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China Jen Roseville MN experience

Paz and I decided to try this place out after seeing the review in the Strib, and we are sold! We just got a bunch of appetizers and one entree, and everything was top-notch: cold noodles with sesame sauce, soup dumplings (they call them steamed pork pao I think), spicy wontons, scallion pancakes, even the kung pao chicken was great. One thing that I really loved was that they did not ask how spicy we wanted the items listed as spicy: they brought them out, and they were truly spicy but manageable. They were nice there too. It is in a cruddy strip mall next to an Outback Steak House off Snelling and County B.
Love them!

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  1. In a post on the Texas board not too long ago, I referred to myself as a spineless glutton for chow punishment or something to that effect. Once I get an item of food in my head, I pretty much can't rest until I've sought it out and eaten it. Quite often, this leads to gross disappointment, the worst of which occurs when a MSP restaurant claims to offer corned beef or pastrami sandwiches, claims that they are an honest-to-goodness deli, throws BBQ brisket on a menu or something along those lines. Today's fodder for heartbreak was the above mention of soup dumplings and their possible existence here in MSP. It's useless for me to resist; that part of my spirit is relentless. So I figured a good compromise would be to get up at the crack, bike a brisk 25 miles, then compromise a good solid workout by driving across the metro for no other reason than to check these "soup dumplings" for myself.

    I was also hesitant because of the mention of the name -- "steamed pork bao". I've been teased by offerings of "steamed pork bao" so many times that I've honestly considering taking language courses just to acquire the ability to properly ask "yeah..but are those XIAOLONG BAO?" and comprehend the answer in great detail. The gravest offender is Shanghai Circus/Big Bowl Express in Byerly's which offers the doughy Shanghai buns, not the juicy, soup-and-pork-filled dumplings I've come to love but can only get in New York City or San Francisco. If only I could have asked in Mandarin, but I doubt anyone at Shanghai Circus could have reciprocated.

    Anyway...off to Roseville and China Jen. Pulling up, I developed a Plan B so as not to waste a lunch hour journey clear up to Roseville (roast beef sandwich at Maverick's). But my optimism heightened right away: Menu item A9 "Juicy Pork Dumplings" (on the regular menu, not the takeout one). My mind was thinking that sounded much more promising than "steamed pork bao". One order STAT!

    As it turns out, this is the closest thing to real live NYC soup dumplings I've had in years. They're about half the size, not quite as flavorful in the pork, and with half of them (eight per order), the tiny amount of soup inside had already worked itself out of a hole in the skin. But the four that made it to my mouth with soup safely tucked inside were close enough to satisfy my jonesing for soup dumplings. Bravo China Jen! Now please move to Eagan...thank you.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MSPD

      The size of the xiaolong bao is a good sign, as the traditional Shanghai version is much smaller than the NYC version a la Joe's Shanghai.

      I've been on a xiaolong bao quest for almost 15 years, but haven't hit Roseville MN yet.......

      1. re: Gary Soup

        I actually liked the size as it enables you to put the whole thing in your mouth vs. the "deconstruction method" you have to use at Joe's Shanghai (although the all-in-one-bite method bears the risk of destroying your mouth if you don't wait for the soup to cool some). If they can manage a little sturdier skin and hold a bit more soup, these would be an excellent version. Even as they are, they'll be a standard item on my order when I get up to Roseville for Chinese.

        1. re: MSPD

          Hey, that's my MO. I call it the "cherry tomato" approach. Close your mouth and mash down, and you get all the good stuff yourself instead of squirting it all over someone else.

    2. I'm so glad you had a good or at least acceptable experience there. Did you get anything else there? We just found ourselves back there last night and got a lot of the same things as we did the previous time: kung pao chicken, spicy wontons, cold sesame noodles. It was to go, so we could not get the soup dumplings (from hard experience we have learned that they don't travel well).

      1 Reply
      1. re: AliceS

        I also tried the salty fish, bean curd and chicken hot pot. It was good enough to order again or try other hot pots, but I didn't eat too much as I was prepping to run a five mile race this morning and kind of spacing out my meals. I'm also a sucker for salt and pepper squid so if I get back up that way, I'd probably do the bao and squid.

      2. Went for the 3rd time in about 1.5 wks, got some of the same stuff (best kung pao chicken in the TC) and some new. The "Dun Dun Noodles" (AKA dan dan noodles) are similar to the cold sesame noodles, but served warm, and we actually liked them better. The BBQ pork was more a Paz thing, it was too chewy for me, but he liked it a lot.
        Love the spicy wontons. By the way, wontons traditionally do not refer to those scary cream cheese things, just so everyone knows; they are usually meat-filled.

