704 S. King Street
Seattle WA 98104
A Popular Fixture for Cantonese Cuisine
By: Robin P
The first time I'd had dim sum previously was at a tourist trap place a few blocks away from Jade Garden in the International District-neither the friend I was with nor I knew what we were doing or what to look for (we didn't have Chef Seattle's handy dim sum guide!) so we did not find one of the best places in town. Given the grab bag of options for dim sum in the area, it's hard to know which places will be good, and which one won't-we were hoping for the Bruce Lee of restaurants, but ended up with something more like Chuck Norris-fine, but not quite the same. It wasn't bad, but also wasn't anything I've felt the need to revisit in the five or so years since.
So it was as a relative newcomer that I came to Jade Garden. After having moseyed up 7th Avenue, the bustling, slightly chaotic foyer of the restaurant was a bit of a jolt. The place is clearly popular, as I could see a couple of parties ahead of us waiting for tables. Poking my head around the corner, I saw that the dining room was packed with happy lunch patrons, all sharing an abundance of little metal dishes containing dim sum treats. Gazing around the room I also noticed a lot of cute/kitschy decor like oversized Chinese ornaments and giant maneki neko statues. There were a couple of good-sized live tanks toward the front-a good sign for seafood lovers.
My first bite at Jade Garden completely blew away my first dim sum experience-I realized that this was somewhere I definitely DID need to visit again. We ordered seven dishes in all, and top on my list were: the carrot cake, a bar-shaped savory rice flour cake combining what seemed to be bits of radish and shrimp with taro or potato to create a starchy, herby utterly delicious cake; sticky rice, in which a serving of short-grain rice plus tasty nuggets of meat and mushrooms were mixed with a sweet, fatty brown sauce and wrapped in two gigantic leaves, imparting a smoky rich, woody flavor; and lastly the chicken feet-little claws fried and soaked in a garlic glaze. It might sound alarming, but to eat them you simply chew or slurp off the soft bits of the feet-if you're having trouble getting over the psychological barrier of eating FEET, just think of it as soft chicken skin on a wing. The tangy garlic sauce was the dominant flavor, so don't worry about any of the strong tastes that sometimes accompany odd animal parts. To my pleasant surprise, each dish introduced new, distinct flavors and textures, much more beyond the same few flavors that seem to turn up at a lot of American Chinese places.
The service was a little spotty-first, our dish selection was a little hampered because stairs separating the front dining area from the back where we were seated meant that we only got a couple of carts circulating around us. While we were given tea, water was never offered. Servers also do not handle the bills for guests-you must go up front for that. Servers didn't bend over backwards for us, but there were also no flagrant offenses. In any case, this is not the kind of place to visit for four-star service-the food is the real reason for coming.
But perhaps the best surprise is that not only was the food incredibly tasty, but at $3.00 per plate, it was a fantastic value. Each plate (split amongst three people) offered a good-sized serving without constituting an entire course. I would venture that even for a person with a hearty appetite, this is one of the better lunch deals in town.
Jade Garden was a pleasant surprise for a Chinese cuisine novice like myself. Don't be shy if you're new to dim sum-servers introduce each dish, and even if you don't recognize the names, it's unlikely you can go wrong. Just give it a try, and I bet that like me, you'll be slurping down chicken feet in no time.
From the outside Jade Garden looks small, but after stepping inside I realized that it's actually quite large. We ended up sitting in the back area, which had me a little disappointed as this usually means getting a smaller selection of dishes. The siu mai was decent-while nothing mind blowing, fans of the dish won't be disappointed with what they're getting. The bean curd really impressed me, as I'm typically not a fan of the dish. Instead of being too dry and a little unsatisfying, it turned out to be quite delicious. The small chunks of chicken and shrimp really took me by surprise. I'd definitely order it here again. However, the sticky rice disappointed me. Usually the pieces of Chinese sausage are thoroughly mixed in, but Jade Garden's version had it separated from the rice making it a little uneven and less enjoyable than this dish normally is.
The service was a little slow, but I really think it was due to the fact we ended up sitting in the back room of the restaurant. The dim sum carts seemed to stop coming our way around 1:30pm, which we found strange since Jade Garden has dim sum until 2pm. Overall, it was a decent experience, but it didn't live up to all of the hype that I've heard. It's a good spot for dim sum, but if I were to come at a time when it was jam-packed with people, I'd still head over to New Kowloon to get my dim sum fix.
I don't make as many trips to the ID as I did during my college years, but on this recent trip I found one thing has remained the same: Jade Garden is still packed-with good reason. As one of the few Chinese restaurants in the International District that offers consistently good dim sum on both weekends and weekdays, the restaurant has built a loyal following that frequently materializes in the form of a hungry line of patrons straight out the door and often around the street corner.
During our visit, just about everything was as I remembered the siu mai was juicy, the hum bows plump, the bean curd swimming in a rich brown sauce and the chicken feet soft and pliable. One disappointment I had was with the sticky rice however, which seemed poorly made and assembled like a sandwich-two slabs of rice with meat in the middle. The other were the egg tarts, which looked suspiciously similar to the point that I was worried about commercial mass production (to be fair, almost all dim sum egg tarts looks similar these days).
Unfortunately, we didn't get to sample more of Jade Garden's delicious offering, having been seated in the forgotten back section that apparently doubles as a diner's black hole. Definitely points off for service for this fundamental restaurant layout flaw, so I recommend that you request a seat at the front of the restaurant should you go to Jade Garden.
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