South China Garden (formerly Cantoon Garden) – Still the Best Restaurant in Chinatown
**THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED (LOST THEIR LEASE)**
I originally wrote about South China Garden (formerly Cantoon Garden) in January 2009, which you can see here, as one of the best restaurants in Chinatown. Since then not too much has changed except for the English name; the Chinese name remains the same 粵江春餐館 (yue jiang chun can guan) which literally means Cantonese river spring restaurant, but really is referring to the Pearl River. The menu, staff, manager and cooks all remain the same. This has led to it also being the most consistent restaurant in Chinatown, which is actually quite a feat seeing how many if not most restaurants in Chinatown seem to suffer from ups and downs in quality as their kitchen staff comes and goes.
I probably come here about once a month maybe more, so I also come here much more frequently than any other restaurant in Chinatown by a long shot. I’ve also slightly changed my order patterns as I’ve found other dishes in the restaurant that are very good. I decided to write this post as an update since things are always changing in Chinatown and this is my re-affirmation that this is my favorite restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Here’s my latest meal here as well as my typical order now:
黃龍魚兩食 (Huang Long Yu Liang Shi / Yellow Dragon Fish Cooked Two Ways):
The one type of dish I always felt was missing at SCG was a good Cantonese fish dish, which I feel is pretty emblematic of Cantonese cuisine. I’m not a big fan of the type of fresh water fish they used in their qing zheng yu (steamed fish) as it has that sort of fresh water fish taste that I’m not a big fan of (think the fish equivalent of being gamey). This time I asked the waiter what fish is good and he told me to order the 黃 龍魚 (huang long yu). Unfortunately, it is not listed on the menu and only listed on the wall in Chinese (hence I’ve provided the Chinese characters to make things easier for anyone who wants to try this). First comes out the a very light fish soup that boils the fish, tofu, mushrooms, ginger and baby bok choy together and then they separate the soup from the ingredients. The soup is excellent, very light, not fish and goes great with a dash of white pepper. The other ingredients they give you on the side, but they’re not all that tasty since you’ve sapped most of the flavor for the soup.
The second preparation is diced pieces of the fish that have been lightly sautéed in a light clear sauce with peas (in the shoot), some other green stalk vegetable which I couldn’t identify and mushrooms. This is a big winner, the fish is much higher quality (not remotely fishy), very tender and just a really good dish. I highly recommend this as it’s one of my favorite dishes on the menu now. 8.25/10
Lobster in XO Sauce (XO Jiang Chao Long Xia):
This has been another staple dish for me and is not only quite good, but a steal for $25 for two lobsters. I’ve tried most of the preparations and I prefer the XO sauce the best as it has good flavor and a slight amount of spice that really make it quite good. The lobster is always tender and the sauce is great. 8/10
Fried Stuffed Hot Peppers:
This is another one of my newer favorite dishes here. It is spicy green peppers stuffed with a fish paste and then sautéed in a black bean sauce. The peppers are really delicious and the fish paste and black bean sauce go really well with the peppers. Surprisingly, the green peppers can be very spicy (it depends sometimes they are spicy, sometimes not) as Cantonese food isn’t usually even remotely spicy. If you don’t like spicy food, I suggest removing the fish paste (it comes out easily) and scrapping out the seeds as the seeds are what is actually hot. 8.5/10
Salt Baked Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu):
Along with NY Noodletown, SCG has the best version of this dish in Chinatown (I think NY Noodletown’s breading is better, but SCG has more tender squid). The saltiness of the batter along with how non-greasy it is and the fact that the squid is still tender makes this a solid rendition of this dish. 8/10
Fried Garlic Chicken (Suan Xiang Cui Pi Ji):
For some reason this dish is called “Fried Chicken w. Sauce” on the menu, but it’s actually a fried chicken with minced garlic on it. However, it’s not like American fried chicken as it’s not breaded and it actually looks like rotisserie chicken. The meat is very tender and the skin is perfectly crispy, but not dried out. The garlic compliments it’s really well. I definitely think this is one of their strongest dishes. 8.25/10
Steamed Big Crab With Ho Fun and Garlic:
This is great dish that consists of a large crab that has been steamed over a bed of ho fun (thick rice noodles), garlic and scallions, so that the juices from the crab mix with the garlic and great it’s own sauce that is really good. The star is the noodles rather than the crab although the crab is still good. 8/10
Peking Pork Chops (Jing Du Pai Gu):
This is the Cantonese version of sweet and sour pork chops. The pork chops are fried and coated with a sweet and sour sauce that is not gloppy or weird tasting. It’s a very solid dish although it is sweet in case you don’t like sweet dishes. 8/10
Stir Fried String Beans with Preserved Vegetables:
I very recently started ordering this dish at the request of a friend and it turned out to be another good dish to add to the rotation. It’s the classic stir fried string beans with minced pork, minced pickled vegetables and dried chilis. They do it well here as you can taste that great wok flavor and the minced pork and pickled vegetables really compliment the dish and are not overly salty. 8/10
Pea Leaves With Crab Sauce (Xie Rou Pa Dou Miao):
This is dou miao (pea leaves) sautéed and then covered in a egg white and crab claw meat sauce. Pretty self-explanatory, but very good. 8.25/10
Overall, still my favorite restaurant in Chinatown and definitely the most consistent. Highly recommend.
22 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10013