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April 2017

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Jade Garden Offers Pleasant Surprises, Poor Upkeep

That red-and-green pagoda on Hilltop Drive was built 40-plus years ago to house the Hong Kong Restaurant. When it closed, a couple more Chinese restaurants moved in and out, and now Jade Garden has been there for several years. It would seem from Femme de Joie’s observations that while the kitchen is largely keeping up its end, perhaps the building is not being treated with kindness and could use a little upkeep.

Sometimes when she’s sitting in a restaurant, expecting to pay restaurant prices for food that will presumably be cooked in a kitchen that passes health codes, M. de Joie starts to notice things. Things like fortunes from cookies stuck under plastic window protectors (which have been there since Joe Montana was still playing and which have started to attract their own discoloration), fly specks on artificial flowers, unfinished cuts of lumber jerry-bracing ceilings next to cobwebs, rusty stains running down the wall, a grimy splat of unknown origins on the mirrored wall. She notices restrooms with two out of ten possible light bulbs installed and a damp feeling, and a cash register with a lot of tatty cheap souvenirs for sale. This is not to say the restaurant is bad because the artificial rose bush container is now being used as a trash can, but if the windows haven’t been washed since the last Ice Age and there’s condensation under the deeply-cracked plexiglass tabletop, M. de Joie starts to wonder about pride of ownership. Just because a restaurant has a convenient customer base from the motels along Hilltop doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to do a little housecleaning.

But we don’t eat off the walls or the mirrors, so let’s have a look at the food. The menu is quite extensive but, as noted below, they may not actually serve everything.

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Lunch special of almond chicken, including steamed rice, egg roll, and tea

The usual cornstarchy soup-of-the-day was utterly tasteless despite cubes of tofu, assorted veggies and minute bits of mystery meat. Soy sauce and hot chili oil were necessary to lend it a bit of flavor. Almond chicken was a moderate portion, dwarfed on the plate by an extra-large serving of steamed rice, but it was tasty with a nice garlicky flavor, crunchy celery, almond halves, and tender, moist dark-meat bites of chicken.

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Pho with tendon, flank steak and meatballs

M. de Joie is a bit dubious when she sees a restaurant trying to take on too much. Jade Garden advertises Szechuan, Hunan, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese cuisine, which are really quite diverse in ingredients, seasonings, and cooking methods, but a generous bowl of Vietnamese pho was a happy surprise. The well-flavored broth was delicious enough to drink by itself and there was plenty of thinly-sliced beef and rice noodles to round out the meal, along with a side plate of not-quite-freshly sliced Jalapenos and limes plus leafy cilantro on the side.

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Bun Thit Nuong

After perusing the handwritten lunch specials board, M. de Joie ordered Ginger Lamb. “Oh, wait,” the waitress said, “they might be out of that.” After conferring with the kitchen, she came back. “You’ll have to pick something else. They’ve been out of that for quite a while.” Then why was it on the lunch specials? Never mind. M. de Joie chose another Vietnamese dish, Bun Thit Nuong (grilled beef with rice noodles). First came a really sensational soup of the day -- a fabulously gingery won ton soup, freshly made, with minced scallions and finely shredded fresh cabbage. A pleasant surprise.

What arrived later was a bowl of grilled pork -- not beef -- on top of rice noodles. It came with a small dish of dipping sauce that seemed to have been diluted with water so that the only taste was a mild heat, plus a very small dish of none-too-fresh chopped peanuts. The pork was actually quite good - strips of pork steak seasoned and grilled perfectly, on top of plain unseasoned rice noodles. Underneath the noodles was a mound of shredded lettuce and a few whole mint leaves. When the dipping sauce and peanuts were added to the bowl and everything tossed together to get the greenery involved, the dish came together with a pleasing herbal undertone to contrast with the grilled meat.

Service is adequate and pleasant, if not speedy. Jade Garden isn’t Femme de Joie’s favorite Asian restaurant but she wouldn’t throw a fit if she was taken there. Some of the cooking is quite good and the prices are right.

Jade Garden, 2257 Hilltop Drive, Redding, CA 530-222-8883. Open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m - 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 12:00 - 10 p.m. Vegetarian and vegan options. Full bar. Parking lot behind the restaurant. No checks.

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