Spring is coming and February's teaser days of sun have put new fuel under the growing bellies of the MSG150 crew. Having accomplished our mission in the DLZ we have now expanded north a block or two to take in the rest of Japantown. We are starting way over on 4th and zig-zagging our way east between Washington and Jackson. (See our updated map here.) The first stop on our new tour is V Garden on 4th just north of Jackson. The two blocks of 4th north of Jackson are on the sketchy side. The neighborhood plus its dilapidated exterior has made V Garden an easy place to walk past, even for gastro-adventurers like ourselves. Today, however, we took the dare and plunged in.
[Today is make your own segue day.] If you liked Seattle Magazine's Cheap Eats edition in January (which included the critically acclaimed MSG150 section) as much as we did, it may be because of Alison Austin Scheff. She has been doing great work over at Seattle's premier glossy and it shows.
Luncher: GearyLunch: Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce - $6.50
Fortune: Good health is in your future.
The interior of V Garden is not nearly as slummy looking than the exterior although it may too have seen better days. The dining space is broken up into multiple rooms each with ample gilded decorations. The fish (crab) tanks near the entrance are stunning. I think they are the largest we have seen. The giant King Crabs are impressive. Luckily for Dave we ate in a non-crab infested room. The lunch hour is apparently slow at V Garden and we were one of only a few tables. However, service was prompt and friendly.
As is common, the lunch menu offered the standard crappy options but the full menu looked much more interesting. But, bound by rule #2, we each chose a lunch special. I went with the Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce. The requisite H&SS arrived quickly but was crappy. It was not very hot or sour and was so thick with corn starch that after you removed the spoon the soup took a while to settle back to having a completely flat surface. It was more like a thin pudding. My lunch special arrived soon after and was only slightly better than the soup. The fried rice had rice (check) and was apparently fried (check) but other than some soy sauce had nothing else added. Maybe this is common somewhere, but when I am forced to buy Americanized crappy lunch special Chinese food, I expect at least veggies in my fried rice. The shrimp were fairly typical, cooked with onions and peppers in a gooey, overly salty black bean sauce.
We came to V Garden as Visitors with no Vendetta. Nate came as an MSG150 Virgin. We left in Victory unlikely to visit again. (Note: There wasn't really a clear way to link all possible V's in to this review.)
Luncher: AdamLunch: Szechuan Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce - $5.50
Fortune: You will receive some high prize or award
I've always been a little scared of V Garden, based almost entirely by the looks of its cover; its dingy gross exterior. It was nice to get inside and finally judge this establishment by inner beauty. When inside, we were seated in an almost emtpy room and presented with the lunch menu. The lunch menu is chock full of the American Chinese food greatest hits: kung pao, black bean, general tso's, etc.
I ordered the Szechuan Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce. The service wasn't bad. The food was decent. The portion size wasn't ridiculously huge nor small. All in all, the inside wasn't as bad as the exterior... but nothing to write home about. The highlight of the lunch is when they served Michael's dish (Crispy Beef) to me... and it was damned good. As Michael likes to say: "It was meat candy. Sugary sauce on the outside and savory meat on the inside." And my food was slightly ironic: it wasn't spicy or garlic-y.
If you work within a couple of blocks, you should check this place out. But no need to make a special trip to try it out.
Luncher: EmmettLunch: Kung Pao Shrimp - $6.50
Fortune: Someone will be very proud of you.
Totally nondescript on the outside, V-Garden surprises you as you enter with a nicely adorned interior. Big crab sit in a tank; the ceiling has a nice pattern to it. I ordered the Kung Pao Shrimp from their totally bland lunch menu. The viscous hot and sour soup was awful, but the Kung Pao Shrimp wasn't bad at all.
It just wasn't great. It wasn't anything to write home about. It almost isn’t worth blogging about. :) If a group of people invited me to join them for lunch at V-Garden, and it wasn't their birthday, and they weren't planning on drinking, I would politely decline.
Luncher: DaveLunch: Mongolian Beef - $5.50
Fortune: There is a prospect of a thrilling time ahead of you.
I suspect this is one of those places where the lunch-specials-only rule hurts us. the impressive (and to arachnophobes like me, kind of squick-inducing) display of ginormous crabs and the self-designation as a seafood place means that they're probably only doing kung pao chicken and mongolian beef to cater to the non-chinese lunch crowd. this was borne out by the fact that the two "local" tables had a nice looking variety of family-style dishes and appeared to be having a pretty good time, whereas our stuff all looked fairly generic. plus the menu had some more "authentic" stuff that sounded cool; goose foot and fish maw soup is definitely more authentic-sounding than general tso's.
anyway, the meal: the hot and sour soup was just what it said on the tin, so to speak. i'm never a huge fan, and this didn't make me change my mind about that. the mongolian beef was actually pretty good, and from the general comments about the fried rice it sure doesn't seem like i missed out by going with steamed rice. if i had a complaint it was that it was pretty onion-heavy; i'm popping WinterMynt Blasts like candy and i still feel the sulfury burn. otherwise, it seemed decently fresh and had a nice sweet-n-savory sauce. service was good, tea a little funky but okay, crabs terrifying. someday i'd like to come back and order something off the regular menu, but for lunch specials it sounds like $4 at golden city is a better bet.
Luncher: NateLunch: Kung Pao Chicken and Beef - $6.50
Fortune: A career change may be in your future.
While I really would like to rate the culinary experience a 2, the accuracy of my fortune cookie earns it a 3. If I ever go back there it will only be for the fortune cookie. Hopefully the next fortune will be something a bit more uplifting.
Luncher: KenLunch: Shrimp with Vegetables - $6.50
Fortune: You will soon achieve your financial goals.
The vegetable shrimp was which essentially hot vegetables and shrimp, was almost non-descript in all ways. It was edible, I ate it all, but I remember almost nothing more about it. The Fried Rice, however, was NOT what I consider good. It was rice, with what appeared to be soy sauce on it, thrown into a pan and fried. I have no desire to return of my own volition.
Luncher: MichaelLunch: Crispy Beef with Orange Flavor - $6.50
Fortune: You will make many changes before settling satisfactorily.
The holding tanks for the seafood were well stocked with a number of critters you don't often see. King crab, sturgeon, and cod were all waiting for their 15 minutes of fame on some lucky person's plate. All though the stocking density was very high the animals all looked very healthy and the water was very clear.
Also my Crispy beef was very good. You should eat here.V Garden
V Garden PhotosV Garden's southern flank
Crab enjoying it's own lunch special
V Garden Menu
Inspired use of phone cord
Kung Pao Shrimp
Kung Pao Chicken and Beef
Szechuan Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce
Crispy Beef with Orange Flavor
Szechuan Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce
Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce (and some metal pronged object)