I received an email from a friend yesterday who asked, "Do you have any recommendations of restaurants in L.A.? I have a friend that wanted to know."
I replied, "You know better than that! Too broad. I don't know what cuisine, which part of L.A., etc."
She said, "Ummmmm... I dunno. How about somewhere in L.A. for Viet or Chinese food?"
There were no smiley faces, no j/k. Hmm. I couldn't tell if she was joking or not. So I replied, "Haha. Funny. Have your friends been to L.A. before? Did you tell them Little Saigon has 3,000 businesses, and San Gabriel Valley has 650 Chinese restaurants?"
I told her to tell her friends to cruise my blog, where they can search by cuisine or location. So in case you're visiting friends of our dear friend in Jupiter (And yes, I think living in outer space too long has kept her culinarily deprived.), if you tell me a specific dish, cuisine, or location, I can guide you. Otherwise, there's simply too much and I'll just direct you to my very long sidebar over there ==>.
Case in point, a month ago when the weather was hitting cold spots here and there, I had a craving for dumplings. As I said, 650 Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, many of them feature dumplings. Delicate tiny dumplings. Large luscious dumplings. Pan-fried dumplings. Soup dumplings. Vegetable dumplings. Meat dumplings. Seafood dumplings.
I'm not trying to be obnoxious, but simply stating that asking me to recommend a Chinese restaurant, well, it's hard enough asking for a dumpling restaurant! By the way, you can also click on my "dumpling" category to see the dumpling houses I've posted, along with some dumpling recipes too. Which is not to be confused with my "dim sum" category, because with the abundance available in SoCal, they're two very different types of restaurants.
Now, ya'll know how very much I love Luscious Dumplings. But while I adore the crispy, doughy goodness of their potstickers, that doesn't work so well for their xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings). So in my quest to find the perfect XLB (for xiao long bao or is it extra pounds? :P), I visited five other restaurants that featured dumplings on their menu. That's right folks. You've got five dumpling restaurant reviews to look forward to this week.
First off, at the urging of Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos, I decided to visit J & J Restaurant in San Gabriel. (The J & J stands for Jin Jian and if you know what that means, it'd be lovely if you told me.) I also remembered that Kirk of Mmm-yoso in also visited J&J and pointed out all the foot massage places he noticed.
So while I had been to the Prospect Plaza strip mall before to grab some boba tea at the Lollicup, all I noticed this time was $15 foot spa.
And $15 foot reflexology.
There were a bunch more up and down Valley Boulevard.
But this time I actually noticed this restaurant.
There were only 8 tables inside, and cousin Q and his little brother and I were second on the waiting list, but it was still quite a wait. I guess I should have checked the time to see how long of a wait, but it was quite a while and a sizable crowd had gathered by the time our table was ready.
The inside, well, Kirk's phrase of "San Gabriel sticky" came to mind. Utilitarian tables and chairs. Dingy floors. I wished I had his Missus to decipher that Chinese menu on the back wall.
That's OK though because I knew I was going to order their crab XLB. For $5.95, you get 8 small soup dumplings. Not as tiny as what you get at Din Tai Fung, but I guess I've been too used to the largess of Luscious Dumplings, these XLB were only half the size.
I gently grabbed one and dunked it into the small saucers of soy sauce.
Here, you can see the crabmeat in the middle. But soup-wise, for soup dumplings, it barely filled my spoon. My cousin said since these dumplings were half the size of Luscious Dumplings, I should expect only half the soup. But still...I'd like my soup dumplings to have soup! On the plus side, the crab flavor really came through. The dumpling skins were also thinner than Luscious Dumplings' version, but I expected that.
We also ordered a scallion pancake for $2.25. It was nicely crispy, not too greasy, but not as many layers as I'd like.
An order of 8 pan-fried dumplings was $5.25. These were only lightly golden, no way in comparison to the very crispy, pan-charred goodness of Luscious Dumplings. Cousin Q accused me of putting them on a pedestal, but hey, I like what I like and large, substantial, crispy potstickers are what I like.
The inside was juicy, with just pork filling.
Still not quite satisfied, we decided to order what we saw on almost all the other tables -- Shanghai noodles. It looks gorgeous no? But I found the noodles rather bland despite all that golden color.
I enjoyed the crab XLB for the crab flavor, and the other dishes were good. But I'm not sure if I'd get a craving to eat here, which is my benchmark for really liking a restaurant.
October 3, 2007 Update:
I made a return visit, not because I had a craving (I've been hitting up Mei Long Village for my XLB cravings because there's much more broth in their XLBs.) but because my cousin had a craving, a crab XLB craving to be specific. And there is a much stronger crab flavor in the XLBs here vs. at Mei Long Village.
We ordered hot and sour soup for $4.95. My cousin thought this was a bit spicy for her but I loved it. Needs more bamboo shoots though.
The Shanghai-style fried crab was $8.95. I've never had this before so I was expecting something a little drier, but the sauce was quite tasty. I've never seen edamame stir-fried with crab before but it worked. Well, I ate the edamame, my cousin ate the crab. I had to hold her baby because there were no high chairs here, which is another reason why I prefer Mei Long Village.
The crab XLBs for $5.95. Very good crab flavor, light on the broth though.
And pork XLB for $5.50, you get 10 dumplings as opposed to 8 for the crab. A second tray was probably a bit overkill. That's OK. I'm all about the leftovers. My cousin took the bulk of the stir-fried crab home, and I took the hot and sour soup home. She later polished off the rest of the crab so I guess she really liked it!
Who else had something to say about J & J Restaurant?
Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos demonstrates how to eat a xiao long bao.
Kirk of Mmm-yoso noticed all those foot places, as well as sampling XLB.
J & J (Jin Jian) Restaurant
301 W. Valley Blvd., #109
San Gabriel, CA 91776