by Jason Hissong
15 February 2010
Sunday evening I found myself at home enjoying the company of two of my favorite people; my roommate Jason and his girlfriend Elizabeth. While watching Planet Earth reruns on Discovery and establishing our game of Monopoly, we decided to get food. And the decision came down to two types of cuisine: pizza or Chinese. The pizza would have come from Fornello or Carreno's. If we went with the Chinese, on the other hand, there was only one choice. Orange Garden.
And that's what we did.
Let me start by saying that I'm a huge Orange Garden fan. I think it's fantastic food for the price. I've rarely, if ever, been dissappointed. I have many fond memories of Orange Garden. I took my parents there the night before my spine surgery two years ago. I spent two Christmas Day dinners in a row with my friend Dave there after he so graciously picked me up at Midway and drove me home. I've had Orange Garden many times on Sunday evenings, watching football or baseball, just because it seems like the perfect thing at that moment.
Jason, on the other hand, has never been super high on the place. He likes it, but I doubt he'd put it anywhere near his favorite neighborhood spots.
And for the first time, I agree with him. Something's changed. Last night I think all three of us were disappointed. The crab rangoon was small and tasteless. It was more wrapping than filling instead of the even balance of great crab rangoon. My sesame chicken was, as expected, fried and heavy and I've had it so many times and thought it great. Sunday night, it was gross. It was just sad looking. Jason's orange beef was similar to my dish: fried and heavy and sad looking. Elizabeth's non-fried chicken was pink and strange and the entire experience was just off.
So what's changed? I'm not sure. I doubt Orange Garden has changed much of anything in the three and a half years I've been a patron. Or in the decades it's been open. It's the same today as it was the day we moved into the neighborhood.
If Orange Garden hasn't changed then the only other variable that has changed is me. I think my taste has changed over the last few years. I'm certain that my food acumen has changed, and grown. I'm not saying I'm a top tier, change the culinary world chef or anything like that. But I know more about cooking and food at 28 than I ever did when I moved to Chicago at 24. But has my changing taste changed so much that a once beloved go to spot is now off the list?
Time will tell. Today the answer is yes. Orange Garden is fine, but I think I have to downgrade it to pedestrian. I think that going forward I will seek other places of a similar type first, before relying on the immediate proximity of Orange Garden. It will, no doubt, be difficult. Because I get a bad case of Recipe Syndrome when it comes to restaurants: that is, in my head there's the ideal, and somewhere between the ideal and the execution something gets lost, or changed, or something's missing and that leads to disappointment.
So, for now, a moratorium on Orange Garden. Keep me to it.
Note: I'm waiting one more week before writing the mailbag column. I have received four or five great questions which will serve the column well. But I wanted to throw it out there one more time: if you have a question about me or my cooking, or my life's food culture, please post a response or email me at jason dot hissong at gmail dot com. Thanks so much and I look forward to fielding your questions!
What Others Cooked For Me, What I Cooked, and Where I Ate
No one cooked anything for me this week. That makes me a sad panda. But it's also not entirely accurate.
On Saturday I had the great pleasure of cooking dinner for and with my friend Andy and Joan, the woman whom he is currently dating. Andy picked me up in the afternoon and we got a pork tenderloin from the Paulina Market, and then stopped by Trader Joe's for the rest of our ingredients. We roasted the tenderloin, and then made an asparagus based dish with sautéed onion and prosciutto, and topped the asparagus with a poached egg. We also purchased a loaf of sourdough bread at Trader Joe's and I think all three of us were delighted to eat this meal. The only misstep was mine and that is that I poached my eggs too long so that they weren't runny. Which is unfortunate. Next time I'll do better. But, I love cooking with and for Andy because he's such an eager student. He wants to do most of the work and I get to direct him and answer his questions to the best of my ability. I love that.
I cooked two other dishes this week, as well. I made rice with diced cucumber as a base. I then fried some bacon and, using some of the bacon grease, fried some tofu. I chopped the bacon and then mixed everything together. Delicious.
I also made a nondescript, pedestrian stir-fry earlier in the week. It had some carrots, cucumbers, and snap peas, along with some rice and diced chicken breast. It was okay. Again, I'll do better the next time.
I only dined at two places this week. The first was Roong Petch. I dined with about 20, and enjoyed the Bamee Noodles. It has pork, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, crab meat, green onions and fried wontons over noodles. Very good Thai.
On Friday I enjoyed three tacos from Fast Super Burrito. When I find myself in these sorts of fast Mexican places I'm going for the three tacos as opposed to the burrito, and I'm not sure why. Anyway, I had one chicken, one stek, and one chorizo taco. I always save the chorizo for last, and it's always the most delicious and the hardest to finish.