A veggie delight

Rose Garden Chinese Restaurant

Rose Garden Chinese Restaurant

1079 Sunrise Ave.
Roseville, CA 95661
Ste. I

(916) 781-3823

Although I’ve never been to China, I’m confident that what we know as “Chinese food” here hews closer to fast food than fine dining. With few exceptions, our local choices for the cuisine tend toward oily, green pepper–laden salt licks. Fortunately, there are exceptions.

Lotus 8 in Folsom is a great example and Rose Garden Chinese Restaurant in Roseville is another.

I may be a bit jaded, but I was curious after seeing Rose Garden listed as the top choice in the “Best spot for Asian eats” category in SN&R’s 2013 Best of the Burbs issue (see “Best of the Burbs: Best of Roseville readers’ picks,” SN&R May 16, 2013). It turns out that it sticks pretty closely to the Mandarin/Szechuan Top 40, but it does so with finesse.

Situated in a somewhat out-of-the-way strip mall, Rose Garden’s brightly-lit dining room is cheerful and welcoming with plentiful tables and an eager, friendly staff. We never went 10 minutes without someone checking our water, food or general well-being.

Meals begin with the requisite tea, but with the welcome addition of complimentary fried wontons and dipping sauce. The sweet-and-sour sauce is an alarming shade of fuchsia, but a nice foil for the salty snacks.

We tried the egg rolls and pot stickers to size up these standard offerings. The egg rolls are compact and nicely fried. The filling of shredded cabbage and pork is fine but not noteworthy. The pot stickers fared better with the same filling, encased in tender wrappers with a satisfying crunch on their browned bottoms.

Rose Garden offers four-course combination lunches and dinners for a good price. All of them include wonton soup, which is often somewhat bland. Not here, though. The broth is rich with flavor and the fresh, yielding dumplings would make a Jewish grandmother swoon.

The rest of our combo dinner included large servings of sweet-and-sour pork, chicken chow mein and barbecue pork fried rice. Of the three, the chow mein is the standout. The restaurant really does noodles well. They are chewy and fresh, tossed with tender breast meat and well-cooked vegetables. A bit of soy sauce enlivened them even more.

The sweet-and-sour pork is the least exciting, featuring battered meat in that neon-pink sauce. While it isn’t as gooey as many of its kind, the sauce suffers from too much sweet and not enough sour.

The fried rice, on the other hand, is fantastic. Both the pork and vegetarian versions are full of high-quality mix-ins, but not a lot of grease. Order the vegetarian with egg to complement the colorful variety of perfectly al dente vegetables, including two kinds of peas, carrots, corn and bean sprouts.

On another visit, we found more winners. Twice-cooked pork combines thickly sliced tender char shiu with surprisingly delicious cabbage. The soy-based sauce flows appealingly, without a hint of starchy gumminess.

Kung pao chicken arrived absolutely packed with large, tender chunks of white meat offset by crunchy peanuts and water chestnuts. Toothsome diced zucchini and a well-balanced sauce complete the dish.

In fact, vegetables are a strong point. In all of the meals we tasted, they were always fresh, expertly cooked, and varied. A prime example is the broccoli with garlic sauce. The large florets retain some crunch and swim in a slightly sweet broth that’s perfect with steamed rice.

Another fine choice is the moo-shu vegetables. While the pancakes are not as tender as they could be, the filling is a garden full of variety. Sauced and rolled, these juicy morsels are fun and tasty.

While Rose Garden isn’t starting any new trends, it makes the most of old favorites with great ingredients. It seems to have quite a loyal following, too, as the staff greeted many diners like old friends and asked after their families. Delicious food and friendly service obviously serve them well.