Sure enough, on February 13, 2014 I was in the mood for some lunchtime Chinese. My usual spot is Bamboo House, a generic Chinese takeout joint at 52nd and Keystone in a shabby strip mall. The service at Bamboo House is nothing special, but the food is tasty, fast, and remarkably inexpensive. I struggle to spend $6.00 when I stop in for lunch.
JS Garden is also in a strip mall, behind Rally's and next to a clothing store, but it is newer strip mall than Bamboo House. Inside, JS Garden has trendy colored pendant lights and dark wood. It looks immaculately clean, and newer and nicer than Bamboo House. The advertised steam table with numerous wells runs down the center of the restaurant. No food was out on the steam table when I arrived just before noon. I was instantly disappointed that I wouldn't be able to use my $1.00 off steam table lunch coupon.
The kind female employee pulled a chair out for me and encouraged me to sit while I looked at the menu. It is smaller than the Bamboo House menu, but with most of the usual suspects on Chinese menus. I had to spend $10.00 to use my $2.00 off coupon, so I ordered the large Szechuan beef ($8.49) and an order of crab rangoon (six for $2.95). The smaller size beef would have come to just shy of $10.00.
Front side of the JS Garden menu. Click the photo to make it larger and easier to read.
Back side of the JS Garden menu. Click the photo to make it larger and easier to read.
Service was prompt and the female employee made pleasant small talk as I waited. She offered some sweet chili sauce to accompany the crab rangoon. The subtotal was $11.44. Minus the $2.00 coupon, plus tax but before tip, the total was $10.29. The restaurant has Pepsi products, but I passed on a soft drink.
Back at the office, I opened all the take out. The crab rangoons were large, folded like envelopes instead of triangle-shaped samosa packets or flower-like wontons. The outside was crisp, and had the telltale bubbles of freshly fried dough. Inside was disappointing. A lump of filling the size of an almond sat in a large empty cavern. Usually crab rangoon filling is smooth, sweet, and melty. This was a chunky ball of filling. I craved more creaminess and sweetness. I hoped the next crab rangoon would be better, but it was more of the same.
Large, square crab rangoon folded like envelopes from JS Garden.
A small lump of filling inside the cavernous crab rangoon at JS Garden.
I moved on to the Szechuan beef. I asked for medium spiciness. It was slightly spicy. I picked two large dried chili peppers out of the mix as I ate. I prefer when restaurants remove these peppers before serving since they are inedible dried if they are not in tiny pieces. Fresh red bell peppers and green bell peppers abounded, with some celery, carrots, and water chestnuts also in the mix. The vegetables were sliced lengthwise in long, slender pieces. It wasn't a bad attempt at Szechuan beef, but it was unremarkable. I'd have preferred a clingy sauce with more garlic, one of the main ingredients in Szechuan food. The most positive aspect of this dish was that JS Garden did not skimp on the vegetables. Sometimes Chinese dishes are all meat with vegetables as a garnish. I love fresh vegetables, and they were generous in this dish.
Szechuan beef from JS Garden.
I ate half the Szechuan beef and half the rice, and saved the other half for lunch the next day. The serving was ample for two meals. I was pleased that the Szechuan beef came in a resealable plastic container instead of a paper Chinese food box so that I could put it in the work refrigerator. The plastic container was about seven inches in diameter and slightly less than two inches deep. This is about the size of the foil lunch container at Bamboo House for under $5.00, perhaps slightly larger.
Bottom line: The pleasant service and fresh interior isn't enough to overcome the sad crab rangoon and bland Szechuan beef. I'll stick to Bamboo House unless I'm on that side of Keystone and just want soup. It's hard to turn across Keystone, so I'd stop back in at JS Garden if I was on that side of the street and traffic is bad.
Insider tip: if you try JS Garden, ask for some sweet chili sauce. They do not put a container of sweet and sour in the bag to dip the crab rangoon.