The Blue Garden is a triple threat among Asian restaurants, specializing in Korean, Japanese and Chinese food, and handling each cuisine amazingly well.
Mr. and Mrs. Chong So have owned their restaurant on Ritchie Highway for 16 years, serving mostly Chinese and Korean dishes. Last year, they remodeled, added a sushi bar and Korean barbecue tables, and expanded their menu to include more Korean and Japanese fare.
We sat in the front room of the Blue Garden, where tables are thick, lacquered slices of tree trunks, outfitted with stainless-steel grills for Korean barbecue. It turned out that we didn't get to use our grill, even though we ordered thinly sliced, Korean barbecued beef. The dish was brought to our table already cooked, so all we had to do was wrap pieces of the tender, smoky-sweet meat in lettuce leaves along with jalapeno slices, garlic cloves and chili paste. There's a two-order minimum for table-top grilling.
Noodles are outstanding at Blue Garden, and they're done many ways. We sampled them Japanese-style, with sauteed scallops and scallions in a delicate sauce. They were thick, velvety strands, quite different from the springy, thin Chinese noodles we tried. These were served plain in a large bowl, with a mahogany-dark pork and black bean sauce on the side.
Earlier, Mrs. So had invited us into the kitchen to watch as a cook snapped a long rope of noodle dough into the air. Within minutes, he had magically produced dozens of thin noodle strands, ready to be slipped into boiling water.
The other dinner we tried came from the list of Korean chef specialties, an iron pot full of bubbling-hot, spicy seafood soup with shiitake slices, tofu and watercress. We only wished tough pieces of octopus hadn't been substituted for squid.
The octopus was better in a cold appetizer salad, dressed with a splash of vinegar. We picked up chewy pieces with our chopsticks and ate them along with Korean salads of bean sprouts, and watercress with ginger and sesame.
Man doo, Korean dumplings stuffed with pork and scallions, were equally good simmered in chicken broth with onions and carrots, and fried until they turned into golden puffs.
Among the Japanese starters on the menu, we chose greaseless shrimp tempura, served with an assortment of battered, fried vegetables, and the six-piece sushi platter, which included wonderfully fresh salmon, tuna and shrimp.
Service was attentive, although our waitress could barely speak English. Whenever we asked a question, Mrs. So or another waitress came over to help. No one could tell us exactly what was in an exotic Korean salad of translucent, crackly slivers, though. Some sort of fish, we were told. Our imaginations wandered.
We also had fish for dessert, but we found out what kind before we ordered it - a fish-shaped wafer filled with red bean ice cream.
7523 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: Diner's Club, MasterCard, Visa
Prices: $3.95-$8.95; entrees, $7.95-$24.95
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 5/14/98