By Todd Barron @ FoodieCuisine.com
Forbidden Garden opened in West Little Rock after the Forbidden City in Park Plaza Mall shut-down. Since they do not have a web-site, I do not know why they shut-down in Park Plaza Mall only to re-open in West Little Rock (under a different name.)
When I was younger I always enjoyed Forbidden City and had fond memories of their Lemon Chicken. It was very cold for Arkansas the other night(37 degrees Fahrenheit), and the place did not look very warm given the size, but the reviews at Urban Spoon rated them a 95% so my wife and I gave them a shot.
We sat at a table as close to the back as possible (it is very small,) and waited to place our drink order. We waited, waited some more, and waited some more. They apparently only have one waiter and he was struggling to serve the sixteen or so people at once. After about fifteen minutes we were able to place our drink order.
The menu has your typical American-Chinese fare of dishes which have been around since the 1970s. Crispy beef, twice cooked pork, egg-fu-yung, egg drop soup, etc. I was not inspired by the menu but fondly remember the Lemon Chicken being tasty and ordered it, along with the twice-cooked-pork, soup, and some appetizers (after waiting another 15 minutes to place my order.)
The Egg Drop Soup and Hot & Sour Soup arrived quickly with our egg-rolls and chicken wings (you can add soup and appetizers to any meal for $2.75.) My egg drop soup had a decent amount of flavor with light and fluffly egg whites throughout. I had to add a little soy sauce to it but finished the bowl.
I tasted my wife’s Hot and Sour Soup and it was completely flat with the taste of canned beef broth and absolutely no spice or flavor. We were able to find only one chili-flake in the entire bowl. I have had better soup at buffets.
The egg rolls were heavily fried but not greasy and had plenty of vegetables in them. They were not the most flavorful things I have tried, but they were okay. The chicken wings were very over-battered and after one bite I set them aside.
The appetizers came out next which consisted of their Beef Skewers and Crab Rangoon. The beef skewers came with a mini-hibachi grill, fueled by sterno, and was really cool looking (it also helped to warm us.) The beef had a BBQ glaze on it and was quite flavorful. I really enjoyed them.
The crab rangoon were made from very thick fried wontons, but had cream cheese in the middle which tasted good. I liked the beef much more than the wontons but was happy overall with the appetizers.
We received a second order of soup and appetizers by mistake after waiting for thirty minutes. The waiter was nice and left the food but we did not want to eat it (as we were getting quite full by this time.) Our entrees finally showed up after about an hour of waiting.
The Lemon Chicken is made of chicken breast(s), battered and fried, and covered in a thick lemon sauce (it looks like the lemon sauce you fill pies with.) It looked tasty but the chicken was very thin and dry. I believe they pounded it too thin before battering it. Thin chicken takes very little time to cook and they must have left it in the fryer for several minutes. The sauce reminded me of pie filling and left my fond memories of lemon chicken in shambles. I will not order it again.
My wife’s Twice Cooked Pork looked good and tasted even better! The cabbage was tender with plenty of flavor and the vegetables all looked fresh cut. The pork was tender and the entire dish was quite flavorful. We both enjoyed the pork and would order it again given the opportunity.
Our total bill, with sake, was less than $70 and left us plenty full by the end. In order to review the dinner I ordered much more food than I normally would, but it still ended up being very reasonable in price.
The waiter and other guy at the front counter are very friendly and seem nice, but they are grossly understaffed. I wish they had taken the chance to re-open as an opportunity to update their menu, but alas this is not the case. They seem to try hard but they really need to update their food to match the evolving tastes of many Americans. Even the chain restaurants have done this and Forbidden Garden needs to do it as well, for me to go back at least.