The Best General Gau’s Chicken in Town
By Sie Hendrata Dharmawan
Dragon Garden Restaurant
261 Elm Street
Somerville, MA 02144
I awarded this title to the General Gau’s Chicken at Dragon Garden the moment I tasted it two years ago, and although I’ve had this dish all over town, the title remains uncontested.
The sauce has an excellent sweetness with a slight trace of spiciness, while the chicken is deep-fried just right — neither too crispy nor too soft. The chicken, invitingly shiny, is even aesthetically pleasing. A close runner-up to the General Gau’s Chicken at Dragon Garden is that of Hong Kong Cafe Restaurant (1171 Boylston Street, Boston), with its slightly softer and more tender chicken pieces, but less tasty sauce.
Dragon Garden is a small Chinese restaurant with affordable food. Unfortunately, it seems that its focus is delivery, and the owner does not expect many people to dine in. The interior reminds me of Quan’s Kitchen before it was renovated — the decorations are somewhat mismatched, with gumball machines in one corner and a Chinese calendar and Great Wall paintings in another. The maroon carpeting is shabby, the yellow lighting dim, and there isn’t any music. The good food, however, especially General Gau’s Chicken, more than compensates for the environment.
Lunch at Dragon Garden is served from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and prices range from $4.25–5.35 for a combo with a main dish, rice, and soup. For an additional $0.60, you can substitute any appetizer for the soup. A combo with just fried rice and one appetizer costs $3.75. My favorite dish (after General Gau’s, of course) is Sauteed String Beans. It’s listed on the menu as spicy, but it can also be served non-spicy. Don’t be deterred by its appearance: although the dark brown sauce looks greasy, the string beans themselves don’t taste that greasy, and although the skin looks floppy, the beans are fresh and crispy.
For the soup that accompanies the lunch combo, you can choose Wonton Soup, Egg Drop Soup, or Hot and Sour Soup. Of these, I would pick the Egg Drop Soup, which differs from most in its dark appearance. However, the texture is a little disappointing because the drops are not mixed well in the soup. The taste can also be on the bland side, though a few drops of soy sauce readily remedy the problem.
Dragon Garden serves dinner dishes all day. As with most restaurants, the dinner menu dishes cost slightly more than lunch ones, but the portion size is also bigger. Ordering dinner dishes is more complicated, however — the dishes can be ordered separately, and most of them come in two sizes, small and large. The “combination plate,” slightly cheaper than the dish alone, includes the dish and selected appetizers. The “rice plate,” cheaper still, includes rice and a smaller portion of the dish. Appetizers can also be ordered separately, either as a sampler plate or as a select-your-own plate.
My favorite dish from the dinner menu is, again, General Gau’s Chicken. The first runner-up is Kan Shao Fish, fish pieces fried with red, zesty, almost sweet-and-sour sauce. The thickness of this unique sauce perfectly matches the tenderness of the fish. Similarly, there are Kan Shao Shrimp and Kan Shao Scallops, but I think the Kan Shao style only works with fish.
Another good dish is the Green Pepper Steak, beef flank steak cooked with green peppers. Although green peppers are visibly mixed in the steak, the dish tastes more like ground pepper. Nevertheless, the taste of the green peppers makes a nice addition to the already-tender steak.
Located in Davis Square, just a 30-second walk from the T stop, this restaurant offers a welcome intermezzo among my daily Chinese food truck lunches. If you live in the vicinity of this restaurant (including Porter Square), you can get delivery or take-out. On a nice day, you may even want to eat there and get dessert at nearby Denise’s Ice Cream. Either way, don’t forget to taste the General Gau’s Chicken.