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February 24, 2010 > Restaurant Review: Find paradise at Banyan Garden

Restaurant Review: Find paradise at Banyan Garden

By Shavon Walker

Banyan Garden, located in the El Mercado Shopping Plaza on Alvarado-Niles and Meyers Road in Union City reminds visitors of a trip through a lush garden; tiny white lights hang from the ceiling and a potted tree frames the doorway. On cooking strike for the evening, my group decided to try something new for dinner.

Joe Goh, one of the waiters, filled me in on the history of the restaurant. "The owner, Mr. Chung, loves to cook," he said. "Back when he first started, there was only Thai food. He wanted to make a fusion cuisine and teach people more about Asian culture." I asked him about the restaurant's curry and why it was so different from the Indian version. He pointed out that curry was indeed originally Indian, but the Malay and Chinese people changed recipes to suit their tastes. "Indian food is very spicy. We make it lighter," he stated.

Some of the most popular dishes at the restaurant are sizzling beef (sadly, out of stock when we tried to order it), sizzling saying seafood, black pepper crab, and Malaysian crab. Banyan Garden also has vegetarian options and can modify its spicy dishes to suit anyone's taste. Attention to diner preferences inevitably results in a meal perfectly suited to personal taste.

The friendly staff at Banyan Garden is beyond compare. They move quickly - so quickly, in fact, that we had glasses of water and beverages on the way almost before we sat down; a welcome change from many other dining establishments.

We decided to start with Malaysian Lobak, an appetizer platter of tofu, boneless chicken wings stuffed with meat and silver noodles, shrimp pancakes, and small wedges of 1,000 year old egg. Everything was crispy and delicious, even the tofu. The 1,000 year old egg was a pleasant addition to the chicken wings.

Next came Satay fried rice - rice and chicken in a Satay sauce. I was expecting something liberally dosed with peanut butter but the sauce defied my expectations. It was well seasoned with spices and lightly coated the rice, turning it into a delicious, spicy, peanut flavored concoction. The bite size chunks of pepper were particularly good. My only disappointment was when I realized we'd eaten it all.

Our choice for protein was lamb - green curry lamb, to be precise. We picked the mild version, just spicy enough but not too spicy for a heat sensitive friend. It was a nice compliment to the Satay fried rice.

Siam shredded beef came after the lamb with another not-too-spicy sauce. Broccoli and noodles added to the flavor rather than being used simply as a garnish. This dish was a bit hotter than I expected so our heat sensitive friend decided to skip this one... more for me and my husband.

My favorite dish was next - mango spareribs. This platter of spareribs arrived covered in a wonderful, fresh mango sauce. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the sweetness, or how well the mango flavoring matched the spareribs, but it shocked me just the same. I would never have thought of such a clever combination, but I'm glad the owner did.

Last, but not least... dessert. I love bananas, so we all agreed on the bananas Goreng. Chunks of fresh banana were covered in batter, deep fried, and served with coconut ice cream. Normally I am not a coconut fan but the ice cream was very, very good and the bananas came straight from the fryer, crispy and hot. I've had similar desserts but none of them tasted this delicious.

Banyan Garden is a little restaurant full of big flavor. The dˇcor is beautiful, prices are reasonable, and the food is amazing. Joe Goh says, "Come and try it! We can't impress you if you don't try us!" And really, who can argue with that?

Reviewed on 2/10/2010

Banyon Garden
1771 Decoto Rd., Union City
(510) 324-8506

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