The 1st Oriental Supermarket may very well be the star tenant of the Westside Crossing shopping center on West Colonial Drive, but there are plenty of other radiant points lighting the way through the plaza's shadowy parking lot for gastronomes – specifically, the cluster of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Taiwanese restaurants. Newish eatery Joyful Garden Seafoods Restaurant, specializing in popular Hong Kong fare, as well as lesser-known Fuzhou cuisine, has joined that group, and it's a real draw for those with an affinity for spineless marine life. (It was no fluke that they won Best Place to Eat Invertebrates in our 2017 Best of Orlando Writer's Picks.)
Aquariums in the back of the restaurant house a few live critters for the taking, and take we did. One glimpse of the crystal crab's ($25 per pound) ghostly white exoskeleton had us intrigued enough to drop $50 on a 2-pounder steamed in a simple garlic sauce. Alien director Ridley Scott himself would be impressed by the photo-worthy presentation of the hacked and reassembled decapod, but the sweet, delicate flesh we scooped out in every possible way (yeah, we got messy) was, well, joyful.
From the selection of Fuzhou options – Fuzhou cuisine is characterized by dishes with simpler flavors and lighter body when compared to, say, Sichuan cuisine – our server glossed over the soups and directed us toward the spare rib tips ($11.95). The battered-and-fried meat – fatty, chewy, bony – came on a plate tossed with scallions and taro and doused in a vinegary sweet-and-sour sauce. While we appreciated the simplicity, we didn't exactly gorge ourselves on the dish. We enjoyed another Fuzhou specialty much more: braised baby pomfret ($23.95) in a salty sauce mixed with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, carrots and whole cloves of garlic. The silver skin, flaky, flavorful meat, and relatively few bones made it a proper seafood lovers' nosh.
Like the crystal crab, the pomfret – along with yellow croaker, striped bass, lobster and more – is a live seafood option. If you abhor the thought of ordering live sea critters confined in small tanks, best steer clear from Joyful Garden ... or simply pay no heed to the tanks and order the baby eggplant in a spicy garlic sauce ($12.95) instead. The bright purple aubergines in the heady sauce of this "casserole" was as luxuriant as it gets. Note to vegetarians: Bits of pork were mixed in throughout, an important bit of info not mentioned on the menu. Most items come served with rice, though we found ourselves ripping up shreds of fried dough ($2) – a common breakfast item called youtiao – for sop-up duty.
We never did get a chance to sample the geoduck sashimi (the $89.95 price put an end to any notions of that indulgence) but, then again, we barely scratched the surface of the restaurant's vast offerings. There's jellyfish, goose fish, razor clams, fish buckle, freshwater eel and much more to be had. The menu also lists dishes served family-style, among which "seafood rotten letter" is advertised (my understanding is that it's fermented seafood wrapped in tofu skin). The point is, in this joyful garden of oceanly delights, there's plenty for the fearless to sink their teeth into.