Dish List: Tasty Garden

What:  Tasty Garden

Where: 15315 Culver Dr. Irvine, 92604

How Much: $8-12

Hours:  Mon-Sun: 11 a.m.-12 a.m.

Rating:  3.5/5

Recall all your holiday indulgences of food that made you feel like heaven on earth. Sometimes what I miss most about school being over is the food I get to enjoy during those times. Because the majority of us probably don’t look forward to school starting, here’s a little compensation for you to not despair about being back in Irvine again — a newly opened Chinese restaurant which serves a surprisingly great variety of dishes, drinks and desserts that can hopefully remove some of your after-holiday blues.

Courtesy of Amber Chao

Courtesy of Amber Chao

Next to 24 Hour Fitness, Tasty Garden is located in the Culver & Irvine Center Drive plaza. The lavender and silver colored interior gives the Asian fusion restaurant a modern look. With one side of the dining area facing a big glass wall, the sunlit, spacious restaurant can also house more than 100 people.

But this is no ordinary Chinese food that you can get from the food court. In fact, Tasty Garden offers a type of cuisine that Chinese call the “Hong Kong-Style Western Cuisine,” which is a unique fusion of Chinese and Western dishes.

Whether during the day or night, it’s packed with eaters, but no worries — the wait is usually not too long because of the number of seating and its fairly fast service.

Courtesy of Amber Chao

Courtesy of Amber Chao

The exciting beverage menu, which includes more than 30 kinds of refreshing or warm drinks, features its specialty drinks like the Hong Kong-style milk tea, iced lemon tea and the Hong Kong-style milk tea with coffee. The milk tea with coffee has an interesting bittersweet taste as it contains both the sweetness and creaminess from the milk tea and the bitterness from the coffee. The lemon iced tea is a signature drink from Hong Kong, special for the fresh slices of lemon in a strong tea base. With cold drinks served in cute boot-shaped glasses, the restaurant is also very kid-friendly.

The popular starter, Hong Kong-style waffle, which a lot of people come for, is a crispy quail-egg-shaped waffle made from a mixture of milk, flour, sugar and eggs. Slightly sweet and fun-looking, the waffle doesn’t taste starchy if you worry about how much space you have left for the real deal.

One of the signature entrées on the more “western” side is its pan-fried fillet with your choice of sauce on the side, plus two other sides including French fries or onion rings, and a decent portion of simple spaghetti or rice that will certainly fill up your stomach.

The selection includes a big chunk of steak, chicken, pork chop or fish filet, and you can even order half chicken fillet and half pork chop on a plate. The restaurant provides three kinds of sauce to go on top of your fillet: black pepper, mushroom and garlic. I personally prefer the mushroom because of its creamy consistency and flavor, whereas the black pepper sauce is a thick, black gooey sauce that is salty and not so flavorful.

I ordered the chicken fillet and pork chop. I don’t regret having the crisp toothsome chicken, but I do regret ordering the pork chop because of its normality in the lack of flavor and less juicy texture, although it won’t taste dry at all with the sauce.

Some other dishes they have also don’t disappoint. Take the House Special Chow Mein, a large size of crispy fried yellow noodles topped with a mildly-flavored sauce and a shocking amount of seafood such as small octopus, scallops, shrimps and fish. The texture of thin noodles is perfect when first served — you can hear the crunch as you bite in.

For rice lovers, the walnut shrimp is great to help you go bowl after bowl. Its sweet flavor and coated, crispy exterior is unforgettable. The French style filet mignon with black pepper sauce is also a typical Hong Kong-style dish: the smooth black pepper sauce, basil and sautéed slices of onion enhance the taste and juiciness of the bite-sized filet mignon.

Consider the spicy clams with roasted garlic, of which the aroma of the fried garlic and the fresh clams will permeate across the table. The delightful dish is prepared with bits of garlic and chili that produce a stronger taste than the previous entrées. Such a dish is often described as “Xia Fan” in Mandarin Chinese, meaning that it goes well with rice.

If you’ve reserved a space for dessert already, there’s something Tasty Garden has to offer: the Tasty Garden mixed fruit tapioca, which is an iced drink with a sweet coconut base mixed with fresh sliced fruit and tiny, translucent tapioca that has a fairly neutral flavor. Compared with the tapioca drinks you might get from places like Rowland Heights such as Half and Half, this drink is less concentrated because of some extra water added into the coconut base that should be richer, in my opinion. But since we’re in Irvine, I won’t complain.

This family style restaurant is also a good place for friends to gather, as the place is always crowded with chatter all around. The price of a regular dish ranges from $8 to $12, and it’s best to eat for a group of four to six to try out their various dishes. I really appreciate its contemporary interior design, the friendly and fast service and most importantly, the fact that  it’s not cash-only.