants, which here is outstanding jasmine ($1), or close to it. The tea also is quite good, probably pu-erh, but with more strength, a fruity aroma, and less earthiness than in other restaurants. Tsingtao beer is priced even more aggressively than twin lobsters in ginger and scallion, at $3 for the frosty imported pilsner.
Service on two weekday evenings was excellent, even as the restaurant began to fill up. The emphasis on getting food from kitchen to table was a hallmark of the nearby restaurant Peach Farm, where some staff of Jade Garden used to work. Looking in on Peach Farm, I found that it has shed most of the non-Asian customers who came after the early reviews, perhaps because its basement location became so crowded. I can’t think of another Chinatown restaurant that was discovered by the mass market and then “undiscovered.” But this doesn’t have to happen at Jade Garden, because the Chinese-only menu of seafood specials is visually displayed in the live tanks. Tired of lobster? Join the many Chinese immigrants and Maine lobstermen who think crab has more flavor.
The room here formerly housed the lamented Big Fish Seafood, and before that about half of the once-lamented Golden Palace dim sum restaurant. That, in turn, replaced the remarkable Bob Lee’s Islander — a Chinatown landmark for most of three decades. It’s now nice enough without being distracting. You pass the fish tanks on the way in, which is as it should be, unless you are the sort to be troubled by the periodic visits of a cook with a net and a bucket who, after selecting a fish or a couple of lobsters or an eel that someone has just ordered, crosses the dining room like a cheerful version of the grim reaper.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.