Every time I eat in a Chinese restaurant this time of year it reminds of that scene in “A Christmas Story” where the Parkers have to settle on Chinese food on Christmas Day after their neighbors’ hound dogs devour the family’s turkey.
But there’s no roast duck waiting to get its head whacked off at New Garden Chinese Restaurant, which recently opened in the former Nam King spot on State Street next to Taqueria El Torito. Surprisingly, there’s no duck at all on the menu. No worries, though. The restaurant has just about everything else on its standard Chinese-American menu — even finger steaks, sandwiches and burgers. (of course, I didn’t show up at a Chinese restaurant to have a cheeseburger and fries.)
Like most Chinese eateries in the Boise area, the menu at New Garden is all over the map of China — without any rhyme or reason — but it plays it safe by mostly hanging around the south-central regions of the country. This means diners can get recognizable Sichuanese, Cantonese and Hunanese offerings dished up in that flashy Mandarin cooking style — straight from the sizzling wok.
There’s not much to look at here in terms of decor. The dining room is starkly bright (thanks to the overhead florescent lighting) and the walls are adorned with campy Asian prints and hanging plastic plants. A flat-screen TV, situated above the kitchen door, constantly flashes videos of cheesy Chinese love songs.
The attentive servers move efficiently about the dining room, rolling out carts of piping-hot food and delivering pots of tea to customers. Some of the waitresses struggle with the English language, but the menu has a number-and-letter system that helps to cut down on any confusion.
It’s worth noting to those with sensitivity to MSG that the restaurant uses the flavor enhancer in many of its dishes. I was told the cooks can leave it out of the stir-fried items upon request, but there’s no way around it in the egg rolls and such.
For starters, the restaurant serves a straightforward barbecued pork appetizer ($8.65), a plate with 20 slices of marinated pork tenderloin (incredibly tender, I must add) sided with little dishes of toasted sesame seeds, nose-clearing Chinese mustard and good ol’ American ketchup.
The egg rolls ($5.65 for 2) were a little greasy for my liking. These deep-fried logs — filled with pork, cabbage, scallion and carrot — came with a syrupy orange-hued dipping sauce that was more sweet than sour. The restaurant also offers veggie egg rolls for the meatless crowd.
The deep-fried mushrooms ($3.15 for 10) looked promising once they arrived at the table. Before my first bite I was thinking they would be lighter (think tempura), but instead the golden-brown puffs were saturated with grease and served with buttermilk ranch dressing. Now that’s American.
Is it too much to ask to get a little dim sum in this town? Evidently so. The closest thing New Garden has to dim sum — Cantonese-style hum bows and steamed savory dumplings — is the pot sticker appetizer ($6.15). Once again, nothing overly exciting going on with this starter. Six pork-filled dumplings get seared in a wok until crispy around the edges, then served with vinegary soy sauce for dipping.
This is certainly hot soup weather, and New Garden offers several recognizable Chinese soups to take the chill off. Keep in mind, a cup of soup is included in the price when ordering an entrée. I chose the egg flower soup, also known as egg-drop soup, swirled with cooked egg, peas and shredded carrot in clear, gelatinous chicken broth thickened with corn starch.
I also tagged on a cup of won ton wor soup ($3.65) that had silky pork dumplings floating in aromatic chicken stock alongside wilted bok choy and other veggies.
Chinese entrées tend to be on the salty side, but thankfully that’s not the case at New Garden.
Kung pao chicken ($9.75) stays true to the fiery nature of the Sichuan region. Tender pieces of chicken get stir-fried with ornately cut veggies (carrot, zucchini, celery and water chestnut) and toasted peanuts in a thick chili pepper sauce that’s a notch above medium on the spice scale.
The ginger beef ($9.75) exhibits a different kind of heat, namely an aromatic burn of fresh ginger that coats the fork-tender bites of marinated flank steak, mingled with spindly bean sprouts, onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnut in tangy and dark gravy.
Imperial scallops ($12.55), with its palatial name, is one of the most expensive items on the menu. This dish includes relatively fresh-tasting bay scallops (rather tender) stir-fried with snow peas, broccoli and onion in a light gravy that smacks of garlic.
All stir-fried entrées are served with steamed white rice. Sorry. No brown rice option here.
Other Chinese-American specialties come in the form of chow mein and lo mein. I went for the veggie lo mein ($7.95), a seasoned tangle of soft wheat noodles, scallion, carrot, bean sprouts, garlic and ginger that’s similar to yakisoba—its Japanese counterpart.
While New Garden clearly doesn’t put out the best Chinese food in the Treasure Valley, chances are the restaurant is open on Christmas Day (just in case!) and it surely takes care of that urge for won ton soup, kung pao chicken and other stir-fried dishes.
James Patrick Kelly is the Statesman’s restaurant reviewer: Email Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Garden Chinese Restaurant
Address: 4624 W. State St., Boise
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Menu price range: appetizers, soups and salads $2.30-$10.35; entrées and lunch and dinner combinations $6.50-$12.75.
Libation situation: The restaurant doesn’t serve beer or wine, but diners can wash everything down with tea and Pepsi products.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: October 2017