The simple name, plain dining room, and no-frills menu descriptions such as “squid with vegetables’’ may not make Jade Garden Seafood Restaurant seem exciting at first. But this new Chinatown eatery is a find for those who crave succulent, fresh, and flavorful Cantonese seafood.
As we weave our way to our white-linen-topped table, we get a view of our neighbor’s clams glistening with black bean sauce, scallion-topped platters of lobster, steaming bowls of brothy soups, plates stacked high with crispy-fried king crab, a petite hill of garlic-flecked fresh water snails. We’re tempted to order simply by pointing.
But manager Yu Cao offers his guidance. He translates the specials, which are written in Chinese, and we order his tip for an appetizer: a half-and-half mix of spicy salted dry-fried jumbo shrimp and pork chop ($12.95, serves four; below).
In minutes, a pretty haystack of flash-fried whole, shell-on shrimp and chops sprinkled with jalapeno and red pepper arrives. The warm flavors of Chinese five-spice powder infuse the light, crispy rice flour coating. The pork is fatty and luscious and the shrimp succulent. Even the shells are tender enough to eat (as is done in China).
Next, our waiter ladles dried shrimp and winter melon hot pot into cups ($9.95). Soft, sweet wedges of gourd rest in a swirl of mild broth, thin rice noodles, and nicely briny and chewy dried shrimp.
What follows is a parade of fine Cantonese cooking that showcases this elegant, minimalist cuisine. Whole steamed tilapia under a tuft of cilantro ($12.95) is dressed with fresh ginger, soy sauce, and a touch of oil. A light sauce glazes tender scallops, moons of ginger, and mild yu choy greens ($14.50). Supple squid without a hint of toughness is sauteed with ginger and scallions ($10.50). It all pleases with its freshness and direct flavors.
Once we venture beyond seafood, we find more proof of Chef Ping Ng’s skill in juicy prime rib with perfectly stir-fried string beans (rice plate, $11.95). Fat squares of creamy tofu nicely soak up the earthy aroma of shiitake mushrooms ($8.50). Mild Chinese broccoli shimmers in a delicate broth splashed with rice wine ($9.50). Even gaudy yuen yen fried rice ($9.50) dressed in the shape of a yin-yang symbol, is delicious. One side is tangy, red sweet-and-sour chicken; the other a quiver of broth and egg white seasoned by the sea taste of many juicy shrimp.
We leave eyeing the feasts that deck other tables, determined to return and explore. Maybe next time we will point.