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Grace Garden, Szechuan on Annapolis Road in Odenton - Chef Li Comes From Hunan Manor in Columbia

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chaofun   

Just saw on Chowhound that Grace Garden is closed for the foreseeable future due to damage from the snow. If this is true, hopefully they will be back on their feet quickly.

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I spoke with Mei yesterday, and she said that the roof to the whole strip collapsed from the weight of the snow.

They won't know what their status will be until this snow melts and they can assess the damage.

She will keep people posted as to what their plans are as soon as she knows.

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The Grace Garden Web site says now that they're temporarily closed during reconstruction. Let's hope that means the damage was light enough that they can reopen soon.

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perrik   

I did a re-con lunch trip to Grace Garden last Tuesday - it remains unpromisingly grubby on the outside, filled with wonders on the inside. After a lunch of braised Hak-Ka tofu, I pre-ordered a tea-smoked duck for Saturday. Five of us showed up to feast on the duck, fish noodles, Pang-ka tofu, shredded beef with black pepper, something with eggplant, sauteed pak choi, and those evil little Chinese doughnuts that you know you shouldn't eat eight of but you do anyway. Grace Garden seems to be back to normal, but I'd better go back this week for another lunch, just to make sure.

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Stopped in for dinner tonight. It looks like Chef Li's added several new items to the menu as of the last couple weeks.

He's included the "Phoenix Purse", an item that he has made in the past for special dinners as a regular item you can order a few days ahead. It is a dumpling using skin made of egg white and filled with chicken and veggies.

He's also added several new seafood items including a conch dish and something called Cantonese Sea Treasures (also a preorder).

I had the Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles which was noodles with sesame sauce topped with pork cooked with Sichuan peppers.

I already hoping to make it back again later this month.

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theminx   

Stopped in for dinner tonight. It looks like Chef Li's added several new items to the menu as of the last couple weeks.

He's included the "Phoenix Purse", an item that he has made in the past for special dinners as a regular item you can order a few days ahead. It is a dumpling using skin made of egg white and filled with chicken and veggies.

He's also added several new seafood items including a conch dish and something called Cantonese Sea Treasures (also a preorder).

I had the Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles which was noodles with sesame sauce topped with pork cooked with Sichuan peppers.

I already hoping to make it back again later this month.

I'd love for Chef Li to add the lamb chops we ate during the New Year's special dinner! I'm drooling just thinking about them.

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goodeats   

If you have been to a family Chinese dinner before, then you can understand the warmth a communal feel emits, much like those virtually sent from this board, often. For me, dining here was very much going to an aiyi and shushu (auntie and uncle's) house, where there was chatter about everything and nothing, lots of laughter and lots of feel good vibes.

I feel like I don't need to add any more accolades than those posted above before, but I wanted to share the strong memories dining at this place last night evoked, that the General Tso's chicken thread eluded to, and that it is a feeling I have not captured/felt at nearby, more local Chinese restaurants yet.

Chef Li and Mei are indeed cooking and caring from the heart and everything, from the greetings to the food, shows. A nice bonus was tea brewed from real leaves.

A dinner of Peacock chicken (I believe); Pipa tofu (Fried tofu in crabmeat sauce on their menu); Stir-fry water spinach (altered to suit yours truly for reflux issues); and the famous-you-must-try Fish noodles warmed the heart like dim sum and stuffed the stomach like good Thanksgiving stuffing. The bonus was enjoying the company of a new friend, whom I could have chatted with for a long time after we were full and close to closing time.

For those unfamiliar, Fish noodles are hard to make right. This one had such noodle consistency that either the fish mix was pounded the crap out of + right mix of gluten binder to get to this chewy greatness, or just magic. The sauce on the chicken (served cold) was rich in spicy, garlicky, peanuty gravy (not for those with peanut allergies). Pipa tofu is one of my favorite dishes and I always try it if the restaurant has it. Either served steamed or deep fried (this was the latter), the center should be soft and tender, which this was.

To note, most of the poultry items need to be ordered 2 days in advance.

For me, it was well worth the drive of horrible DC traffic and wishing that teleportation would be invented faster. In the meantime, I will make the trek soon, as mom is coming to visit, and as those with Chinese mothers can attest, that is the strictest test to pass. :-)

PS. Mei mentioned a new dish but I already forgotten parts of it, except that it was steamed chilean sea bass and made my mouth water, even though I was too full for anything else.

PPS. Pics. If I can find my card reader. It was too funny when dinner came and 2 cameras emerged simultaneously.

Edited by goodeats

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DanielK   

(cross-posted in "On a Whim" topic)

Picking up the kids from BWI Saturday noonish. Anyone up for lunch at Grace Garden around 1pm?

