Restaurant Tour #1 
 
The Rose Garden Restaurant
 A Fowl By Any Other Name
 by Gordon Polatnick

I've got to tell you something. 
The cat was in the bag and now he's trying to get out. 
In other words, something got on my chest and I want to get it off. 
The thing of it is I don't know very much about Vietnamese cuisine. 
In the movie Good Morning Vietnam, I think some of the characters 
ate some of it and seemed to enjoy themselves, but they might have been acting.  

When Sacha and I strolled into the Rose Garden Restaurant (Lower Haight between 
Fillmore and Steiner) I was praying that the food would be excellent. Why? Because  
the joint was not jumping. Other than people at work we were the only souls in the place. 
I love that. I love being the guy who discovers the Vietnamese restaurant and puts  
it on the map. Even though I've been hanging around the Haight for five years, and 
have tried out the vittles in every chop shop around, I'd never noticed the Rose Garden.   
  

"This place is nicely furnished, warm and clean...that does it...I'm putting it on the map!" 
I declared triumphantly under my breath as we were shown to our seats. Sacha said,  
"Huh?" rhetorically, then commented on all the live greenery and fabulous fish swimming 
in the background. Deciding on our next profound pronouncements we absent-mindedly 
began fingering the place mats. "You never felt anything like it...a feast for the fingers 
and the eyes as well." In my head I was already writing a rave review based on the  
spectacular place mats.  

The waiter came by recommending number 50: Five Spices BBQ Chicken ($5.25). 
Sacha had a choice of seven vegetarian entrees: assorted combinations of bean 
cake, mixed vegetables, lemon grass, coconut sauce and chili sauce. She zeroed 
in on something special--Rau Xao Cari or curried mixed vegetables ($4.75). Appetizer- 
wise we were salivating for something unfried and vegetarian in the spring roll family. 
"BINGO," said the menu, "you've come to the right place...we've got the whole mishbucha 
here." Indeed they do--both fried and steamed; either pork and shrimp, or vegetarian  
($3.75). Tasty in their tangy dipping sauce, our Goi Cuon Chay spring rolls lifted our spirits 
and our expectations for the meal to come--higher even than did the uncanny place mats.  

The reason we're back to the damn place mats is unfortunate to have to mention. The Rose 
Garden Restaurant, if I'm to be the cartographer of note, will become legendary more for 
what's under the plate than what's on it. Consider this: after being propelled into a happy  
delirium by those spring rolls, my mouth was so wet with anticipation for tasty BBQ chicken 
that when the otherwise nice waiter placed this plate of skimpy yet fatty fowl before me I 
smashed him hard in the mouth. There wasn't even any garnish. And what about the five 
spices? The fatty chicken added insult to injury by remaining flavorless.  

Sacha calmed me down and helped the waiter up. I picked at my meal thinking that chicken 
isn't supposed to be this fatty. Duck is. Admittedly, it didn't walk or talk like a duck, but it 
tasted like one. Maybe it was duck. Bland, but decent duck. I reconciled myself to the 
assumption that the chef doesn't discriminate between birds without feathers: A fowl is a  
fowl is a fowl. I can live with that.  

The curried vegetables sitting across the table from me were chopped big and looked 
fresh and crunchy.  The carrots were even shaped like pin wheels. Sacha was not going  
to slug anybody. Then she tasted the dish. It wasn't spicy enough to inspire violence, 
just a kind of melancholy sigh--her salivary juices were visibly retreating back into their  
respective glands.  

What to do about my rave review? How was I going to pack 'em in this place based 
on my response to our two dinner choices? Green plants, live fish, friendly (forgiving) 
service, the extended spring roll family, an extensive lunch menu, and those remarkable  
place mats were going to have to carry the weight. Of course, if you take into account  
the cat in the bag, and the something vis-a-vis my chest (remember... I don't know squat 
about Vietnamese cuisine)--maybe I should have ordered number 26, Beef Fondued in 
Broiled Vinegar ($8.50); or number 48, Catfish Sautéed and Cooked in Clay Pot ($5.95);  
or (forgive me) number 23, Char Broiled Pork Balls ($8.50). Who knows, maybe that's  
what they were eating in Good Morning Vietnam.  
  

Rose Garden Restaurant 509-523 Haight Street, 415 621-. Mon.-Sat. 12:00-10:00PM, Sun. 5:00PM-10:00PM  
 

 
 

 

 Back to Stories Page
 
Back to Elvispelvis.com