With the vast, seemingly immeasurable, assortment of restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area, my “to-do” list of places to try is a daunting, never-ending collection. With so much on my plate, literally, it takes a special place to earn its way into the pantheon of restaurants I frequent on a regular basis. Lotus Garden is one of those special places.
The Chinese restaurant in Vienna, open since 2012, isn’t one of the area’s run-of-the mill delivery food factories. In fact, there’s no delivery at all, only dine-in and take-out. And while they do offer many of the cloying, Americanized delivery dishes that have become synonymous with Chinese food here in the U.S., that’s not what Lotus Garden is all about. Fortunately, the terse but friendly servers won’t hesitate to dissuade you from going the General Tso’s route, instead pointing you in the direction of the more authentic dishes on the menu. Trust them, they know what they’re talking about.
The main draw (and what got me in the doors the first time) is the noodle soup. It’s hard to ignore the signature dish as the prep is put on full display for diners thanks to a window into the kitchen. Next to a collection of hanging roast ducks, a man, looking like he’s playing the noodle-version of Cat’s Cradle, pulls and stretches dough between his hands, over and over again, until it resembles a noodly jump rope before slamming it down on the counter and then repeating the process. Just behind the noodle puller, another man can be seen shaving slices off a block of dough into a giant pot, over and over again. The two noodle varieties (sliced and hand-pulled) come with a choice of meat (pork, chicken, beef, lamb, duck and more) served in a light, tasty broth with bok choy and cilantro. Both are great, though the hand-pulled noodles have the edge. In all my visits to Lotus, I’ve never not ordered a bowl.
Outside of the soup, true gems are found in the “Casserole,” “Chef’s Special” and Gourmet” sections of the menu. Some of the dishes might elicit pause – namely the ones involving parts of animals not usually seen on a plate, but these can be some of the tastiest. Duck tongue with shredded hot pepper is one example, served in a mound of about 25 (hey, ducks have small tongues) and dressed up in a mildly spicy sauce. They’re incredibly tender and succulent and perfect to share with a group. (Tip for duck-tongue rookies: Each one has a bone running through the middle and while some eat the whole thing, bone and all, I recommend nibbling around the center and picking it clean like a chicken wing.)
Another offalesque option, fried pork intestines, look pretty much exactly like what you’d imagine a pig’s intestine would look like: a tubular organ split down the middle with a red, crispy thin outside “shell” covering a tender, fatty inside. The taste is a mix of a sweet, Chinese pork spare rib with a deeper, earthy flavor. It’s unusually pleasant but best enjoyed while hot. Once the intestines cool down, the outside becomes more rubbery than crispy and the insides turn disturbingly chewy.
On the casserole front, the oyster and roasted pig is outstanding, with huge chunks of roasted pork and oysters mixed with a medley of vegetables in a not-too-sweet brown sauce, all coming together in a hot pool of flavor. Taro duck and sautéed frog are two other exceptional choices, just watch out for the bones. And while a tad salty, the deep fried spicy pork chop is a winner for those looking for something a little more conventional.
Lotus Garden is located in a small strip mall, currently undergoing a facelift, on Route 123 in the Town of Vienna.
Lotus Garden | 224 Maple Avenue West, Vienna | 703-255-9888 | lotusgarden.webs.com