A couple of weeks ago Grant from Coffee.net gave us a shout out and, after checking out his site, we invited him to lunch. Coffee.net is worth a look so check it out if you haven't. They are not just about coffee. They have done some thoughtful restaurant reviews and a helpful beginners guide to dim sum which includes tips like: avoid restaurants with the word "Golden" or "Dragon" in their name. They have also put together some Top 10 lists by utilizing UW student cultural organizations including Top 10 Chinese Restaurants in Seattle and Top 10 Indian Restaurants in Seattle. Today Grant and his colleague Steve joined us as MSG150 VIPs for lunch at the Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant.
Also this week, clearly gifted food writer Jonathan Kauffman over on Seattle Weekly's Voracious blog called MSG150 "Seattle's most useful food blog" and "brilliant". Thanks Jonathan. However, we still haven't heard from Jess Thompson regarding the Unicorn Crepe challenge.
Family Style Dishes
- Chicken with Chinese Greens - $6.75
- 2 x Chinese Green with Scallops - $8.25 ($16.50)
- 2 x Chinese Broccoli with Prawns - $8.25 ($16.50)
- Prawns Sauteed with Honey Glazed Walnuts - $15.75
- Scallops Szechuan Style - $11.95
- Braised Cod with Pork and Tofu - $12.95
- Mongolian Beef - $6.75
- Deep Fried Cod Fillet with Creamy Corn Sauce - $11.25
- Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken Wings - $11.95
- Beef with Chinese Broccoli - $6.75
Luncher: EmmettLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: Someone will give you something.
We had a big crew today, plus guests. Sea Garden, the lady claims, has been in Seattle for almost 25 years. Its interior is very modern looking. They sell cigarettes up front, which is awesome. They also show off the fresh seafood offerings - Geoduck, crab, etc, in the tanks up front.
The menu was extensive. The lunch specials were more limited. I chose the Scallops with Chinese Greens. The scallops were fresh and had a nice flavor, and the Chinese Greens were Bok Choy. The dish was fresh and tasty, but kind of ho hum in the flavor department. I tried some of Grant's Szechuan Chicken, which had a lot more going on, and was good. The salt and pepper chicken wings were fresh fried, delicious.
The service was good, but otherwise Sea Garden was unremarkable.
Luncher: AdamLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will receive an invitation from an unexpected source.
Sea Garden. This has place has been around for a while... or as our server put it: "twenty-five-something years old." I think this is probably a prime example of one of those places that has an excellent and unique dinner menu, but a relatively boring lunch menu.
The lunch special menu consisted mostly of beef, chicken, pork, or prawns mixed with Chinese broccoli or Chinese greens. I opted for the Chicken with Chinese Greens. But we ended up eating family style, so I got to sample everything. First, the high notes: the scallops were delicious; they had an excellent lemon flavor without totally overpowering the subtle flavor of the scallop. The H&SS wasn't particularly hot, but it had a nice tangy sour to it.
The low note: some severely undercooked (basically raw) onions-- the eight of us from the office were all regretting eating them.
The food is good, but not special. For lunch, you're not missing anything if you skip this place... but I think the dinner here would prove to be quite delicious (and a little expensive).
Luncher: GearyLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will take a chance in something in the near future.
I have been to Sea Garden before for dinner, but it has been ten years. The interior is clean, well furnished and has the feel that they might charge a little bit extra than their neighbors. The tank of live crabs in the entry helps remind you that it's a Seafood restaurant. I arrived a few minutes late and found our group taking up the two largest tables in the back corner of the medium sized dining room. I met our VIPs and then went about trying to add my order into the mix. In accordance with rule #2 I went for a dish off of the lunch menu. Again I was delighted that there were no "Kung Pao" offerings, however the Seafood options on the lunch menu were a bit uninspired. I went with the Chinese Greens and Scallops.
Luckily it was a family style meal and everything was up for grabs. The food arrived quickly for such a large group and it appeared we were getting extra attentive service. Taking photos and notes is always good for a little extra attention. I started with the Greens and Scallops. The scallops were fresh and sweet and cooked perfectly. The greens, bok choy and carrots, were crisp and plentiful. Nothing too spectacular on the flavor side of things, but fresh, well-cooked ingredients goes a long ways on its own. Of the other dishes, the non-seafood lunch specials were on the average side, but the seafood items off of the dinner menu (cheaters) were very good. My favorite was the Cod with Pork and Tofu.
In summary, come to Sea Garden for a good Chinese Seafood dinner or large lunch, but if it's an under $10 lunch you are looking for there are better places in the neighborhood. Since I'm bound by rule #2 to rate based on typical lunch fare, I have to go with three chopsticks.
