Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Prices: At lunch main dishes $4.25 to $5.85; at dinner main dishes average $7 to $9.
There are alternative ways to evaluate at a restaurant--by whether it is a good restaurant, or by whether you want to eat there. You, afterall, don't have to eat everything on the menu, so just one excellent dish can make it a fine choice for you.
At Jade Garden that dish would be Peking duck. Many atrocities are served in the name of Peking duck in this country, probably because long ago it was discovered that duck could be cooked ahead, stored for a day or more and reheated with no loss to anyone but the diner. No matter that the reheated meat tasted like processed duck roll, it made life much easier for the kitchen, and allowed Peking duck to be served at a moment's notice with no waste of unordered ducks. Thus nowadays I have found long-stored and reheated duck more often than fresh. And fatty duck. And even pan-fried duck masquerading as Peking duck. By now I feel suspicious of any Peking duck that doesn't require several hours' notice be given to the restaurant when it is ordered.
Still, our group at Jade Garden wanted it. With the restaurant nearly empty on a Saturday evening, I predicted the worst. And fortunately I was wrong. The Peking duck--$19 on the menu but $13 as an introductory special--looked just as it should: presented whole, its skin was plumped and golden, bits of juice oozing from the bird. It was carved tableside, deftly enough to divert us from intense conversation. Then on one plate was arranged the skin, freed of fat and so crisp it threatened to shatter. The meat, moist and supple, was served on another platter. And the waiter, with a great show, quickly manipulated chopsticks to wrap duck meat, skin, scallions and hoisin sauce in a pale white pancake for each diner. Here is a city duck to compete with the suburbs' best Peking duck. No, it wasn't completely cooked at the time we ordered it. It had been partially cooked that same day and finished to order. But it remained fresh-tasting, since it had not been kept for another day or whenever a duck-fancier happened by.
Surely you won't limit dinner at the Jade Garden to Peking duck, though sometimes you may wish you did. Uneven performance follows.
Although the list of appetizers is long and appetizing, I have yet to find one I would order again, except perhaps chicken wings fried in a water chestnut flour coating, which had been reheated but was crisp and well seasoned. Egg rolls: mushy and tasteless. Spareribs: lean and nicely seasoned but prepared too long before serving. Dumplings: acceptable before they were burned in the pan-frying. Hot and sour soup: lacking depth but pleasantly tangy. Rumaki: sheer dreadfulness, the livers crumbly and bitter under their bacon wrap.
Now I know that at least the evening staff can concoct a good meal. The orange-flavored beef is batter-fried, unlike most around Washington, but the batter is light and crisp, the meat thickly sliced but tender rather than tenderized; and the lightly sweet and definitely hot sauce is good.
One for our side.
Chicken Hunan-style was also fried in batter. (We wish the otherwise-expressive menu would have told us about all these batters). Its sauce was also faintly sweet and rather hot, touched with vinegar and ginger, and quite good.
Another for our side.
The Three Treasures in Potato Nest, that exotically presented dish that has become a staple of Chinese restaurants since Tung Bor introduced it a few years ago, is all right here. We could not find the shrimp, but the scallops (a bit undercooked), king crab and vegetables in a thick, clear chicken stock sauce were agreeable, the fried potato nest a fine crunch. Those peppery Szechuan string beans with bits of meat were also prepared as well as expected.
The waiter touted the fried or braised whole fish because they were yellowtail, imported from China. That also means they were frozen, and from what I saw of frozen fish in China, they are likely to have been insufficiently wrapped and ineptly handled. Indeed, I have not yet tasted a defrosted imported yellowfish that tasted any better than a lollipop wrapper, and I consider it a dismal boast, particularly since fresh local rockfish serves so much more deliciously, if less authentically.
We fared poorly at lunch, though. The lemon chicken, shrouded in batter an inch thick, was sauced with something identifiable as lemon only by its faintly bitter aroma. Kung pao shrimp was better sauced and fried, but the shrimp were small and lacked juiciness, their sauce more sweet than hot.
The most impressive I have seen of Jade Garden was a cold plate of cellophane noodles and thinly sliced raw vegetables arranged in circles and garnished with a rose of tinted rutabagas, flowers of carrots with scallion stems and black mushrooms with a cherry center. This delight, prepared for a banquet, was a glorious piece of artwork suggested that Jade Garden has good banquet possibilities. The restaurant also looks appropriate for banquets, its front room bright and colorful with red lacquer and gold, its back room large and soft looking, in autumn colors, discreetly decorated with calligraphy and tiles on the wall. Even the plates--white with a gold logo--are unusually tasteful. Hostesses wear long dresses at lunch and dinner, waiters wear red jackets. The service is rapid and thoughtful at lunch, more leisurely and no less thoughtful at dinner. They do need to pay more attention to replacing cold pots of tea, however, after they have been kind enough to present them the moment you are seated.
Jade Garden has a short but generously priced wine list, with a French bordeaux as low as $6.50, good California wines for $6.50 to $10.75 and Moet et Chandon champagne for $25.
One bit of confusion Jade Garden avoids is the 'chef's special' syndrome. This is a straightforward menu, the foods arranged by category--poultry, beef, pork, seafood and vegetables (plus such occidental desserts as amaretto cheesecake). No page of chef's suggestions that duplicates inside pages or jacks up the prices. No hierarchy of special, more special, most special. One might even presume from this menu that the chef treats all dishes equal. We wish that he would treat lunch equal to dinner, and we hope he continues to treat his ducks with such respect. No reason to expect otherwise; in all, Jade Garden seems an eminently sensible new Chinese restaurant.