        1. I was able to convince my husband to try this place tonight, as I am utterly disappointed with nearly everything we have north of 694. (see my other post if you have ideas)

          Anyhow, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I took the above recommendations and those of the strib and dug in.

          Firstly, the server approached us to find out if we'd been there before, and did we hear that they were in the strib. I also mentioned chowhound, and he knew all about it!

          We started with the steamed pork pao, and cream cheese wontons. Yes, I had to humor my husband. Needless to say, the pork pao were very good, IMHO, and honest to god, so were the cream cheese wontons. They had pepper in the cheese and were so freshly fried, light and crispy.

          I have to admit, while I've been to HK several times, I'm not as adventurous as I could be. That said, I had the chicken with black bean sauce; which was good, but I don't like green peppers and that was half of this dish. Otherwise, top notch. Not too salty, but plenty saucy.

          My husband had pork with garlic sauce which was wonderful. The veggies were julliene instead of chopped, and the sauce had just the right amount of spice.

          I was being my regular nozy self as other table were served, and the folk behind us, who to my ear were speaking cantonese, ordered the beef mandarin, and then another table ordered this beautiful fish dish, which according to the server was sole filet. It was fried and looked so golden delicious. Maybe next time.

          I bet if I was willing to ask our server his opinion, he would have given it. Unfortunately, just after we got there, about four more tables came in, and the servers got a bit busy.

          All said, we'll be back. Maybe not in the next week, but likely in the month. We've been looking for good asain up north without having to try every nasty chowmein place. Thanks to all for their recommendations.

          1. went back again yesterday. Repeated the spicy wontons and the scallion pancakes (those are great for the chowbaby, but be warned, they arrive piping hot, so some cooling was needed), as well as the dan-dan/dun-dun noodles. Instead of the kung pao chicken, we got the garlic pork, which was recommended above, very good, though I could have done without the celery. Paz is sick, so he got soup, off the chef's specials in the front of the menu, it was a chicken noodle celery soup, which was ok, but not great. It was much like a Japanese soup, with thick udon noodles and a very mild broth.
            They are getting very busy at this place, and will need to hire more help soon I think; as it is they were quite overwhelmed.

            1. We went a couple nights ago and tried the soup dumplings, the scallion pancakes, the dun dun noodles and a vegi dish called something like vegetarian buddha delight. aside from it's awesome, or ridiculous, name the dish was superb. nice huge mushrooms and other fresh vegetables. Great fried tofu also served with something I'd never had before--tofu "skin." It looked like a type of cabbage but tasted crispy and delicious.

              I definitely will go back. The dumplings are enough in themselves to keep a perma-smile on my face.

              Very nice people as well.

              Hans

              1. Was the tofu skin (which I am a big fan of) part of the Buddha Delight, or its own dish? I am desperate to know because we are getting takeout tonight!

                1 Reply
                1. re: AliceS

                  it was part of the buddha delight. get that stuff.

                  hans

                2. I finally made it to China Jen recently, but went about it rather un-chowhoundishly. I was there at lunch hour with a group of friends. I had planned to order off the menu, but my friends heard the siren call of the lunch buffet (all you can eat+beverage,$6.95),so we ordered the buffet, plus the scallion pancakes and the steamed pork dumplings.

                  The buffet had a sliced watermelon, almond cookies, chow mein, fried rice, egg rolls, and an array of chicken or beef with vegetables main dishes that I can't begin to name. There was a sliced barbequed pork item that was outstanding, a little fatty. But, very tasty. My second favorite was a chicken (and mushroom? and snowpeas?--I'm afraid I've forgotten) dish where the chicken was very tender. I thought the whole buffet was pretty good by buffet standards and they replenished it three times in the hour or so we were there-- that I noticed.

                  The scallion pancakes and steamed pork dumplings arrived later in the meal. As Alice mentioned, they were steaming hot. I remember thinking they seemed like the kind of thing that should really be enjoyed only while piping hot.

                  But, I was mistaken. I brought leftover pancakes and dumplings home, and it all both disappeared --cold out of the fridge--before I could figure out the best way to re-heat them for a snack. I guess the folks at home thought they were good cold, too! Not the best way to enjoy them in my opinion, but surprisingly good. ;-)

                  The service was very earnest, with our server asking every single person in our party if the food was okay for them.

