>> Thursday, July 28, 2011
This post is part of a larger series dedicated to my sister, Patricia, and describes meals we had when my parents came to town for her graduation.
You would never ever have expected to find good Chinese food here. I mean, really . . . we're inside a very ordinary-looking hotel/inn. The front lobby reminds me of an extended stay suite, with dated furniture, tired wallpaper, and a bright neon green sign that screams "Joyful Garden!"
How would anyone ever think of coming here - much less dine here?
And then you peer in a little bit closer. Surprise! The place is teeming with Chinese people? Large round tables are filled with Grandmas, kids, and people of all ages engrossed in lively conversation. Cantonese can be heard all over the place.
Could it be? A secret Chinese haven inside of a Days Inn in the middle of Brighton, Massachusetts?
The first clue in support of authenticity is the all-Chinese menu. My sister was dying to come back here with my parents because she couldn't read the menu the first time she came. Sadly, she was stuck with the English menu, with lovely choices such as Sweet & Sour Pork, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, and General Gau's Chicken. The Chinese menu is quite different, with exotic ingredients such as sauteed frog legs ("spring chicken" as they call it), a plethora of lobster dishes (I don't even see lobster on the English language menu), and great value "banquet" type multi-course meals where you can get set menus for 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 people ($29.95, $59.99, $98.88, $168, and $199.99 respectively).
Because we had a big table of people, we ordered the 10 person meal but substituted a few of the dishes to suit our personal tastes (i.e. my sister's tastes since this was her graduation meal!)
We began with this interesting soup - "Fish Maw Soup with Crab." Fish maw is actually the air bladder of a fish, and has a soft, spongy texture. If you didn't know what it was, you might think you were eating some kind of interesting sea plant. Bryan and I love this soup, though the texture may be an acquired taste! The soup here was decent, though we thought the same soup at Victoria Seafood was more flavorful.
The next dish was interesting as well - baby bok choy, Shitake mushrooms, and dried bamboo hearts. The texture of the bamboo hearts was also spongy, and definitely reminded me of fish maw (except that it was vegetarian and a significantly finer). I liked how it soaked up all the flavorful umami of the mushrooms and others.
I've always loved these fried taro nests, and this one was classic. The dish was decent - the seafood wasn't the highest quality, but overall it was alright.
When I'm to lazy to make my own golden pan fried noodles at home, I can find them at most Cantonese restaurants. These noodles came with a flavorful sauce and were nicely crispy.
I love the idea of a crab sauce over spinach - ingenious! This is one of my favorite dishes, and I thought they did a reasonable job executing it.
Pi Pa Tofu is another favorite of mine - these are essentially fried balls of minced shrimp and tofu. We weren't sure if there was actually shrimp in this one, but it was still pretty tasty, though maybe not the best I've ever had.
This simple steamed fish with ginger and scallions was quite good. It all comes down to freshness, and the fish here tasted sweet, clean, and delicious.
My sister loves these sweet, red spare ribs (jin du pai gu), so we swapped out another dish for this one. It's not one of my favorite dishes (half the time at restaurants I don't even touch it when it's ordered). However, I tried a bite, and it was alright.
Overall, Joyful Garden is a surprising oasis on this stretch of Soldiers Field Road. I would have never expected to find pretty good Cantonese food in such a unique place. Word of mouth seems to be what brings the hoard of Chinese people here.
It's not my favorite Cantonese restaurant in Boston, but it's definitely authentic and pretty solid. They have nice banquet packages that are reasonably priced and generously portioned. It's a great place for large groups because they have all those big round tables plus there's plenty of parking. I can't comment on the food off the English menu because I've never tried it.
Just make sure you order from the Chinese menu! Bring a friend who can read Chinese or try blindly ordering one of the banquet set menus and be pleasantly surprised!
234 Soldiers Field Rd
Brighton, MA 02135