Atmosphere: As relaxed as a Polynesian island; dress casually.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Price Range: $3.50 for fried rice to $17.50 for mandarin duck; most dishes in the $5 to $7 range.
Reservations: Probably not necessary.
Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge and American Express.
Special Facilities: Easy parking in shopping center lot; accessible to handicapped; boosters and high chairs available; cocktail menu and carryout.
If life has ordained for you more trips to Upper Marlboro than to Hawaii, you may feel rightly perturbed. On the other hand, driving toward Upper Marlboro at dinner time gives you a good excuse to stop off at the Hawaiian Garden in Crofton Centre, off Rte. 301.
An increasing number of shopping centers ofter small neighborhood restaurants with a dash of imagination that is lacking in the steakhouse, fish house, pizza house chains. In them, instead of a plastic, wood-grained environment, you may sit down in a unique atmosphere with a menu that might contain a surprise or two. The food can be quite good, reasonably priced, and easily beats the monotony of fried whatevers and quarter-pounders. Hawaiian Garden is one of these restaurants.
Luckily, it is not a Hawaiian place trading on schlocky paper leis and canned Hawaiian war chants. Instead, a tasteful dining room offers grass-cloth-covered walls, bamboo canopies and lighted conch shells and Tikis to gaze at. Only the palm trees and trade winds are missing, and you can make up for that by ordering mai tais if you require further illusion.
The menu at Hawaiian Garden is an Asian melange: Mandarin, Szechwan and Cantonese dishes, curries and a variety of Polynesian house specialties. A pleasant surprise is a weightwatcher's menu, offering dieters several dishes based on shrimp, chicken and vegetables.
As soon as we were seated, our waiter brought a bowl of fried noodle chips and a Korean lettuce relish so we could munch while we pondered menus. We made our bow to the Chinese with a round of won ton soup, 75 cents each, and one order of spring rolls, $1.50; then we settled down to dicker over which Polynesian dishes to try.
Shrimp has become too expensive to eat at home, so we indulged our passion with shrimp sizzling rice, $6.50, and a Human combination -- a shrimp and pork platter described as "two dishes on one jumbo plate" -- $8.
We added an order of house noodles, $5.75, and beef with orange, $5.50. Our waiter, perceptive man, replenished our fried noodles since the kids had devoured those given us when we were seated.
Dinner arrived quietly and graciously via a well-designed serving cart. It was a wonderful contraption, allowing the waiter to serve all the dishes at once, and to remove dirty ones quickly. An order of fried rice accompanied our entrees.
Soup, egg rolls and fried rice were good but not exceptional. Our Polynesian choices, however, while much like oriental cooking, had some intriguing twists to them. The shrimp sizzling rice was the least interesting of the four, although it is hard to quarrel with a dish with built-in spectacle -- the rice does sizzle as the shrimp and tomato sauce are poured onto it table side. The shrimp were large and tenderly cooked.
The beef, promised with a spicy orange sauce, seemed like too good a combination to pass up. Again, the meat was good quality and quite tender. The sauce, though good, lacked a distinctive orange flavor. One drawback was bits of tangerine peel which should have either been slivered or removed, since they were unpleasant to bite into.
A delightful dish was the house noodles, basically a large platter of lo mein, which kids love, topped with stir-fried shrimp, beef, chicken and crisp vegetables. It is Everyman's dinner: flavorful, not exotic, with lots of meat and shrimp in it, and at $5.75, a very good buy, considering the size of the offering.
The most attractive and interesting dish was the Human combination: a large platter, precisely divided, with slices of spiced pork to the left, and baby shrimp in a barbecue-like sauce to the right of a beautifully arranged tomato garnish. Matchstick vegetables trimmed the edge of the plate. Separately but distinctively seasoned, the pork and shrimp complemented each other well.
By dessert time, we felt we had over-indulged and decided to pass. Now I think we were out of our heads. The Hawaiian Garden offers cherries jubilee and other fruit and ice cream flambees whose preparation would delight any child.
An enjoyable dinner, minus only the trade winds. Pleasant service. The bill was $37.72, including tax and tip.