Most restaurant proprietors will tell you that they have seated some characters over the years.
Not many can say they have served his Holiness the Dalai Lama, however.
“When he was first here, I didn’t know who he was,” says Tech Huy Ung, manager and part owner of long-standing Chinese hideaway U Garden, 2725 University Ave. SE. “I had to read the paper, see his picture before I figured it out.”
He smiles, continuing: “That explained all the bodyguards and security.”
Since October, the U Garden restaurant remained open through a major, three-part renovation that will see the space expand to more than twice its original size. That explains all the insistent “OPEN” signs and plastic sheeting covering the building.
This family-owned, family-operated restaurant recently celebrated 13 years in business, and the Ung crew hopes the number oft-associated with bad luck will bring good fortune to their property.
“We want it to stay at least through our next generation,” explains Tech Huy Ung.
One of the goals of the expansion, said Tech Huy Ung’s brother and business partner, Spencer Ung, is differentiating U Garden. “We wanted to create an architectural feeling to it,” he said of the restaurant’s newly traditional appearance. “So many Chinese restaurants are just an ordinary building with a sign. We like that [it] looks good on University Avenue.”
Spencer may be the brawn to Tech Huy’s brains, but the siblings seem equally in touch with their business, knowing its history, understanding its future. A strong, steady lunch crowd has kept them more than afloat for a long period; now it’s time, they believe, to secure a larger dinner clientèle.
“[The expansion] will help get us more customers, as well as bring us business for private parties,” Tech Huy said. Companies, groups and event planners that book U Garden’s grand space will be afforded the luxury of a full or half banquet hall, as well as the option of selecting from a special menu or setting up a private buffet. The Ungs, who have hosted events for candidates for city offices, realize that flexibility is important.
But does the food back their vision? U Garden, once frequented by the Sen. Paul Wellstone, offers a wide variety of traditional Chinese delicacies along with some unique choices. Appetizers are filling and tasty, a smorgasboard of fried-food amenities. Black bean chicken boasts a flavorful mix of bean sauce, grilled chicken and peppers a lingering hint of hot sauce trailing behind bites. The pork and potato dish features succulent pork mixed with potatoes that resemble American fries , though much more crisp. For those of us who battle off sesame chicken cravings, this reporter (and Chinese buffet connoisseur) finds it the most superior of like dishes in the city thus far.
The Ung family provides a welcoming atmosphere, affordable prices and fantastic dishes at the U Garden. “We thank the community for standing by us all these years,” said Tech Huy Ung. If their past is any indication, they’ll be with us for more to come.