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[whitespace] Mai Garden


A Fowl Feeling:
Mai Garden Restaurant, 399 N. Capitol Ave., San Jose

By Will Harper

THE BACK OF THE MENU here lists pigeon as an entree. Pigeon? Being an unenlightened westerner who doesn't like to think about eating animals with which I share sidewalk space, I must say I felt a bit revolted. The waitress must have sensed my distress because she turned the menu page for me and suggested I order a chicken and rice plate. "OK, I'll have that," I agreed. Farm livestock killed via sophisticated assembly-line decapitation I can stomach. Birds that used to shit on my car when they were alive, however, ruin my appetite. Got that?

Owner Theresa Nguyen later told me that the pigeon thing was a misprint. Nguyen, who became owner last August and is new to the restuarant biz, says her establishment serves quail, not pigeon. Either way, I was going to stick with chicken.

After ordering, I sat back and took in the ambiance of Mai Garden, located off McKee Road in a strip mall just a few doors down from 24-hour Fitness. Definitely no no-necks from the gym here, though. A couple of the customers, most of them Vietnamese men, puffed on cigarettes at their tables, smoking laws and western manners be damned. The carpet looked grungy, but I couldn't see rodent turds or dead cockroaches anywhere.

But the county health inspector has before.

During a routine inspection on Jan. 4, 2000, inspector Richard Harrison observed rodent droppings on serving plates, pots and pans, shelves and bulk storage containers. "All facilities are very dirty and contaminated by mice," the inspector wrote in his report.

Three days later on Jan. 7, Harrison came back and reported more of the same and issued Mai Garden a warning. Two months later, Harrison returned again. This time he found dead cockroaches accompanying the mice droppings. He also measured the temperature of the food-prep refrigerator at 57 degrees--16 degrees above what health officials consider safe for food storage. The health inspector issued the restaurant another warning.

The environmental health department has conducted a total of five inspections on Mai Garden this year. Three of those times, it gave the restaurant a "poor" rating; one other time it gave it a "fair" rating.

But Harrison says on his most recent visit, "It was much better. It was a vast improvement over before." And Nguyen reports that the mice are gone thanks to the pest control service, though she admits there are still a few cockroaches.

As for the food I ordered, it finally arrived after about 15 minutes. I took it home to inspect it. My friend, another unenlightened westerner, took a look at my bounty and opined, "That sure doesn't look like chicken." It did seem a little fatty and dark for chicken.

I reluctantly took a bite, chewed and savored.

"What's it taste like?" my pal asked.

"Like chicken," I said. I took one more bite, then tucked it in the fridge.

RATING: 1 fork

Introduction: Bottom Feeders.

Making The List: The methodology and ratings.

Not on the Menu: Gruesome complaints and bizarre things allegedly found in food.

Wok on the Wild Side: Asian restaurants still get disproportionately high rate of poor inspection reports.

Chew Fly, Don't Bother Me: Tory's Restaurant in Cupertino.

Fast Food Frightmare: Mr. Chau's Chinese Fast Food in Palo Alto.

Overly Greasy Spoon: Bob's Surf 'N Turf in San Jose.

Not Cool Enough: Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto.

Pastor Its Prime: El Mexicano Taqueria in San Jose.

How Fresh? Fresh N Healthy Vegetarian in San Jose.

Chill Is Gone: Nola in Palo Alto.

How Now Stale Bao? Thanh Mai in San Jose.

Coffee To Go, Please: My My Coffee and Sandwiches in San Jose.

Vermin in the Vermicelli: Florentine Restaurant in Mountain View.

Off-Screen Horror Show: Century Capitol 16 Theaters in San Jose.

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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