Editors' pick

China Garden

Asian, Chinese, Dim Sum
$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

China Garden: A Rosslyn Respite
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

At first glance: The doorway to Rosslyn mezzanine restaurant China Garden, at the top of a gleaming escalator beneath a canopy of steel-rimmed skylights, seems rather modest, even (compared with its high-tech surroundings) dowdy.

But once inside the large, open dining room, with its touches of celadon paint and softly lit ceiling, you'll feel comfortably insulated against the modern world and its traffic.

On the menu: This is a classic Cantonese restaurant, and its lengthy menu includes such traditional dishes as deep-fried duck stuffed with mashed taro; steaming casseroles of eggplant flavored with a little chicken and salt cod; tripe with sour cabbage; a half-dozen spare-rib recipes; and soups that will feed a table of 10, including sliced winter melon with Virginia ham and mustard greens with duck as well as a light seafood and tofu. Shipments of vegetables at a popular restaurant this size are frequent, and it's worth asking what's good and perhaps substituting fresh greens for the usual ones in your dish. Cantonese-style dim sum is served by carts Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's a family tradition in the community, so show up early to avoid a long line.

At your service: This is a popular spot for large celebrations; the restaurant can cater parties as large as 600, and groups of eight or 10 are common. Occasionally the kitchen gets backed up and the waiters scramble, but most of the time service is brisk. With a menu this long, it's helpful to ask questions, but be specific: Don't just ask if soft-shell crabs are available, for example. Ask whether they are frozen or fresh, which kinds of whole fish or fish heads are on hand, or whether the squid or scallops are better in a certain sauce. Repeat visits breed familiarity and good counsel.

On the table: The cold appetizer combo of braised beef brisket, jellyfish and boned, rolled and sliced pig's knuckles encircled by orange slices could easily serve as a light meal; the delicate but earthy flavors bloom with a dash of chili vinegar or hot chilies. If you like roast quail, which has become a standard appetizer at many Vietnamese restaurants, step up to the Cantonese-style roast squab (pigeon), the meat of which is darker and a little wilder. It's an entree, but you can order it split for the table as a first course. One of the chef's specials, grilled filet mignon China Garden style, is a version of Vietnamese lemon grass beef with marinated cubes grilled to a slight caramel crust. Scallops are fine in almost any form, particularly with an unusually light black-bean-ginger sauce. Even more delicate is the tender cuttlefish, the pieces fringed and tossed with julienned scallions in just-thickened broth. Braised bean curd with minced pork and spicy sauce (often called home-style tofu) is first-rate, simultaneously silky and pungent. Other fine vegetable dishes include the sauteed baby eggplant and the braised seasonal greens with either mushrooms or bean curd skins.

Wet your whistle: China Garden has a full bar, a list of "Polynesian favorite" cocktails, a dozen beers and a few house wines.