Peking Garden, or, Why We Quit Dim Sum for a Sandwich

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Peking Garden
3666 Delaware Ave, Tonawanda, NY 14217
Web: Peking Garden
Phone: 716.873.0293
Rating:    [learn more]
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"It's not often that dim sum leaves us hungry; we could have cooked better food ourselves than what we were served here."

Any fan of Chinese food should know that something's hugely wrong at a local Chinese restaurant when they want to leave mid-meal to grab something at the Subway sandwich shop next door. But that's exactly what happened when we were dining at Peking Garden, a hugely disappointing Kenmore/Tonawanda venue, which is more notable for its specious claim to be one of the "Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in USA" than for the quality of any of the food we tried. While we were initially glad to hear that another Western New York restaurant had taken on the challenge of serving dim sum, we were ultimately horrified by the fact that some people might believe these weak, reheated frozen items were the real deal. We'd never go back, but our suspicion is that the foot traffic here comes from its sale of mediocre old standards rather than dim sum. [Note: This is the rare Buffalo Chow entry without photos: we opted not to return to take pictures after our first set didn't turn out.]

The Story: There are dozens of anonymous Chinese restaurants in Buffalo and its suburbs, the vast majority established to cater to the Western conception of Chinese cuisine - chow mein, sweet and sour pork, egg foo young - rather than the real thing. Dim sum, the concept of serving multiple inexpensive small dishes at lunch, is best known for its Cantonese variant, consisting of mostly steamed or fried bite-sized pieces of meat or vegetables in dumpling, bun, or similar form. Peking Garden caught our attention because, unlike most of its local competitors, it not only offers dim sum, but has many choices and prominently features dim sum on its menus.

The menu, which described the dim sum as "fresh," notes that it's only served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 to 4:00 - much like other restaurants here and out of town that serve these dishes. You're given over 45 options, divided into Small ($2), Middle ($2.50), and Large ($3) sizes. Small dishes include many dim sum classics, including pork dumplings (siu mai), shrimp dumplings (har gow), and sesame balls, while Middle has other classics such as steamed pork or egg buns, and Large has bowls of soup like the rice-heavy congee, Ho Fun soup, as well as rice rolls, salted shrimp, and salted squid. These prices are pretty much "standard" in the dim sum world, and you assemble a meal by picking multiple dishes that interest you, typically walking out full for $15 or thereabouts.

For less adventurous diners, there's also a full menu of familiar Chinese items, served by the pint or quart - we won't go through all of the names. The emphasis here is on budget pricing, such that most items on the menu are under $10, and family dinners with multiple items can be assembled for $18, $26, $34, or $43 for 2-5 people, respectively. Peking Garden's picks for these set meals lean heavily on the faux Chinese, however: Sweet & Sour Chicken, Chicken Lo Mein, Beef with Mixed Vegetables, Chicken Fried Rice and Fortune Cookies are the bulk of the three-person family meal, but are all items that you may well never be served at an authentic restaurant in China. Presumably, this is what local patrons like, or at least are willing to accept.

Highs: There were no highs to this meal; we'd be glad to state one if we could. After trying a number of items both on and off the dim sum menu, we could not find anything that was actually good here - the beef tripe ($2.50) came closest.

Lows: Aside from the dim sum, the food ranged from awful, bathwater-quality hot and sour soup ($1.50-2.75) to nearly chicken-free General Tso's Chicken ($9), its batter constituting most of the flavor and texture. Given that the latter dish is listed as a Chef's Speciality, we'd hate to see how some of the chef's less impressive dishes taste.

There were, of course, other issues. The consistently bland dim sum almost invariably tasted as if it had been brought out of a freezer and reheated rather than made "fresh," as listed on the menu; the meats inside the dumplings tasted old and lifeless. We were depressed by the amateurish service, which saw us getting up to ask for assistance and undelivered items even when no one else was in the restaurant on a Sunday morning. And then there was the ambience of the place, which looks like a 1980's Chinese restaurant that has never seen remodeling or a good vacuum cleaner.

The Verdict: After walking out of the restaurant, we literally walked a couple of doors down to Subway to order something else to eat. It's not often that Chinese food, let alone dim sum, makes us hungry for American fare, but we could have cooked better food ourselves than what we were served at Peking Garden. This place gets a half star for effort, but zero for the food.

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Comments (1)

Yvonne :

You are absolutely right. They did fairly well when they first started offering dim sum years ago. As their popularity gained, their quality deteriorated exponentially. I got sick of not being served, serving myself, or just not getting what I ordered, and stopped going. Doubt that I'd want to go back there again.

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