Let's Eat Out : A Garden of Goodies

Times Staff Writer

OK, put this name down: Kirin Garden restaurant. A bargain is a bargain, after all.

A young family friend, who has a superb nose for good underground restaurants, came up with this modest Chinese Mandarin restaurant, which , ironically, caters to the Korean business community in the heart of the Olympic Boulevard belt.

The place bulges with activity at lunchtime and on weekends but has ups and downs on weekday evenings. Figure on weekday evenings for a good eating time if you want the undivided attention of the nice waiters or want to ask a million questions.

With what should you start?

Kimchi, of course. Prepared Chinese style, it is quite hot, spicy and wonderful--if you like hot and spicy. Kimchi, you may know, is the national dish of Korea. It's a cabbage pickle eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner and any other time, as well. You will also find Korean patrons munching on a relish plate of plain white onion slices served with black bean paste dip. A few pieces of onion are picked up with fingers and dipped into the sauce as a refreshing between-bite condiment throughout the meal. The onions and kimchi come free of charge, but you will have to ask for them because they are not on the menu.

Variety of Dishes

For those who enjoy trying a variety of dishes at a low fixed price, there are three such dinners featuring typical Chinese fare you'd find most anywhere: egg flower soup, spring roll, almond chicken, Mongolian beef, sweet and sour pork, pan-fried dumplings, beef with oyster sauce, moo shu pork and abalone with black mushrooms.

The quantity of food coming to the table is staggering, and one can't help but wonder how the management can afford it. All the dinners are good buys within the range of $8.50 to $13.95 per person for six to nine courses, depending on the number dining.

Or you can skip the fixed dinners and select dishes from the categories of appetizers, cold dishes, soups, beef, seafood, poultry, bean curd, pork, vegetables, noodles and fried rice. It is in these categories that you will likely find the real gems. We found a few: The kung pao dishes (chicken, squid) are good and spicy and filled with peanuts. Then you have fried shrimp, which are breaded and fried, then assembled with a spicy sauce thickened through reduction. Plenty of shrimp, too.

Noodle lovers who enjoy making noodle soup a meal will find no better than the chow ma mein and the thickened wen loo mein . Both are extraordinary dishes, in quantity and quality. The chow ma mein , loaded with sauted abalone, squid, shrimp, wood ears, zucchini, spinach, pork, carrots and the noodles (the noodles look more like long Italian spaghetti), is all you will need to eat at lunch or even dinner.

One Disappointment

The biggest bargain is lunch, served Monday through Friday. You can have soup, spring roll, fried won ton, fried or white rice and an entree, which is a half-portion of the dinner version, but still ample, for $3.95.

My only disappointment lay with the appetizers, which, for the most part, are deep-fried. The pan-fried meat dumplings were a bit dry, as were the fried won tons and spring rolls. Even the barbecued spareribs were deep-fried and dry.

Kirin Garden, 2585 W . Olympic Blvd., 384-2194. Open seven days from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and until 9:30 p.m. for dinner. Reservations necessary for large groups only. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Free lot parking. Average entree s $6.25.

FOR THE RECORD: In the Let's Eat Out column on Siamese Castle (Food Section, Feb. 21), the cost of the $19 fixed-price dinner is per couple, not per person, as printed.

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