Sunday, 26 May 2024

Foodie Freak: Restaurant features the wonders of Thai food

In this column I am going to review two different restaurants every month, one on each side of the lake. This will help you learn about the availability of food on your side of the lake and also what you can find on the other side of the lake but didn’t know about. I’ll discuss which restaurants are great, which ones are good and which ones you can just drive on past.


For my first review I will refer to “The Happy Garden.” But first, for the sake of complete honesty I will mention that many of the staff of “The Happy Garden” are neighbors of mine. I don’t see them around the neighborhood very much because they are at the restaurant most of the time, so it’s not like we’re close personal friends, but in the interest of integrity I thought that I should mention my passing acquaintance with them.


The Happy Garden is located in Clearlake Oaks, right on Highway 20. In all honesty, when it first opened I didn’t think it would be around very long. The Mexican restaurant that previously occupied the building was almost always empty and was in business for a very short time.


Here I am years later, very happy at being mistaken. The parking lot of the Happy Garden always has vehicles in it and at dinner times it over flows. The Happy Garden serves Chinese and Thai cuisine, and obviously I am not the only one who thinks the food is fantastic.


I almost always order from the Thai menu. If you aren’t familiar with Thai food, I plead with you to try it. It is like no other cuisine of Asia. Pad Thai is the national dish of Thailand and was created as a way to save the country’s rice supplies during wartime. It’s full of a little bit of everything, rice noodles, peanuts, vegetables, tofu, bean sprouts, and huge shrimp, just to name a few ingredients, and it’s something that I never get tired of.


That’s not to say that the Chinese side of the menu is lacking in any way. Mu Shu Pork is one of my favorite dishes of all time. You get several Chinese crepes (request an extra order of these “Chinese pancakes,” you’ll need them), the Mu Shu Pork filling (also available in vegetable, chicken, shrimp or beef varieties), and some Hoisin sauce (Hoisin sauce is best described as a Chinese barbecue sauce, dark and sweet, not spicy at all). You spread some of the filling and the sauce on the crepe, roll it up and eat like a taquito or taco.


If you don’t mind caffeine, you should try the “Thai Iced Tea.” I believe it’s made with a Lapsang Souchong type tea, a very dark, cola-colored, smoky-flavored tea which has a thick layer of half and half floating on top. I’m supposed to avoid caffeine by doctor’s orders, but I simply can’t pass up that tea!


I have never had a bad meal at The Happy Garden, although I have ordered things that were so spicy that they turned my blood to magma. One day while eating the “Chao Talay” Seafood Hot Pot, my face was sweating like Dick Cheney on his next quail hunting trip. My dinner companion asked if it was good, and I said, “I love it, but it would outright KILL you!” If you like spicy foods, this is the place to go.


The Happy Garden staff is always friendly and efficient. Errors in orders are so rare that I don’t even check through my order when I do take out. The food is quickly prepared so if I order over the phone it’s usually waiting for me by the time I get to the restaurant.


The owner of the Happy Garden also now owns The Harbor in Nice. That restaurant specializes in Chinese and American cuisine so that restaurant will be covered in a different review. The Happy Garden can easily claim to be one of the best places to eat in Lake County, and our community is richer for it being in the neighborhood.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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