Spring is just around the corner
By JR Grant 01/17/2013
1795 S. Victoria Ave.
It seems everyone is looking for the perfect Chinese restaurant. I know that for me, as a child, we always went to a Chinese restaurant when none of us could decide where to go, but we all liked Chinese. Now, in the world of fusion combinations and artsy crafted international cuisine availabilities, it is good to find an old-fashioned traditional, moderate and not fancy, but reasonable middle-of-the-road Chinese restaurant.
And even better when that restaurant delivers and has take-away. Such a place can be found on Victoria Avenue, just two doors away from Trader Joe’s.
For the last year, the new owners of Spring Garden (Cindy and Jacky Hai) have been trying to bring consistently tasty and well-prepared food to this restaurant. (They previously owned the well-liked Grand China in Camarillo.) All dishes I have sampled tasted freshly made and attentively created. Recently, I ordered the General Tso chicken (a spicier Szechuan offering) and could tell that the onions, chili slices and pea pods had been recently sliced (and had not been sitting around the kitchen for hours) and just combined with the tender chicken and piquant sauce.
Similarly, if you order potstickers, they will have been freshly made for your order (you might have to wait 20 minutes or so for them to be crafted), so that when they arrive they are beautifully presented and have that fresh-from-the-wok crispness and flavor. The wontons in their many presentations also have a fresh taste and fullness. As at many Chinese restaurants, there are a number of soup options, and I particularly like the war wonton here. This very light, yet full-flavored broth is filled with pork, shrimp, chicken and a large fresh wonton. It is flavorful, light and a good beginning to a Chinese repast.
A friend of mine loves the seafood hot and sour soup. A nearby diner ordered the three-flavor sizzling rice soup; and if it was as good as the noisy and impressive presentation, I’m sure all diners were pleased. The available appetizers are not particularly imaginative. In fact, none of the offerings I sampled at Spring Garden were culinarily innovative. It was the freshness of the ingredients that made each offering seem like homemade Chinese comfort food.
One of almost everyone’s favorite familiar Chinese offerings is eggrolls. Sadly, at Spring Garden, they are my least favorite item. Instead of the cornstarch and water combination as ingredients for the rolls, Spring Garden’s taste more like rice flour (more spring roll than egg roll), and are smallish and crispy. The inside ingredients are delicious and fresh-tasting, but I’d prefer a different preparation.
Some of the chef’s special entrees are noteworthy. I’m quite fond of the Mongolian beef, a combination of thin strips of tender beef sautéed in a hearty brown sauce redolent of ginger, spring onions and unique flavorings. (Oyster sauce?) Portions are large and a chef’s special dish can easily be apportioned fir at least three people. I also enjoy the kung pao three delights, which has jumbo shrimp, thin beef strips, chicken, peanuts and red peppers in a spicy sesame oil, soy sauce and chili-paste gravy. If you like spicy or extra spicy, remember to order any of the Szechuan dishes extra hot, and ask for chili paste or hot oil on the side.
Shrimp dishes abound at Spring Garden; one day at lunch I ordered the shrimp fried rice and wound up taking quite a bit home as the restaurant was not stingy at all in the serving size and number of shrimp included in the preparation. Two very appealing-sounding menu items are the salt pepper shrimp with shell and also the cashew shrimp.
Fortune cookies and tea at the end were adequate, as is the décor. This is not a place to impress a guest with the real estate or decoration. But if you want to dine in or take away good old-fashioned Mandarin or Szechuan cuisine, Spring Garden is a great choice.