Monday, August 16, 2010

Fun Playing with Real Chinese Food at Beijing Garden, Twinsburg-Hudson, Ohio

It has been too long since a post has made it out of my larder! I am currently cooking for the Cleveland Area Mensa Regional Gathering in September, trying to utilize the bounty of our garden, planning some trips, working on a new business idea, and, oh yes, working my day job as an attorney. Busy, busy, busy - but always delighted when fellow blogger Tom Noe, picking up on a comment someone left on one of my recent blog posts, suggested that we visit a relatively new Chinese restaurant sitting on the Twinsburg/Hudson border. And so, four of us descended upon Chef Shawn Chen and his lovely restaurant, Beijing Garden, this weekend.

Located in a small strip mall on Rt. 91 (Darrow Road), and easy to drive to, even in a monsoon-like rain that whetted our appetite for Sichuan flavors, all of us made it from different directions around Cleveland-Akron in less than thirty minutes. Bob and I arrived a bit early, and enjoyed a couple of Tshingtao beers (happy hour priced, even on Saturday, at $1.75 each until 8pm). The restaurant has two sides - the left side, with kitchen in full view, is the casual/take-out side, with a few tables for dining in. The dining room on the right is a freshly built-out, contemporary space offering tables and booths (including two large round tables with turntables on them, for traditional Chinese dining). The restrooms (at least the one  that I visited) are spotlessly clean and fully handicapped accessible - my mother and her scooter would be perfectly comfortable here.

Service was friendly and enthusiastic. Chef-owner Shawn Chen was everywhere - front of house, dining room and kitchen. He explained his menu, emphasizing Northern China and Sichuan cuisines. We couldn't wait to dig in!

Our sturdy plastic kuàizi (chopsticks) came in this wrapper, a celebration of Beijing. A nice touch.  

Since there were only four of us, we knew we'd need to exercise some restraint in the number of dishes we'd order. We settled on two appetizers and four entrees, which we knew would generate some leftovers, without overloading ourselves.

Dan Dan Mein 

Wikipedia tells us that the name of this dish "refers to a type of carrying pole (a dan dan) that was used by ambulatory vendors who sold the dish on the streets. Literally, the name translates as Peddler's noodles." I hadn't had it in years; the story I'd always heard was that the name derived from the slapping sound produced during the actual noodle making.

The tender noodles have a gentler texture than your standard Lo Mein noodle, though they are similar in size. These were very fresh.


I could have slurped a big bowl of these noodles for my meal! Pork, vegetables and seasonings were expertly proportioned, and we all got a bit of mouth numbing heat from the Sichuan peppercorn in the sauce.  Yum.

Chef's Special Dumplings Pork and Shrimp

Dipping Sauce

We loved these dumplings. Smaller than a potsticker, and not sauced, this little package offered great flavors and textures - a little crunch, a little chew, and savory filling that did not upstage the wrapper, but harmonized with it. The dipping sauce leaned a little to the vinegar side, which cut nicely through the richness.

We took our time and ordered our entrees after enjoying the appetizers. Our servers were impressed, as this is a very Chinese way to order and eat; many Americans are in a hurry when they dine out.

Ma La Eel 

Shredded eel strips were battered and fried with sweet onion, water chestnuts, and a Sichuan Ma La sauce. Wikipedia tells us that "[t]he term málà is a combination of two Chinese characters: "numbing" () and "hot (piquant)" (), referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating the sauce." This sauce absolutely delivered. The eel - not so much. I had failed to communicate to my dining companions what Chef Shawn had told me before they arrived - most of his seafood is frozen (which, given his location and price points below $15/dish, is not at all surprising or even disappointing). Though the breading and frying solved any textural problems the eel might have suffered - like most frozen seafood, it just didn't have a lot of genuine flavor. 

Chicken with Eggplant in Garlic Sauce

This was Tom's entree selection. Chinese eggplant was stir fried with lots of garden-fresh zucchini, onions, green peppers, whole dried chilies (Stuart actually ate one - I was impressed), and chicken, in a light garlic sauce. The sauce was much gentler than the sweet-and-soy-heavy versions often seen on Americanized Chinese menus, and it really allowed all of the flavors of the ingredients to shine through. We all thoroughly enjoyed this dish.

Our next dish came out of the kitchen on a flat plate, with a bowl inverted over the food. I immediately recognized this technique from a Chinese cooking class as a molded presentation. The contents had probably been steamed in the bowl, which was topped with a plate. Now, plate on bottom, the server coaxed the steaming hot bowl off of the top of the dish with her bare hands:

Braised Pork with Preserved Vegetable

In contrast to the Ma La or chili heat of the previous dishes, this dish said "Beijing" loud and clear! The preserved vegetable had to have stewed for hours to reach this consistency, and it was very tasty. The pork could have used some additional braising time - the connective tissue was still a little tough. But the meat tasted clean and the meat, vegetables and rice came together as a nice dish. I got the impression that they don't serve it often, and that is a shame. This is a dish that demonstrates how much more there is to Chinese cuisine than stir-fry, by combining braising and steaming with a lovely presentation.

Ironically, the order for our last dish got confused somewhere between the server and the kitchen - after we waited quite a while (remembering that we were being served Chinese style, which means dishes are served as they are ready and not in pre-ordained courses), we asked where our Ziran Lamb was.  This is ironic because the pork dish above could have used that extra cooking time.
Ziran Lamb

Sliced marinated lamb and slices of sweet onion were cooked in "cumin flavor spicy sauce," a "signature dish," says the menu. I love Cumin Lamb, which is a classic Sichuan item, and this version had all of the elements for a wonderful dish - tender lamb, bold spicing and crunchy onions. Unfortunately, I think the kitchen may have rushed this plate a bit because of the ordering mix-up - it was a little over-seasoned for my palate. But don't let that comment deter you from trying this dish - if you like lamb and you like bold spice - you will probably love this dish. 

I was very happy to see two groups of Asian diners enjoy some traditional-looking treats during our visit. I was less happy to see that the restaurant wasn't well populated on a Saturday night. We left around 8pm, and I don't think they ever had more than 4 other tables occupied, in addition to ours, at the same time. So, I'm getting the word out! You'll find all of your Chinese-American favorites priced under $10 a plate (except seafood items, which average $12), and a lunch special ranging from $5.50-7.95.

Beijing Garden has a beer and wine license and happy hour is 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and all day on Sunday. I didn't look at the wine list and I don't know what the happy hour discount is; the small beer list is light and lagery, which pairs well with spicy food, and is priced at Happy Hour at $1.75 for the imports and either $1.25 or $1.50 for domestic (sorry, I should have written that down). The restaurant offers four different varieties of tea. The menu has recently been revamped a bit, so the one you are handed may not entirely follow the on-line version, but the substance is the same.

If you enjoy Chinese food - whether authentic or Americanized, you will enjoy dining at Beijing Garden. Put yourself in Chef Shawn Chen's hands and be prepared, if you are willing, to journey to Northern China, Sichuan - or both! We had fun playing with Sichuan and Beijing food at Beijing Garden and look forward to returning.

Beijing Garden on Urbanspoon

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