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Breaking the Rules in Costa Mesa

November 01, 1990|JOHN O'DELL

By tradition, a neighborhood restaurant ought to be one that's been around a while.

Jade just opened its doors Oct. 3, so long-lived it isn't. But if first impressions are any guide, this unpretentious Chinese restaurant, located in a Costa Mesa strip center between a chiropractor's office and a Domino's Pizza outlet, will be a hit.

What makes Jade special is that its owners, Olivia Fong and Monita Lee, decided they could do whatever they wanted, and what they wanted breaks a few rules.

The magenta-and-cream decor for one--clean and simple. No overpowering gold leaf and Coromandel screens to detract from the food.

Then there's the menu.

The typical Chinese place has an appetizer list that rarely travels beyond paper-wrapped chicken, but Jade gets downright adventurous.

Think back to the last time you saw a cold appetizer plate of delicately spiced shredded jelly fish and five-flavor beef, peanuts and preserved bean curd on the local chow mein palace's bill of fare.

And if you are a soup fan, Jade's seemingly never-ending list will curl your toes.

It quickly ascends from the mundane--egg flower soup--through the interesting--pork vegetables--and into the exotic--sweet corn and minced chicken, or three-flavor shredded bean curd.

In all there are 13 soups and seven more of those meal-and-a-half bowls of noodles and soup.

Try the War Won Ton Mein--thick homemade Chinese noodles, wonderfully spiced won tons, barbecue pork, stewed chicken, chewy shrimp, crisp pea pods, mushrooms and bok choy cabbage. The vegetables are fresh and crisp, the pork is tender and the won-ton stuffing is heaven.

Jade's multipage menu of Cantonese and Mandarin dishes lists more than four dozen entrees and a dozen special luncheon plates, and while most are familiar, Fong and Lee have a deft touch with spices that perks up what in some restaurants can be pretty bland combinations.

Try the Hong Kong style chow meins--beef, shrimp, chicken, pork or all of the above in a tangy gravy atop a crispy yellow bird's nest of the thinnest pan-fried rice noodles. Amazing!

Fong and Lee used to own the Chinese Deli in Mission Viejo, a Chinese fast-food place that Fong said wasn't very fulfilling "because no matter how much effort you put into making the food good, people can't appreciate it because it's from a steam table and isn't fresh for long. When we sold, we decided to have a regular restaurant so we could make good food that people would enjoy."

Jade Restaurant, 3013 Harbor Blvd. (across from Fedco), Costa Mesa. Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (714) 966-2988.

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