Sunday, September 19, 2010

JR Bistro: Old-school Chinese in a new Chinatown setting

Le veritable egg foo young

I love checking out the latest hole in the wall dumpling spot in the San Gabriel Valley as much as anyone, but most of the requests I get for Chinese recommendations go something like this: What's good in Chinatown? Where do they have good hot and sour soup? And even, where can you get egg foo young?
This last one didn't sound like my idea of a fun Chinese meal, but my faithful eating companion Matt has endured everything from lard cookies to eyeball tacos, so he deserved a vote for a change. But where to go? Paul's Kitchen seems to be defunct. Chinatown's Master Chef shows it on their website, but it's no longer on the actual menu, although the maitre d' said they would make it if we wanted. But we decided to go a little farther down Hill to try out JR Bistro, the offspring of the earlier JR Seafood in West L.A.
BBQ pork lo mein -- not bad, but on the bland side
Located downstairs from Ocean Seafood, JR is a modernish space with two large TVs tuned to different channels, a tank of bulbous-eyed carp up front and a vintage L.A. Reader restaurant review on the wall from the earlier incarnation. For your more adventurous friends, there's chitterlings with spicy garlic salt, Chinese meat loaf with salted fish or garlic frog clay pot. But we were there for a more old-school experience, and the server was happy to accomodate our request for shrimp egg foo young. Matt was worried we'd both be stripped of our foodie credentials, but I assured him that according to Wikipedia, egg foo young is actually based on a real Shanghai dish called Fu Yung egg slices. Probably without the brown gravy, I'm guessing. JR's version was just what Matt had in mind, with large floppy discs of omelet studded with shrimp and bean sprouts that would actually be pretty great with a better sauce. We indulged in more Americanized Chinese food with bbq pork lo mein -- pretty bland, and a little strange that you get Sriracha when you ask for chili sauce.
The crunchfest that is orange peel beef
Much better was the old standby, orange peel beef, deep-fried within an inch of its life, sweet but balanced, possibly more batter than beef but right up there with eel crack on the list of insanely tasty goopy Chinese dishes. The way I had to have the platter pried out of my hands, you would have thought I was giving up my only baby for adoption.
So what did we learn? We learned that probably most Chinese restaurants that cater to farang will make egg foo young for you. We learned that if you must eat in Chinatown, you will probably find something you will like at JR Bistro. And we learned that it doesn't always pay to be snobby about what's authentic. Oh yeah, and they have $9.99 lobster and whole crab, so we'll have to return and see how the hot 'n sour soup shapes up.
JR Bistro (open 11 am - 1 am)
750 Hill St. #F

JR Bistro on Urbanspoon


Food GPS said...

I can't remember eating egg foo young, but it doesn't look all that appetizing. I was curious about JR Bistro, and might try their Chinese meat loaf with salted fish and garlic frog clay pot at some point.

carter said...

Know what you mean about that brown gravy - tasted it a couple of times at Kung Pao Bistro in Studio City, and even there, as good as their sauces tend to be, that brown sauce is not redemption-worthy.
Just has to be endemic to the item itself - boring!
But JR Bistro has a former partner at Kung Pao Bistro(Sherman Oaks version) as part of its ownership in Chinatown - Simon Wong.

Cory said...

I highly recommend this place!

The first time I went there, I just ordered a bunch of stuff I’d never heard of. Our server commented with surprise that I had a very authentic Chinese taste, I nodded my head in acknowledgement, and waited in anticipation for whatever goodies were being prepared for me.

Among what I ordered were the chitterlings and garlic frog. Everything I got that night was delicious—I’ve gone there several times since.

Anonymous said...

Go to China Cafe in the Grand Central Market for egg foo young. It is excellent and about $4.50. It is more than enough for 2 people.

Ellen Bloom said...

JR Bistro sounds promising.

I still go for the old fashioned Hop Woo BBQ Seafood, 845 N. Broadway, when I'm in Chinatown. The Egg Foo Young is loaded with gravy, but really tasty! We really like their War Won Ton Soup!

Anonymous said...

I was also going to recommend China Cafe in the Grand Central Market! It is always packed and the prices are cheaper than dirt. Time traveling prices of 20 years ago, I would wager to say. Egg Foo Young is really good. (I believe the brown gravy is more of an East Coast USA chinese food thing.)

It is not refined by any means, but it is always prepared fresh, served to you piping hot, and most of their ingredients are as fresh as they come. Good quality working class grub.