Luncher: DaveLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will take a chance in something in the near future.
rating: 4 if you get seafood, solid 3 if you get lunch specials, but heck, call it 4 overall
i was one of the brave souls who ventured off the lunch special menu (possibly in violation of rule 2, but i'd weasel out of that by saying: just because there's lunch specials doesn't mean that that's what people order there for lunch). the honey walnut prawns are mentioned in a number of the online reviews for this place, and with good reason; this was a great version of a dish that's always good. the lightly-battered fried prawns were still crisp despite the saucing, but not rubbery. the sweetness on the walnuts actually tasted like honey -- at other places this dish is more like plain candied walnuts tossed with sauteed shrimp. the downside for this one is the hit to the pocketbook, but if you family-style it up and the rest of the table ends up eating more of it than you do, uh, and you still pay more than other diners, uh, hey wait guys.
we did a little of said family-style action, so here's what else i can tell you. rob's fish in corn sauce was the standout for me, and it's what i'm getting when i go there next. the only criticism i have of it was that the sauce was too cornstarched, turning it a little gluey. bear in mind that i only noticed this after having gobbled up the fish and was chopsticking up every last piece of rice that it touched. the braised cod with tofu that the coffee cabal brought to the table was really a tofu dish flavored with cod and pork, which is right in my sweet spot, and it's probably what i'll get the time after next.
the lunch special stuff i think is going to be a polarizer. erin's mongolian beef was good, but the onions were pretty harsh; it sounded like that was a problem elsewhere at the table too. i didn't try any of the chicken or beef versions of lunch special blank with chinese blank*, but geary's steamed? scallop i stole was good, and i liked both of the chinese blanks which made up the bulk of the dishes. i'm a sucker for chinese broccoli because i never get it in real life, only on these big group outings. the baby bok choy which was the "chinese greens" was great -- crisp but tender -- but i always want my baby bok baby bok baby bok, so unless you love it too, it might be a bit much.
bottom line: the non-lunch-special seafood dishes we had were very good, and my 4 chopsticks has unexplored headroom in the form of the live crabs which are the first thing you see when you walk in. as a lunch-special ID joint, this is good if you like chinese broccoli and bok choy, and decent if you don't. as a chinese seafood place, this is adventurous-out-of-town-guests good.
[*] if it weren't already obvious from the selected dishes, they could have saved a ton of space on their lunch special menu by doing:
LUNCH SPECIAL: [chicken, beef, pork, prawn, scallop] with chinese [greens, broccoli]not that there's anything wrong with that.
Luncher: JeffLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You or a close friend will be married within a year.
Since this was the Sea Garden I did my best to stick with seafood and I'll try and focus mostly on my lunch. That said, I was lucky enough to try some of Dave's Walnut Prawns (or whatever they were called) and can’t write this review without raving about them. They were FANTASTIC!!! The appetizer soup was also very good. I'm a big fan of most hot and sour soup variations. Sea Garden's version looked like most -- but had a very distinct flavor. "Please Sea Garden, can I have some more?"
I ordered the Prawns with Chinese Broccoli lunch special. Initially, I thought this was a bad choice. My dish appeared to be all greens with 3 smallish prawns. Luckily, there were more prawns hiding within. I spread my dish over some light, well cooked rice. The Prawns were tasty and most likely fresh. They were just big enough for 2 bites which was perfect. The greens were cooked perfectly. They had the perfect balance of crispness without being undercooked. The light sauce was perfectly complimentary.
While the overall meal didn't jump out as "best food ever" -- it was all good, served fast, fresh, and well proportioned. I'll definitely return to the Sea Garden.
Luncher: ErinLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: Believe in your abilities, confidence will lead you on.
Sea Garden is a standard in the ID, and I have been here several times for dinner. Today I had the Mongolian Beef ($6.75) lunch special. It was not quite the standard Mongolian Beef that you find in most Chinese restaurants. The meat was not deep fried and there were none of those dry rice sticks. The dish was stir-fried meat with onions & sauce. It was cooked nicely – tender and not over done, and the sauce was pleasantly flavored, but not spicy. I also had bites of other dishes: Honey Walnut prawns, Chinese veggies from a scallop dish, and fried cod in corn sauce. Everything was well prepared and tasty; however nothing was particularly outstanding. It was strangely empty for lunch, even though the food was tasty and the interior is clean, tidy and has interesting art on the walls. Overall, it was a good meal, and I enjoyed the company. My hike up the hill took longer than normal!
Luncher: RobLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will inherit a small piece of land.
The wait staff at the Sea Garden knew something was up. Eleven lunchers taking pictures, scribbling down notes. They were very attentive about keeping our water glasses filled and bringing out our orders. It took me a bit to wade through all the shellfish in the Sea Garden menu, but I eventually found some cod, and the waitress sort of recommended ("many people like this one") the one with the longest name, the deep fried cod fillets with creamy sweet corn sauce. Pricey at $11.25, but none of the lunch specials were vegetarian enough for me. First we got hot and sour soup, which did not appear to have chicken stock, but did have chunks of pork. So much for that. My dish, of course, was one of the last to come out, and I have to admit that it did not look the most appetizing, all that lumpy yellow sauce gooped on top of chunks of fish. Thankfully, though, it tasted pretty good. The corn sauce wasn't too sweet and didn't overpower the cod. The corn flavor actually went well with the fish; it wasn't spicy, but a few small spoonfuls of hot sauce fixed that. As the dish cooled, however, the sauce did start to congeal, but I was most of the way through it by that point. An added bonus was, since there were so many of us, I sat about as far away as I could from Adam-the-control-freak. I swear, if I have to listen to him rattle on and on about the MSG150 rules one more time, I'll punch him in the nose.
