It has often been said that there are certain restaurant locations that seem cursed; spaces that see dining spot after dining spot come and go, with some being good and others being not-so-good, but all ultimately failing. Well, a very interesting Chinese restaurant just happens to be in one of these jinxed spots, and it seems that the place--Golden Garden in Belmont--is gathering quite a following among "foodies" and restaurant critics alike, along with residents in the immediate area. Whether it can find a solid customer base outside of the area in the surrounding cities and towns still remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure--the quality of the food at this friendly little spot is enough to convince this writer to keep fingers crossed that it will be around for a long time to come.
Golden Garden resides in a rather odd location just west of the Cambridge line, on a mostly residential street that eventually leads into Belmont Center. Indeed, other than a sushi place next door, no other dining spots can be found on this stretch of Concord Avenue between the Cambridge border and Belmont Center, and it just doesn't seem like an area (pleasant as it may be) to go to for, say, a leisurely dinner on a Saturday night. The interior of Golden Garden is comfortable, with the light blue walls giving the place a calming feel, while wall sconces and carpeting add a touch of coziness to the otherwise humble surroundings. The single room is partitioned off into two sections, with the main area front and center and a tiny area with a couple of tables to the right. Perhaps more of a takeout place for many who come here, the atmosphere at Golden Garden is definitely appealing enough for dining in as well.
The folks who run Golden Garden come from the northeastern part of China, which basically means that a number of dishes here are of the type that you might not see in other Chinese restaurants. The menu itself has several sections, including Northeast Chinese specialties, with some items (sauteed pork intestine, snails mixed with cilantro, jellyfish in sesame oil) perhaps not being for the squeamish; Chinese-American dishes, including such familiar items as crab rangoon, chicken fingers, pork fried rice, and boneless spareribs; and Szechuan fare that includes some very interesting dishes. Starters at Golden Gate include a hot and sour soup that is perhaps a bit more savory than hot--but a good choice nonetheless--and an excellent wonton soup that contains long, tender dumplings stuffed with minced pork and veggies. Among the appetizers are lamb teriyaki, which reflects the cuisine of Northeast China, and decent scallion pancakes that lean more toward dry and flaky than greasy and oily. The dumplings here are fantastic, possibly rivaling the best places in the Boston area for this Chinese staple. The pork and cabbage dumplings have a nice texture and a mix of sour and savory flavors, while the Chinese vegetable dumplings are slightly sweet, with a hint of a licorice taste perhaps coming from star anise or fennel. Among the Szechuan dishes is a can't-miss meal for those who like it hot--the chicken and cabbage with spicy chili sauce is one of those dishes that gets hotter and hotter as the ingredients soak up the heat from the sauce, making it one to be careful of if you take some home to eat the next day. Another Szechuan item is the moderately hot shredded dry beef (the beef is very lean) with chili sauce, scallions, and carrots. Among the simpler Northeast Chinese specialties (for those who would rather avoid offal), are a couple of potato dishes, including a sauteed shredded potato plate that has a buttery "sauce" coming from the potatoes themselves, along with some real heat coming from diced chili peppers. One dish here that is familiar among Chinese (and other Asian) restaurants is the Singapore noodles, which has a richer and less "hot" taste than what you might find at other dining spots, and just a hint of a licorice flavor coming from the star anise used in the dish. For those who come to Golden Garden for lunch, there are a number of combo specials that tend to be of the Chinese-American variety, and several noodle soup options are also available, including a chicken leg soup and a seafood soup.
If you don't know about the place, it would be very easy to brush off Golden Garden as just another in a series of short-lived eateries, considering the space in which it resides, but this is a real find; several food writers and bloggers have already discovered it, and locals do seem to be learning about this place as well. So for those of you who are adventurous eaters--or simply like Chinese food--it is definitely worth your while to seek out this warm, welcoming and reasonably-priced eatery east of Belmont Center.
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