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DAVID NELSON / ON RESTAURANTS

It Is Worth Reading Menu at King's Garden

September 19, 1991|DAVID NELSON | David Nelson regularly reviews restaurants for The Times in San Diego. His column also appears in Calendar on Fridays.

The menu at the new King's Garden in Mira Mesa omits the house specialties page that is becoming common at area Chinese restaurants. This is unfortunate, since these selected lists save diners the trouble of wading through the repeated mentions of kung pao , sweet and sour and other standard dishes printed under the headings for seafood, fowl and meats.

Anyone who takes the trouble to sift through the lengthy King's Garden menu looking for unusual choices will hit pay dirt, however, because tucked among all the familiar offerings are such dishes as aromatic shrimp (also available with chicken and beef), which specifies a definitely spiced, rather hot sauce and the shredded pork with pickled vegetables, a simple, country-style dish with robust, forthright flavors. Another simple preparation that combines just a few elements to achieve a sharp, bright flavor is the dry braised shrimp, in which the crustaceans are quickly stirred around a hot wok with a little tomato sauce and a few dried hot peppers.

The look of the restaurant is as light as some of the more notable dishes. In Sorrento Mesa, just a few blocks north of Mira Mesa Boulevard, King's Garden occupies a corner space in one of those myriad mini-malls that seem to spring up of their own accord during the dark of night. The decor appears to be some sort of streamlined 1990s reference to Art Deco. The paper lanterns and insistent red wallpaper of another era of Chinese eatery are conspicuously and pleasantly absent.

Although most segments of the menu show certain degrees of originality or independence (independence in the sense that most area Chinese menus seem to copy one another rigorously, and show reluctance to strike out on unblazed paths), the appetizer list varies not a whit from those offered elsewhere. This is to say that it includes egg rolls, fried shrimp, barbecued spare ribs, rumaki , fried won ton, paper wrapped chicken and so forth; the pot stickers, in their defense, are light and juicy, and, if the mahogany-dark, pre-mixed sauce that accompanies them deprives diners of the pleasure of concocting their own custom dip, it is in any case nicely flavored with chopped scallion tops.

Whenever the term "West Lake" appears in the name of a Chinese dish, it implies a certain refinement and elegance. The delivers on these connotations, not with bold, explosive flavors but with subtlety.

The West Lake-style beef soup broth, lightly thickened with beaten egg white, obtains its most notable flavor from the sparing use of fresh cilantro (although locally we associate use of this herb with Mexican cooking, the Chinese have had it for centuries and employ it frequently, especially in soups); the bits of minced beef and mushroom that hang suspended in the broth add a delicate, very understated savor. Other soup choices include spinach with bean curd, minced chicken with corn and a pickled vegetable and pork soup that features mingled salty and sour flavors.

The seafood heading runs to more than twice the length of any other section and concentrates almost exclusively on shrimp, admitting no fin fish at all and allowing scallops just a few mentions, with garlic sauce and in the "ruby shrimp and scallop" combination.

Many chicken recipes repeat with beef; pork, a Chinese favorite, gets short shrift here and is available in just eight ways, including shredded with black mushrooms or plum sauce, and "twice cooked" with a somewhat spicy sauce. The Manchuria chicken (or beef, if you prefer), sounds somewhat novel, and stir-fries the meat with cashews and a pepper sauce. There are also curried chicken and beef, crisp duck and, for $20, an entire Peking duck.

Among the many vegetable selections--not always vegetarian, since some are mixed with minced pork--are the "dry sauteed" string beans that, done right, can be the tastiest green beans on the planet. A short noodle list includes toothsome, beautifully cooked pan-fried noodles served in a mild brown gravy with a few vegetables and, optionally, shrimp or a choice of meats. A bit of fried, candied pineapple appears with the check as a modest but appreciated complimentary dessert.

King's Garden

10066 Pacific Heights Blvd., Mira Mesa

Calls: 587-3916

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily.

Cost: Most entrees $7.50 to $9.75. Dinner for two, with a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $30 to $45.

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