Sunny Garden has long been a cure for the fed-up frazzles. When anxiety levels mount, we head for the Chinese restaurant at 15 Farber Road, just off Route 1, south of MarketFair. Everything about this place exudes calm, from the bubbling fountain outside, to the expansive paned windows, to the symmetry of the lines on the wood-paneled pillars. And we like the food.
Last month we found a new reason to visit Sunny Garden, the Tuesday evening jazz sessions with John Henry Goldman. Improbable as it may sound, the combination of keyboards and muted trumpet is soothing. Unlike piped-in wallpaper music, live music has a presence. You don’t really listen to it like a concert, but it’s there, and the familiar tunes like "Over the Rainbow" and "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" stir forgotten memories and seem to provoke a deeper level of conversation than before. Or, if you don’t feel like talking (maybe the day was just too awful to recount), you and your dining partner can relax in a musical reverie.
Tuesdays are our favorites now. Full disclosure: we first met Goldman at Anthony Rabara’s Pilates studio, where he is a part-time instructor. Also, because our son once played the trumpet in Princeton High School’s studio band and in a ’40s-style big band, listening to these tunes warms the cockles of our hearts.
Last week we were seated by the window for a low-key light supper. A foursome next to us had much grander plans. Arriving with bottles of wine, they settled down to talk of "we should do this more often, what are friends for," and their
order included Beijing duck ($32.50), which involves some fancy table-side carving. Our neighbors were voluble in their praise of the dishes as they arrived, and we were talking also, yet the keyboard melodies flowed through and around the distractions in a soothing way.
My husband’s standard order is the $14.50 sushi dinner (yes, this Chinese restaurant has a sushi bar), which comes with seven pieces of sushi, plus a California roll, miso soup, and salad. He also likes the poached fish ($15) and the grilled Chilean sea bass ($20.50).
My favorite is the South Asian pumpkin and duck soup ($5.50). Garnished with red onions and duck tidbits it can make a meal when teamed with another appetizer – vegetable dumplings ($5) or satay chicken skewers ($6). On this evening the perfect extras were a large avocado salad with a citrus dressing, garnished with almonds ($7, it could have served two people), plus a scallion pancake ($3). The pancake came folded in crisp triangles, like toast points, garnished with shredded red cabbage.
Wanting to prolong the evening, we ordered the tiramisu for dessert, supplied by the Little Chef on Tulane Street in Princeton. It wasn’t available so we settled for sharing pistachio sorbet. The tab came to $37, or $44.50 with tip.
By the time the fortune cookies arrived we had had our water glasses filled three times and were finishing the pot of complementary tea. Goldman had switched from playing ballads on the keyboard, in a vibraphone mode, to upbeat swing tunes played sotto voce with a muted trumpet. He has recorded his own arrangements, so it gives the effect of a trio. When Goldman swings into "In the Mood" or another of the oh-so-danceable tunes, one wishes this place had a little dance floor.
Sunny Garden, 15 Farber Road, West Windsor. 609-520-1881; fax, 609-520-8998. Yu-Lien Yen, owner. Open weekdays for lunch, daily for dinner. BYOB. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Private rooms available.