                  I will definitely go back--and definitely order the scallion pancakes, and probably the pork dumplings. While the buffet was a good value and got us in and out pretty quickly, I'll probably order solely from the menu next time.

                  Great find!

                  By the way, I thought the Strib mentioned ducks hanging in the window? If they were there, I missed them...

                  ~TDQ

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    The duck place may have been the other place they mentioned in the same review, some gigantic place in, I think, the SW metro.

                    1. re: AliceS

                      I think Jun Bo (in Richfield) may be the one you're thinking of? China Jen and Jun Bo were both mentioned in the same article in the Star Trib. Here's the link: http://www.startribune.com/456/story/...

                      However, it does say China Jen has duck in the case - which I didn't see either when I was there. I did order the duck, which was disappointing (tasted like it was warmed in the microwave and then re-crisped in the salamander). If you like fresh roasted duck, soy sauce chicken, or bbq pork that hang in the window of many Chinatown restaurants, I like Shaung Hur grocery (south of downtown on "eat street"). However, be careful when they weigh it because they have a bad "habit" of weighing the food in that white cardboard container (which weighs alot).

                  2. Scallion pancakes, in my experience, are a good quality indicator of a Chinese restaurant, when they are offered - much as kibbe is in a Lebanese restaurant. China Jen's were excellent - hot and flaky with the green of the scallion evenly dispersed throughout the pancakes. My only suggestion is that they could have offered more dipping sauce, which was pleasantly balanced. My mum was pleased by the shrimp dumpling in the soup, but I wish she'd gone for A9. We are also SF transplants and were glad to learn of China Jen from you other Hounds.

                    1. I guess I have to be the opposing viewpoint here.

                      My wife got takeout from China Jen last week. She was eager to try the scallion pancakes, a favorite dish from Chicago. (My own cravings for hong sue chicken remain unfulfilled in this state, alas.)

                      First, be warned that there's a pretty significant language barrier. The scallion pancakes aren't on the takeout menu, and it took a lot of pointing and miming to get across to the restaurant staff that she wanted to order them off the regular menu. They weren't all that receptive to the idea, but eventually, she got her scallion pancakes.

                      I'm not a fan of the onion family, so I didn't try the pancakes, but she was disappointed. Compared to the scallion pancakes in Chicago, these were just OK, but too doughy or yeasty. (I'm not 100% sure ... as I said, I have no experience with these.) The rest of the order was rather mediocre ... a shrimp dish in some kind of gloppy, cornstarchy sauce ... lots of sauce, very few shrimp. The sesame chicken was crispy and tasty, but the chicken pieces themselves were only so-so... too much thigh and wing meat, not enough breast.

                      I don't think we'll be ordering from them again.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Jordan

                        I think it is one of those places where if you order "right" (and I am not faulting you Jordan) you can have a good experience, but if you order wrong it is bad. It is also a little like TDQ's one dish wonder thread, only they have a few. If I may suggest a few we have loved:
                        Spicy wontons
                        Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce
                        Dun Dun noodles (not on the takeout menu, but with more pointing you probably could get them)
                        Kung Pao Chicken
                        Pork with garlic sauce
                        Buddhist Delight with Tofu

                        I think scallion pancakes are sort of like pizza in that people from different placs have different expectations of them, and they obviously did not meet your wife's standards. I like them though.
                        Give them another shot sometime, for these dishes and because they are in a wasteland for food and we need them to stay!

                        1. re: Jordan

                          just to add to what AliceS's post - my experience with certain types of foods is that they don't work well for take-out. Scallion pancakes may be one of those types of dishes. I can see the crusty exterior steaming in the container on the way home and changing the texture. just my $.02

                          1. re: bluesman13

                            I agree that the scallion pancakes were completely different as an "at home" experience We didn't even try to re-heat the left-overs I brought home...I'm not recommending that approach, I'm just acknowledging that steaming hot at the table at the restaurant is the best way to go. Now, that's not going to solve the issue of it being more doughy or yeasty than you'd expected...

                            ~TDQ

                        2. Want to say based on the posts I went to China Jen three times in the last two weeks. i have ordered many different items and have loved it all.

                          1. I have to agree about the "eat 'em when you get 'em" philosophy for scallion pancakes. Although my husband will snarf them cold, I only like them fresh from the pan.

                            As for the point-n-ask, we saw a fellow waiting for take-away who wanted the dun-dun noodles and were told by the waitress - not the head waitress - that they were not for take-away, just for eating in. The place was far from busy, but perhaps the language/staffing gods weren't smiling on him.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: teamkitty

                              That sounds like my wife's experience in trying to order the scallion pancakes. I guess it's partly a language barrier (understandable) and partly a friendliness barrier (not so understandable).

