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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

South China Garden, formerly Cantoon Garden (CLOSED)

As near as I can tell, Oriental Garden is the finest Cantonese restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown. It is also ungodly expensive. If you want affordable Cantonese food in Manhattan and are willing to settle for the barest notch below the very best, go to South China Garden.

This place was, until quite recently, called Cantoon Garden, but the kitchen, the management, and the menu are all still the same (and a recent banquet for 15 people confirmed that the quality has not slipped in the least with the name change). I've been here many times, and now can't even remember what dishes I've had (what I get for not blogging about a place right away, I suppose), but I do know I've never had a dud. This is a place to go with a lot of people if you can, as the portions are most definitely on the large side. One tip: grab a take-out menu before you sit down. For some reason, the rice and noodle dish sections are not on the menu they hand you in the restaurant (and, conversely, soups are not on the take-out menu). And you definitely want a fried rice dish... they're done right here.

Beef and Chinese parsley soup is soothing and tasty, and the "small" generously feeds two, even three. For the real family-style Cantonese experience, get a casserole dish--there are almost three dozen to choose from. I have been fairly un-adventurous in this department so far, but the beef stew with curry sauce casserole was great. I have got to get together a large group of people here sometime (not a single casserole was ordered as part of the recent banquet, alas)...

Seafood dishes comprise the most extensive part of the menu, and seems to be what the Chinese clientele order the most. I tend to go in more for meat, but I can tell you the clams with black bean sauce were everything they should be, and the conch and scallops with fried stuffed tofu was marvelous.

The most memorable dish on recent visits, though, was the crispy fried chicken (ask for it with garlic sauce). It's sold by the whole or half chicken, and I'm still not quite sure how they do it. My best guess is that the whole chicken is steamed, then dunked in the deep-fryer at the end to crisp up the skin. It is then chopped up in the usual more-or-less-rectangular bite-sized pieces. It is spectacular... prefectly done, incredibly moist, with nice crackly skin.

The attentive reader will probably already that my favorite rice dish from the southern part of China is salted fish and minced chicken fried rice. Cantoon/South China Garden makes the best version I've tasted in NYC (Happy Garden Palace--at about half the price--is a fairly close second). So good that I may never get to try "Fook Ken" or "Love Bird" fried rice, both of which have certainly piqued my curiosity.

If you absolutely must pay twice as much for a meal, by all means go to Oriental Garden a few doors down. But for great Cantonese food in Manhattan at a more reasonable price, this is the place.

Cantoon Garden
22 Elizabeth St., New York 10013
on-line menu--click the link below restaurant name, and add about a dollar to all the prices
(one block south of Canal St.)

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