Thursday, January 04, 2007

Foodventure #23: J & J Restaurant (San Gabriel)

Long before Din Tai Fung invaded Los Angeles and brought the thick-skinned, soup-filled xiaolongbao to the masses (not to mention some unbelievably long wait-times for a casual Chinese restaurant), there were restaurants like J & J, which has been serving this dumpling as well as other homestyle Shanghainese fare for well over a decade.

Located in Prospect Plaza, one of the few old plazas on Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel, from the outside J & J is a pretty unremarkable restaurant - and without prior word of mouth one would probably never be aware of the yummy treasures tucked within.

Just like the exterior, the dining area is nothing more than functional. There's about a dozen tables (mostly two- and four-seaters), all of the well-weathered and scratched. Likewise for the off-white floor, which has suffered years of foot traffic damage but otherwise pretty clean. Other indicators that is is a no-fuss, no-nonsense place: 1) The beverage fridge (which is on the dining floor) is being used as storage for vats of mystery sauces, boxes of noodles and plates of premade side dishes, 2) the tea, served not only in the most generic metal pot but also with a styrofoam cup! (see below) and 3) the quintessential "not-A" rating from the LA Public Health department (in J & J's case, a B - further research unveiled that it's a 82.)
After a quick look at the menu, whose lamination is practically falling off, I decided upon my meal - a three-course feast of Shanghainese comfort foods to keep my stomach and soul happy. Starting off this smorgasbord is Stir-Fried Nian Gao, Shanghainese Style:
For those not familiar, nian gao is a glutinous rice cake - eaten most frequently around celebration times such as Chinese New Years. Sometimes it will be prepared as a sweet dish, similar to Japanese mochi, other times it'll be used for something savory, such as the course above, where thick-sliced nian gaos are stir fried like chow mein with some greens, onion slices and meat slivers in oil & soy sauce. The taste is pretty much like any other stir fry, but nian gao's smooth, chewy texture makes this course extra fun to eat.

Next up is a snack I hold near and dear to my heart - scallion pancakes!
I swear this is what Hot Pockets' marketing department was eating when they figured out their advertising slogan, "crispy crunchy tender flakey crust" because that's exactly what this is -- and without the artifical tasting and sometimes gross stuffing. Pan-fried to golden perfection, every bite of this multi-layered pie releases the sweet aromatic smells of scallions. Mmmm...

And for the finale, crabmeat & pork xiaolongbaos.
Eight beauties that I had no trouble finishing off one by one, and I daresay is comparable (if not better) than Din Tai Fung's version. Yes, there's only 8 compared to DTF's 10, but these are substantially larger (practically spilling over the spoon) a bit less pricey too. As a courtesy to you readers, I even stopped long enough from pigging out on these moist, plump, juicy goodies to show you its wondrous interior.
Hiding beneath its thick but translucent dumpling skin is a succulent blend of pork & crabmeat mixed with carrots, ginger and other veggies in a pool of meaty broth. Just a little soy sauce and a little vinegar and it's a one-way trip to yum!

And having dined solo this time, I had plenty of leftovers to take home --

-- enough for another two meals! True, the pancakes were no longer crispy-crunch-flakey upon reheating, but they're still tender, and having them soak up all the stir-fry grease made them delicious in their own right.

Spread out the bill and each meal is about $5 -- I'd take this over burger and fries anytime.

The Bill:
Niangao stir-fry: $5.25
Scallion Pancake: $2.25
Crab & pork Xiaolongbao: $5.95
Tea: Gratis
Pretax/tip total: $13.45

The Rating:
Ambience: 2.5/5 (functional and fairly clean, furniture has seen better days; but otherwise, not much more to say about it)
Value: 4.5/5 (everything was well worth its price - esp. when it stretched into two extra meals.)
Service: 7/10 (no-fuss & no-nonsense; very speedy)
Food: 17.5/20 (only a tad too oily & fatty, but everything was consistently positive: flavorful, nice textures, good ratios in the mix of ingredients)
TOTAL: 31.5/40 (great place to swing by for casual comfort eats, either alone or with a small group of pals)

Other notes:
- Self-parking in the lot
- While they're known for Shanghainese cuisine, their menu have a variety of mainstream Chinese fare as well.
- The plaza also has a Lollicup & a Beard Papa, for those with a sweet tooth after the meal.

J & J Restaurant
301 W. Valley Blvd. #109 (in Prospect Plaza)
San Gabriel, CA 91776


Chubbypanda said...

Woot! Shanghai cuisine rocks! That picture of XLB innards has me really craving some as well.

- Chubbypanda

KirkK said...

Hi HC - So funny, we just went to J&J last week, and had almost the same thing as you! I haven't had time to post on it I thought this was really funny. I did think the XLB were a bit short on soup, though!

monkeyqueen said...

My husband and I totally avoid dintai fung because of the lines and we've been hankerinf for some xiaolongbao. Thanks for the recommendataion! And thanks for all the info on chowhound for the all you can eat dessert places.


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