4850 Imperial Street
Wow, its been over a year since gastro first introduced (it seems, to the world) this Hunan Chinese restaurant on the pages of foodosophy. Much has been written about it since in the blogosphere, and it now has its share of fiery (to match the food) fans. Pretty impressive for a place with a somewhat odd sounding English name, Alvin Garden.
Despite passing it numerous times since but never having solid plans to venture in with a group, I recently broke the barrier and visited as a solo lunch diner, just to get myself a small sample. Well aware the experience in Chinese cuisine is best shared across many plates and with as large a party as possible in order to get a full range experience, I temper this report by saying that I only had one of their single plate, lunch specials. As I looked around, there were just two other tables of two occupied this noon hour and from what I could tell, they were all doing the same kind of ordering. With lunch deals in the seven to eight dollar zone, its not a bad idea.
This restaurant’s former name – “The Xiang” – still features on their napkins and paper sleeves for disposable chopsticks. They must have quite the stock leftover, or simply don’t care the name doesn’t match what is on their outdoor signage. 🙂
Many of the lunch deals are unfortunately those easy meat-and-veg-on-rice items, so I opted for perhaps the most interesting of the lot in the Spicy Tofu and Pork (on rice), aka mapo doufu. I asked for it mild as I still had work to do that afternoon and wasn’t fully sure how my stomach would handle all the heat. Perhaps to help combat the fiery burn, it came with a small bowl of chicken soup. A few slices of bamboo, green onions and some chunks of chicken bone and gelatin completed the rather neutral (low salt) flavor profile. It had a slightly cloudy look and somewhat thick consistency as well. I didn’t enjoy this much, but as a freebie side, no complaints.
What came out of the kitchen was perhaps a hearty serving for two people, let alone a single person. Nice generous chunks of firm tofu, ground pork and red chillies. It was a “drier” version of mapo doufu that I’m used to, by that I mean there was not much of a sauce that coated all of the ingredients nor seeped into the cushion of rice underneath. Not sure how I feel about that as I do like the extra flavor it gives to rather bland white rice. That’s not to say that there was no boldness of taste here, as it was fragrant and savory. A pretty satisfying lunch and at that price, not a heck of a $ difference than say one of those fast food Chinese stands at the mall that offers fried up Chinese food, but so much better.