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An irregular eating spot for us. Spring Garden has an extensive, but splotchy menu. Because Spring Garden specializes in Hunanese food, alongside the more regular Cantonese and Szechuan fare, the food is rather unusual for us. One of the big differences I noticed between Spring Garden and most other restaurants we've tried is how drastically more unsalted Spring Garden's food is. A lot of the dishes are blander, and this is a good sign, because it means less MSG, but it gets to the flavor of things. Like today, as I'll illustrate below. Anyway, we ordered a pot of Kuk Po (Chrysanthemum and Tea Leaf Tea) to go with our food, and the waitress poured a delightful soy dipping sauce to tempt us with its beautifully fermented scent.

We had the special Mother's Day menu: Special Twin Cold Combination, Braised Crabmeat Soup With 8 Treasures, Steamed Cod Cantonese Style, Braised 2 Varieties of Mushrooms With Hong Kong Vegetables, Fried Rice With Spicy Anchovies, Black Glutinous Rice Paste With Ice Cream and Baked Dumpling Stuffed With Preserved Vegetables.

The hors d'oeuvre, the Cold Combination, was a combo of blanched prawns (that's shrimp for you American types) and steamed chicken on a bed of honeydew-apple salad. Prawns and chicken came with different cream sauces. I'm no fan of prawns, so I went after the chicken. The thousand island dressing was a little too tart for the bland chicken, although dunking the chicken in soy sauce helped.

The crabmeat soup was a slightly salty coup. Considering how bland the chicken was, this was probably due my corrupted tastebuds than the fault of the soup. The stock was an impressive blend of dried seafood, very high on abalone. This thickened soup was enhanced with strips of Japanese crabmeat rolls, mouse ear fungus and salted vegetable.

The 2 varieties of mushrooms turned out to be golden mushrooms and ling zhi mushrooms. The ling zhi mushrooms were nicely sliced and sauteed. In fact, they were so well done I mistook them for abalone slices until I flipped them over and saw the frills. The mushrooms came with a bed of Hong Kong Kai Lan (green vegetable) that were undercooked enough to have an acidic aftertaste. That, and the bland sauce they used for this dish, actually made the whole deal quite unappetizing. Nonetheless, the ling zhi mushrooms were still good, pity about the rest.

The steamed cod, compared with the vegetables, was excellent. A fat cod fillet was complemented by a light soy sauce to enhance the fish's delicate flavor. Steamed fish is a simple enough dish, but it's the one that people get wrong very often, leaving you with a hard, stringy sort of fish on your plate. Spring Garden steams good fish. I love cod, the family loves cod. We had the platter clean in minutes.

The fried rice was next. The family was pretty full by now though, so we picked at the golden grains of rice until we all agreed we had to pack this one home if we ever wanted dessert. But the rice was another enjoyable dish, its color attributed to egg yolk and topped with a layer of bitey sambal (a Malaysian salsa) anchovies.

The dumplings arrived while we ate the rice. This too, had to be packed home, because while it was certainly a very original concept, we were full.

The dessert was the black glutinous rice paste with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, served in individual bowls and individual scoops. I rather liked this one. The glutinous rice was only lightly sweetened, depending on the ice cream to enhance it. Simple sort of dessert, but palatable, especially after a heavy meal.

This wasn't the most satisfying meal we've had at Spring Garden, but it was filling, and I honestly wonder if we couldn't have done better ordering ala carte instead. Case in point, on the ala carte menu, General Tso's Chicken is the must-try dish. They fry chicken chunks so that just the outside's crisp batter and the inside's tender chicken, then they toss on a light golden sauce, and serve you steamed buns to tuck the chicken in before each bite.


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