Dining amenities are finally catching up with some of the new residential development in the Haymarket area. The new Merchants View Square, at the Dominion Valley Country Club, includes not only a pizza place, an ice cream parlor, an Irish pub and a coffee shop, but a second location of the Asian Garden restaurant.
The first Asian Garden opened three years ago in Bristow's Braemar Village Plaza. In December, owners Steve Lin and Kin-Pan Cheung brought the same Chinese-Japanese menu to Haymarket.
The space is handsome. A bar/sushi bar sweeps around a corner near the front door. Halogen lights spotlight the displays of fish, and orange and golden pendant lights illuminate the sushi bar and the richly upholstered booths that fill the main dining room. Walls are sheathed in large panels of wood above a wainscoting of slate tiles. The same slate tiles provide the backdrop for the sushi bar and cover the half-wall that divides the sushi bar from the dining room.
The menu is an amazing mix of Japanese and Chinese favorites. Manager David Hsueh said some Thai dishes also will be added. There is a small, but appropriate, wine list. I find that many restaurants offering several different cuisines tend to excel in only one. At Asian Garden, I found the Chinese dishes to be most successful.
Rice is the essential ingredient in sushi, and at Asian Garden the rice falls short of the slightly sweet/slightly tangy optimum. Secondary to the rice are the toppings, generally fish, and it must be impeccably fresh. I thought several of the fish selections tasted tired and watery, including the tuna. Only the salmon and yellowtail were really of sushi quality. Even the egg omelet was watery. And an order of gyoza, although properly steamed and then pan-fried, had dried out edges, as if from freezer burn.
On the other hand, samplings from the Chinese menu were stellar, beginning with the hot and sour soup, a dish that often is merely okay. At Asian Garden, the base was piquant yet smooth and refreshing, and the bowl was chock-full of mushroom, pork and tofu slivers and bamboo shoots. On the side were crisp triangles of deep-fried rice noodles. It was the best bowl of this Szechwan classic that I have had in years.
The egg roll was crisp and nearly greaseless, but I didn't care for the ground meat included in the filling.
Kung pao chicken was spicy, but not fiery, and though the bits of dark-meat chicken were a little dry, the overall dish had a good taste and texture. Other basic dishes, such as pepper steak with onion and pork fried rice, were solid renditions.
But the dishes to most concentrate on at Asian Garden are a long list of specialties, including sliced chicken with young ginger root, beef with orange flavor, General Tso's shrimp, crispy shrimp with walnuts and crispy whole fish Hunan-style.
Open for lunch and dinner daily, there are Chinese and Japanese luncheon specials Monday through Friday. Manager Shueh said much of the weekday lunch business comes from construction workers at nearby housing developments who drop by for carryout. The dinner clientele is mostly residents from surrounding neighborhoods.
--Nancy Lewis (July 26, 2007)