                              1. re: Jordan

                                Was the waitress a >very< plain Chinese woman in her late 20's, early 30's? She seemed to be either quite new or utterly clueless. She couldn't figure out that we would need plates for our food, for example. Hold out for the owner/manager. Her English is shaky, but she really tries to get it right.

                                1. re: Jordan

                                  I didn't notice a problem with the friendliness of the service--in fact, I found the service to be very earnest and conscientious--but I did think maybe they were a bit overwhelmed. Maybe I'm assuming too much, but it struck me as a family operation and that they could use more help during peak times.

                                  ~TDQ

                              2. just went back to China Jen for the first time in awhile, so I figured I would post a quick update. The important notes:
                                we tried a new dish, something like golden fried fish (it is in the menu under shrimp but just ask for fish instead): it was awesome, it just popped, nice spicing, very tasty.
                                On the other hand, and I only say this because I want you all to respect my opinions, the dun dun noodles and spicy wontons were not good, I could not stomach them. I say this only to tell people not to order them, not to tell people not to go there. They tasted a little off, maybe it was just a bad day.
                                Also, they are very overworked and understaffed, so don't go there expecting speedy service, but they are very nice, their little girl is so sweet to our chowbaby.

                                1. I feel obligated to post an update on China Jen: we went Friday night with chowbaby and the wait for service was intolerably long, especially for people with a toddler. We waited about 15min for soup and after 30min still had not gotten any other food, including the apps. Just as I said we were going to have to get stuff to go the owner sailed by with one of the dishes we had ordered and started putting it down on the table of people who had gotten there after us but who were friends of hers. I told her she had to give it to us, we got the rest to go. They really have a service problem even with the new waitress they recently hired.
                                  However, we will go back, probably only for takeout and the 2 big reasons: the scallion pancakes and the S10: crispy sole hong kong style. I really could live on that fish. The soup dumplings are not really take-out material.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: AliceS

                                    I've found that I have the best luck when I go to China Jen at really off-peak times. If I go for lunch, I go really early or really late. (I've never been other than for lunch.) Otherwise, the service is very frustrating, though sincere.

                                    ~TDQ

                                  2. We went there tonight, and the place was pretty empty. One large family at one table, and the owners/help eating at another table.

                                    Our meal was really, really good. At the back of the menu is a page written entirely in Chinese. We asked what it was, and were told that it was Chinese Family Style meals for 4, 6, 8, and 10 people. (The prices ranged from about $32 to just over $100)

                                    Feeling adventerous, we ordered the meal for 4 for the two of us. It started with a HUGE bowl of some sort of soup. We didn't catch everything that was in it, but it cooks for 10 hours before it is served. It was a little on the bland side for us, but the woman who owns the restaurant kept telling us how long it cooks and that Chinese people love it.

                                    Then there were the 4 "entrees" The first was Sole with chinese vegetables. This one isn't on the regular menu, but she said we could get it if we asked for it. The fish was very mild, and perfectly cooked - we also loved the vegetables (although we didn't recognize all of them, and because of the language barrier the best description we got of one of them was that it was some sort of root.)

                                    The second was 1/2 of a roast duck. Yum! Some of the best roast duck I've had.

                                    The third was the beef brisket hot pot - I was nervous about this one, after we ordered the meal for 4, after she repeatedly asked us if we wanted to substitute something else for the brisket. I'm glad we didn't. (Although because of TCL's veggie tendancies, we'll probably get the tofu hot pot next time)

                                    The fourth was bok choy in Garlic. This is another one that isn't on the menu - the closest thing would be the watercress in garlic sauce. This was also quite tasty.

                                    For a little over $30 bucks, it was a steal. (We have leftovers for a week, and a location for a future Chowdown the meal for 10 has a lot more things, and would be really really interesting.)

                                    Something else we noticed was a menu in chinese on a whiteboard above the refrigerator near the counter. When I asked about that, she told us that it was all "very spicy foods that Mandarin people really like." We got translations of a few on our way out the door, among them were boneless duck feet and something she described as "like kung pao chicken, but much more spicy." If you're into spicy, and have patience for the language barrier, I have a feeling there's some gems up there.

