14 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 619-0085

Zagat ranks Oriental Garden as among the best Chinese restaurants in New York City, and ranks it as the best Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. And once you couple the word "best" with "cheap", it was hard to keep Myself, Pike, Bossette, and Shoulders from boarding that slow boat.

The walk to Oriental Garden from the Canal Street subway stop this brisk fall evening was pleasantly tourist-free. Pike and I arrived early and pretty much loitered on Elizabeth Street, shooting the breeze and pacing, looking like a pair of plain-clothed vice cops. It gave me an opportunity to absorb the immediate neighborhood. To put it diplomatically, Chinatown needs to hire a maid service. To be blunt, Chinatown is filthy. The streets reek of rotting fish; garbage bags are piled chest high every fifteen feet; the volume of litter is mind-boggling; the place is always wet and stagnant puddles of random liquid exist no matter how hot and dry the season; if the garbage strike in Naples spreads to New York, the residents of Chinatown will be the last to notice.

Naturally, the food here has to be good.

Pike and I, tired of waiting outside for Bossette and Shoulders to grace us with their presence, decided to just go in and get us a table. The first thing you notice are the large tanks filled with crabs just waiting to meet their end. The next thing was the unmistakable and unpleasant odor of boiled cabbage. I got used to it and drank my green tea.

We were seated right away at nice, large table meant either for eight normal people or four people who were about to go to town on the menu.

We had two waiters. Waiter One was, quite frankly, an asshole. He tried to rush us through our ordering, he had a generally poor attitude, and Bossette says that he gave her a couple of dirty looks. Waiter Two replaced Waiter One once the food was ordered and he was a noticeable improvement. Polite, helpful, and pleasant to be around, he was the one we ended up leaving a tip for. There was also Waiter Three, but the only contact that our group had with him was when he obliviously belched in my face as I walked past him from the front door.

Remember how I said that Oriental Garden was cheap? Well, it is. But it can also get pretty expensive if you want it to. For example, a bowl of shark fin soup was $88. Take THAT Per Se! As perhaps evidenced by the soup or the huge crab tanks, Oriental Garden is normally known for its seafood, but we stuck with the turf side of the menu. Not that we were avoiding it, we just weren't in the mood.

The only dishes we didn't share were the soups. Bossette and I ordered the Hot and Sour Soup, and while we both liked it, honesty compels me to say that it tasted no better (or worse) than what I could have ordered at the local Chinese place around the corner from my apartment that has free delivery ($10 minimum order). Shoulders ordered the Egg Drop Soup and enjoyed it, but as with our opinions of the hot and sour soup, it didn't amaze him. Pike ordered the Wonton Egg Drop Soup, which is pretty much what Shoulders ordered with some wantons tossed in, and didn't care for it. Moral of the story, skip the generic soups and go for something different, or go straight into the solid food.

Okay, the solid food. First to come were Steamed Chicken Dumblings. Blatantly sloppy typos aside, these chicken dumplings were incredible. They just exploded in flavor. I could have eaten an entire meal of them. Up next were the Steamed Vegetable Dumblings (no, I will not stop) which, while also good, were less so. Shoulders felt that the vegetables contained within lacked a certain crunch and were too mushy, as though they had been over-steamed. We followed these two up with the Shrimp and Pork Dumblings, a steamed pork dumpling with a steamed shrimp embedded in the top of it. Pike disagrees with me on this, but I was simply not impressed with them. Finally came an order of the Deep Fried Shrimp Balls, which were very good, especially when dipped in their sauce. Picture a small ball of shredded shrimp inside of a small, hard batter shell. If I was going to pick a shrimp-based appetizer to recommend, it would have to be this one. I don't feel like the pork and the shrimp worked well together. At least not steamed and wrapped in dough.

Entrees at Oriental Garden are served family-style and each comes with it's own support staff of small plates for division betwixt the diners. The first such entree was the Half Roast Peking Duck, served with hoisin sauce, sliced cucumber and sliced scallion which you place in a soft, flat bun and eat taco-style. Delicious. Possibly the best part of the meal. The only annoyance to the dish were the bones, of which there were many, so a little plate had to be used to collect them all. Ducks are a bird known 'round the world not only for their belligerence and short tempers, but for their fattiness. There's a lot of it, at least usually, and it takes someone who knows what he's doing to thin it down. Oriental Garden's chef managed, through his obvious skill here, to get rid of almost all of the fat from the meat. We also ordered the Diced Chicken and Cashew Nuts, but that wasn't quite so good. It wasn't bad, but it was sorta bland and you better like peas because it's loaded with them. Up against the duck, there's no contest.

Likewise was the third dish to show up, Beef with Hot Garlic Sauce. Again, not bad, but nothing to write home about, either. It felt like a generic beef dish with sliced peppers that I could get anywhere. Plus, I don't know where the "hot" came from, because this just wasn't a spicy entree. Redemption arrived in the form of the final plate, Cantonese Style Filleted Steak, served with carrots and huge chunks of broccoli. If you're the kind of person who stares at the menu of a Chinese restaurant only to order sesame chicken every time, you'll like this. The sauce was sweet and the beef was moist and eat-with-a-spoon tender. Very very good, on the borderline of excellent, and if I return, I'll probably order this again... if I don't get the crab. The only downside to the dish were the broccoli and carrots, which were more for garnish than anything else and were a bit undercooked.

So what's the verdict? I liked Oriental Garden. Most of the food really was very good, even if not necessarily original and with a few misses thrown in. The portions are large and the communal atmosphere is great. You'll be hard pressed to beat the price, and if you can put up with the attitude of Waiter One or the noises coming out of Waiter Three, you'll have a good time.

Four sodas, one beer, four soups, four appetizers, and four entrees, plus tax and tip totaled $168. Oriental Garden takes cash or American Express only.

You Might Also Like



The contents of this website/weblog are the property of its author and are protected under the copyright and intellectual property laws of the United States of America. The views expressed within are the opinions of the author. All rights reserved.

Readers are free to copy and distribute the material contained within, but such external use of the author's original material must be properly attributed to the author. Attribution may be through a link to the author's original work. Derivative use is prohibited. The borrower may not alter, transform, or build upon the work borrowed.

The author is free to change the terms of this copyright at any time and without notice. At the written request by the borrower, the author may choose to waive these rights.