Luncher: JoeyLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will be rewarded for your good ideas.
I ended up not getting seafood, because I didn't want to spend $10+ on lunch, so I decided to go with beef with gai lan (Chinese broccoli). The food came pretty fast considering how many people we had, but Erin pointed out that we were the only ones in the restaurant. I have been to restaurants that have taken forever even though my group was the only ones in the restaurant however... very frustrating. About the food. As the food arrived I was a bit disappointed in seeing the portions people were getting. This made me glad that I decided to go non-seafood to save some money, which was doubly justified by the small serving size. They did give plenty of rice however served family style. I think I ate about 2.5 bowls of rice to help fill me up. The quality of my dish was about equivalent to getting a $3.95 lunch special at Golden City, so I wasn't that impressed. I can't really be too harsh in my rating though given that I didn't order seafood and this was a seafood restaurant, but the fact that I could've gotten something just as good for $4 bugged me still.
My meal was $6.75, so with tax and 15% tip that comes out to about $8.35. So I put in $9, but we were short of the total, so I ended up putting in $10 when I didn't want to spend that much in the first place... go figure.
2 chopsticks... food was okay, but could've gotten the same for less than half at Golden City.
Luncher: DougLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: Expect a change for the better in job or status in the future.
There were only 2 or 3 other customers there, not a great sign. I ordered the prawns with Chinese broccoli. The vegetables were fresh, the prawns had nice texture and flavor. However the sauce was a bit too salty and I was left with a mild MSG headache for much of the afternoon.
VIP Luncher: Grant from Coffee.net - Seattle, Restaurants, Coffee and LifeLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will receive an unexpected compliment.
The service at Sea Garden was a fairly smooth ride. They were more than happy to combine two large tables to seat our large group. Servers brought out waters without having to ask. Plating and tables were all clean as well.
The first dish Steve and I ordered was the scallops with szechuan sauce. The scallops were slightly firm and of the thin variety.Accompanying our mollusk friends was a medley of onions, peppers and the semi-sweet, oyster sauce like sauce. What immediately caught my attention however was the onions, which had an unmistakable bleach-like taste. Quite unappealing unless you're used to gargling with Clorox in the morning.
Luckily, the braised cod turned out much better. Stewed in a brown seafood broth, the cod was lightly fried. This gave the fish a crisp texture that pleasantly contrasted with the savory sauce. Fried tofu was a smart ingredient for this dish, soaking up much of the flavor of the broth as well.
Last, the salt and pepper chicken. This was a disappointing dish, as it looked delicious to the eye, but tasted plain to the tongue. There was a lack of salt and pepper flavoring to the batter, which made the initial bite rather bland. Getting to the meat of dish (puns are bad), the texture was slightly dry and lacked any flavoring as well.
It's certainly not the worst Chinese food around, but Sea Garden isn't making me come back for more anytime soon. This matches our experience in their Bellevue location, which performed poorly as well.
VIP Luncher: Steve from Coffee.net - Seattle, Restaurants, Coffee and LifeLunch: Family Style - $13.00
Fortune: You will speak to an important person today.
Sea Garden offers up a decent menu selection with a few rare notables, such as Shark Fin soup and Geode duck. But be warned, as Shark Fin soup comes with a hefty price tag of $32.95. I decided to be a little more on the sensible side and opted for the Szechwan-style scallops. Served on a bed of chopped onions, they were seasoned in a light sauce with some spices that gave it a real smoky taste. I was a little disappointed at it lacked a more pervasive spice that has become the trademark of Szechwan cuisine. When you put the label of Szechwan, people expect some numbing hotness. Portions were great, though I really would have in enjoyed it more if the onions didn't taste so raw. Service was great, as dishes seemed to be cooked at breakneck speeds. The lunch specials are a great budget option with a complementary hot and sour soup and steamed rice to go with your entrée. I had to bump up the rating to four chopsticks as Sea Garden falls in the category of "best ambiance of a restaurant in the International District that has been open for more than 20 years." Whew, that's a lot to say.
And the only bad part about the experience... An important person didn’t talk to me today.
Sea Garden PhotosSea Garden Seafood Restaurant
Prawns Sauteed with Honey Glazed Walnuts
Scallops Szechuan Style
Chinese Greens and Scallops
Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken Wings
Beef with Chinese Broccoli
Chinese Broccoli with Chicken
Chinese Broccoli with Prawns
Braised Cod with Pork and Tofu
The Blob (A.K.A. Deep Fried Cod Fillet with Creamy Corn Sauce)
04/2/08 - Fixed typos (Geary is spelling challenged)