First Impressions: Fortune Garden in El Dorado Hills serves home-style Chinese

05/03/2013 12:00 AM

05/05/2013 2:14 PM

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Fortune Garden

899 Embarcadero Drive, El Dorado Hills, across the street from the Safeway plaza on Green Valley Road

(916) 933-0998, www.fortunegardenonline.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays; noon-9:30 p.m. Saturdays; noon-9 p.m. Sundays.

Tucked away in a small shopping center in El Dorado Hills is Fortune Garden Chinese restaurant. It was opened in 2005 by Wei Xiao Chen, a vegetable farmer and cook who came with his family from China to Sacramento, bringing with him a repertoire of recipes.

In February 2012, Fortune Garden was devastated by a fire that destroyed the kitchen and half the dining room. The rebuilding was slow, culminating in the reopening April 6.

Judging by the cartons and bags of takeout food stacked near the kitchen waiting to be claimed on a recent Sunday, and by the constant stream of sit-down diners coming and going, this is an El Dorado Hills- Folsom go-to spot.

Menu: The offerings are vast and traditional, filled with Cantonese (mild) and Szechuan (spicy) dishes. It lists family dinners and dinner combinations before segueing into appetizers, soups, house specials, "sizzling" dishes, beef, chicken, pork, seafood, egg foo young, chow mein, chow fun, fried rice, vegetarian and more – nearly 200 choices.

We wrapped ginger- garlic-scented minced squab in cold, crisp lettuce, then piled mu shu pork atop rice-paper crepes. A platter of fresh-tasting salt-and- pepper halibut showed up, followed by over-battered orange chicken in a sauce that was more sweet than citrusy.

Singapore-style rice noodles were very tasty, spiked with shrimp, pork, beef, egg, onion and bean sprouts, with curry in the background. The beef in the chow mein was tender and mildly seasoned, but the heap of stir-fried noodles was an overload.

We understand that the items we tasted were outside the heat zone; still, we thought they were timidly seasoned. If you want zip, ask for it or choose dishes with the red pepper printed next to them on the menu.

At meal's end, we ranked the dishes in order of preference. Tops was mu shu pork (though the rice-paper crepes were stiff and tasteless), followed closely by the Singapore-style noodles (with some heat), salt-and-pepper halibut (which got saltier as the pieces cooled) and beef chow mein. The minced squab, potstickers and orange chicken were distant also-rans.

"No MSG" and "100% Vegetable Oil," proclaims the menu. "I would be flushed and my heart would be racing if there was any MSG in there," said one lunch pal. "I'm not and it's not." Nor were we unduly thirsty after the meal.

Price point: Selections ran from $5 to $15. That's one reason for the restaurant's popularity. A lunch pal summed up another: "We haven't made a dent in anything. The more you eat, the bigger (the dishes) get."

Ambiance: The space is neat, clean and functional; many more booths than tables. Yes, it gets noisy. Fortune Garden has been named "Best Chinese Hole in the Wall" multiple times in Sacramento magazine's People's Choice competition.

Drinks: Wines are from California (Kendall Jackson, Redwood Creek, Beringer); beers include Tsingtao (China) and Sapporo (Japan). Also: Gekkeikan sake, Kikkoman plum wine and Thai iced tea

Service: Several staffers stopped at our table – one to take the order, another to refill glasses of iced tea, a third to package our leftovers, a fourth to ask if everything was OK. Way helpful.

First impressions: Plates of steaming food exited the kitchen nonstop during our visit (is there an army of cooks back there?), expertly delivered by a friendly staff in constant motion. Bring an appetite and plan on using the soy and pepper sauces on the table.

Try it if: You're in the neighborhood and want big plates of home-style food that won't break the budget.

Forget it if:You're looking for sophisticated, high-end Chinese cuisine.

Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

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