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goodeats   

Do they take reservations?

Not sure, but they had, iirc, 3 tables of 6-tops, so if you have more than that, I think no reservations are needed. Unless you want to call-in to pre-order 1 of their dishes. Hope you enjoy there!

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They don't officially take reservations, but if you have a large party they can hold a table for you. I do this when 8-10 people are getting there a certain time.

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KMango   

Had the privilege of joining GoodEats and little gentleman for an early evening meal at Grace Garden. Their three-day call ahead order enabled revelatory tea-smoked duck. This was, hands-down, one of the best ducks I've ever had, smokey earth flavor in every moist and tender bite.

Fish noodles, as mentioned above, are another can't miss. And the mushrooms that come with the tofu pockets will erase any doubt as to what the word "umami" means.

This is a tiny venue, and parking can be a trick with rapid traffic on Annapolis Road. Goodeats recommends parking behind the liquor store, and I echo that by recommending braving the traffic journey, was well worth the weekend jaunt from Alexandria.

In fact, if ye doth headeth to the Maryland Renaissance Festival this year, take the 17-minute detour and zip over to Grace Garden. Call a few days ahead for the slow-cooked poultry items.

And forsooth, amazing vittles will be had by all.

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Google maps said it would take 45 minutes to get there, with traffic. We gave ourselves 55 minutes, and promptly got stuck in the Saturday afternoon DC Beltway rush, and so ended up 10 minutes late meeting our friends.

I hate being late. "We really ought to give up on Grace Garden," I groused, as we finally broke free and got up to speed on I-95.

"Why?" asked Steve. "Because it's such a pain in the ass to get to?'

"Exactly."

But one of our party had ordered for us (whatever did we do before cellphones?!), so shortly after arriving the fish noodles landed in front of us. And then pocket tofu with shrimp. And then crispy eggplant in some sort of lightly spicy sauce. And a big plate of greens with garlic and ginger. And pork belly. And those damned doughnuts "that you know you shouldn't eat eight of but you do anyway".

I hate being late. I hate traffic. I'm not giving up on Grace Garden. It's just too damned good.

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A few months ago when I was eating at Grace Garden, Mei told me that sometime, I should try their General Tso's chicken. Just recently, I did, and it was delicious, a wonderful combination of spicy and sweet cooked beautifully that may be the best General Tso's chicken I've ever had.

I was also lucky enough to try their version of zongzi, the sticky rice dish wrapped in bamboo leaves.

They suggested to me that they are hoping to test out some new items for their menu in the next few months.

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This is my go to Chinese, I will drive out of my way to eat here. In fact as I write this I am munching on cold basil chicken. They have the two menu system so you can order the good ol stand byes such as egg rolls and shrimp toast but then they have the Chinese menu, from there my favorite stand outs are the Dan Dan noodles, the Thai fish and the salt and pepper pork chops. This place is so worth the drive from anywhere it's not even funny. The food is on point. Little Asian dude chef rocking it out with the rest of his fam working the place. Please go and eat, take friends too cuz the portions are most def meant for sharing.

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Pool Boy   

I need to get back again soon. It's been too long. I really want to try the dusk and other dishes that require 2, 3 day notices.

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Chef Li's health hasn't been good lately and we keep admonishing him to go see a doctor, but he's a stubborn man who is also irreplaceable in his own kitchen.

And his cooking has never been better. A few of us stopped in last week prior to a concert in Annapolis, and everything was a solid hit. Try the Taiwanese-style fish, a diced stir-fry whose perkiness elevates what is normally rather ordinary fare.

But I worry about the guy, and the toll it must take on both of them. It's clearly a lot of work keeping this mom-and-pop operation going, and it's also fairly obvious that they do absolutely everything themselves while the kids are in school. Go say hi, and take in another great meal.

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I'm meeting friends at Grace Garden next week for lunch -- is it the same as the Chinese dinner menu (I'm hoping)?

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Lydia R   

The Li family is super pleasing. Even though I'm an infrequent diner, Mrs. Li automatically hands me the full traditional Chinese Dinner menu during weekday lunch time instead of the "western" menu.

For some updated Grace Garden dining reports, there is an original thread on Chowhound (with almost 300 responses) and a new-ish splinter thread started by a meet-up report from mid-April.

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Pool Boy   

Their crispy eggplant is seriously good. Try it if you have not. Tried with braised fish filets which were a delight. And the twice cooked pork was basically spectacular. Ordered too much but got to try it all and I am happy.

If you have not been, seriously, what are you waiting for?!

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You gotta get the dan dan noodles and the Taiwanese style fish. Also if you are really really hungry or have a lot of people the salted fish and chicken fried rice was a massive plate of awesome

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