This is how lazy & stupid I am: I’ll wait an extra 15 minutes (at least) & spend an extra $5 (at least) to order delivery from a place I could drive to for take-out in 3 minutes tops. So when I saw that GrubHub, newly launched in Denver, included East Asia Garden—which I fell hard for while covering it for the now-defunct Denver Magazine a few months back—among its options, I promptly got a jones for northeastern Chinese food & set about placing an order, though the joint’s just around the corner. Funny thing, though: the phone number listed was EAG’s own. Confused, I contacted customer service online to ask: if I’m calling the restaurant directly, how do you know what to deliver? Answer: we don’t; they deliver it. In short, GrubHub basically acts as a menu clearinghouse, kinda useless in the case of restaurants that have websites—but helpful with respect to those, like EAG, that don’t.
Anyway, between my visits there, run by an adorably sweet family, & the delivery guy’s visits here, I can count the myriad ways I’m so glad this place is in my hood, & why you should support it too, sketchy appearance along an ugly stretch of South Broadway notwithstanding.
1. Though much of the menu consists of your standardized Chinese-American stuff, there are a few sections boasting regional specialties you’ll rarely if ever find the likes of between the coasts—Cold Dishes, Cross Bridge Noodles, & Traditional Northeast China Flavor (the latter does not appear on the take-out menu, only on the dine-in menu, which luckily is the one shown on GrubHub)—as well as a selection of buns & dumplings (baozi & jiaozi). Here you’ll encounter…
2. An array of “hot & spicy”—more accurately “room temperature & spicy”—preparations including julienned seaweed & potato (aka “silk”), sliced cucumber & tofu skin, alone or in a combo,
as well as beef shank.
Any & all are a must—smeared with chili-reddened & garlic-electric yet lightly sweet-&-sour marinade, they’re nonetheless cooling.
3. EAG’s buns are sometimes superb & sometimes not quite, but the odds are good that you’ll get a heap of tender, gleaming, silky-smooth pouches oozing with the savory juices of the pork/shrimp/cabbage inside, best doused in the accompanying black vinegar.
Though the filling’s every bit as moist & flavorful, EAG’s dumplings aren’t quite as successful. The 1st time I ordered them, they arrived steamed, a surprise since the menu noted “steamed also available,” which led me to assume pan-fried prep was the default. In any case, they were a bit on the thick, sticky side.
The 2nd time, I specified that I wanted them fried, again assuming they’d be pan-fried; instead, they were deep-fried.
Interesting, if a little underdone. Still, I’ll stick with Lao Wang’s potstickers from now on.
4. The traditional homestyle dishes are richly sauced, but not in the gloppy, cloying fashion of so much sweet-&-sour slop; rather, they’re all about a nice umami balance—soy, fermented bean pastes, rice wine, etc.—with the main ingredients that still shine through, from the sliced potatoes, tomatoes & bell peppers in the Three Earth Fresh
to the eggplant braised with onions, carrots & peppers in a soy-based sauce (with cornstarch, clearly, but not too much, lending silkiness)
to more eggplant in broad bean sauce, showing a completely different profile—darker, deeper & funkier,
to hairtail filets (bone-in) braised à la the first eggplant dish—fleshy, pungent, & not for those who don’t like fish that tastes like fish,
to firm yet fluffy, omelet-like wedges of tofu with more onions, peppers & carrots.
Granted, all of the above entrees are fairly similar in the comfort they offer; if you want the hard stuff—though you may have to do a bit of wheedling if you’re pale-faced—there’s fried pig liver, cold pig ear with cucumber & creamy, luscious tofu with black eggs, which cracked my 2010 Top 10 list.
Does EAG really deserve 5 stars? Obviously, the trio of Urbanspoon users who’ve reviewed it as of this writing don’t think so. So let me put it this way: the benefit of the doubt goes to the kitchen for caring & daring to do things a little differently, to broaden the horizons of a neighborhood in which the “ethnic” options are mostly mediocre (with a few exceptions, the Kizaki brothers’ empire included). That despite the odds it succeeds more often than not warms my cockles. And hope, rare as it is for a cynic like me, warrants at least a star or 2.