                                    We were absolutely thrilled with the service, the owner was very nice about explaining what everything was, and translating for us. But, we were one of only two tables of customers in the place. That probably makes a lot of difference.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Danny

                                      I've ordered the Chinese Family Style meal for 4 also and we also enjoyed it quite a bit. (although, when we went it was at noon on a Sunday and they were really busy, so the service was a bit slow).
                                      I believe the root you're talking about in that sole with vegetables dish, is lotus root, it has kind of a crunch to it.
                                      did it look like this?
                                      http://www.simply-thai.com/Thai-Marke...

                                      1. re: starburst

                                        That's what it is. Language is definately a barrier there, so all she could communicate was that it is a root that grows in water.

                                    2. Has anyone been to China Jen in the past month or so? If so, what is recommended at this time? I may be going there for lunch with friends on Friday if it's still recommended.

                                      1. Giving this thread a bump since CG and I went there for dinner last night after leaving Joe Sensers (for a retirement party, and I begged to not have to eat there) in Roseville. We had the scallion pancakes, dun dun noodles (their dan dan noodles), steamed pork pao, and beef chow fun. It was all fantastic. CG says it may be the best chow fun he's ever had. All the food was steaming hot and super fresh-- no sitting around under a heat lamp, and we were there at 9:15 (they close at 10). We will go back, and we would even make a special trip there.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: cheeseguysgirl

                                          Thank you so much for the update. It's been awhile since I've been there, so I'm delighted here that it's still good. Sorry about the whole Joe Sensor's thing, though. ;-).

                                          Did you get any scallion pancakes to go? Weird, but true--we love them cold, out of the fridge as leftovers, too!

                                          ~TDQ

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Thanks for the bump. We were very excited when China Jen first opened and showed up on the first weekend. The food was excellent, but the service was appalling. We went back a year later and had pretty much the same experience. If the read this website, you think they would be interested in improving the service. Maybe they don't understand how off putting it can be even when the food is good.

                                            How was the service when cheeseguysgirl & Dairy Queen went?

                                            1. re: discus

                                              The service was pretty much as you would expect from a dive-y, zero-ambience place. The owner-cook's wife is FOH, and she took our orders and brought out the food with brisk efficiency, if not warmth. There's also a significant language barrier, which I tend to overlook when dining ethnically.

                                              TDQ, we weren't able to finish the pancakes, so we took them home. I started devouring them right out of the fridge this morning! I can't believe you do that too! CG looked at me as if I was NUTS.

                                              1. re: cheeseguysgirl

                                                HA! Hilarious about the cold pancakes. I don't know why we decided to try them cold, but, I'm glad we did.

                                                My comments on the service are about the same as CGG's--earnest and friendly, but sometimes overwhelmed. I always try to go at odd hours so she's not so swamped.

                                                ~TDQ

                                        2. I was so captivated by this thread that my family got dragged over mid-afternoon Saturday for a very late lunch. Same service level -- 'dogged but overwhelmed' is the perfect description.

                                          The scallion pancakes were soggy and the cold noodles with sesame sauce was slightly frozen. They were out of smoked fish, which is my favorite food, and the server told us that they can't roast duck any more. Sounds grim, but we had a satisfying meal none the less.

                                          The beef tendon hot pot (may not be on the menu) was spectacular. We also had some small bok choy lighted sauteed in garlic and oil. Not sure if either of these are on the menu, but you should be able to ask for it. The hsaio lung bao is still the best in the Twin Cities.

                                          1. I'm afraid I had a different experience. The woman, who seemed to be doing everything but cooking, ignored us when we walked in until we asked if we could sit. She then interrupted our ordering by taking a phone call. After this we were informed that we may NOT order from the menu but we had to eat off the lunch buffet, which was a disappointment as the only reason to come was to try out the dumplings etc. Too bad as we work very near here and were hoping to find a good lunch spot.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: frozen

                                              That's unfortunate. Given the portion sizes, their entrees are like ordering a 72 hour buffet. The dumplings are worth an evening visit.

                                              1. re: kevin47

                                                Very disappointed with the takeout that we had this evening. The Steamed Dumplings were fine. I was famished and devoured them. The General Tso's was another story. Tasted like they were WAY over-fried. Some pieces had such small amount of chicken in it and was so tough that we could hardly taste the chicken at all. Really tough and flavorless. This got us wondering if they just took a serving off the buffet and re-fried it for us. Also might explain why when I paid for the takeout, I was given no receipt (she never even touched the cash register), my change came out of a desk drawer (not the till) and she took my fourteen dollars and added it to a big wad of bills that was kept in that same desk drawer behind the counter. Maybe she was skimming, which is none of my business and not a concern of mine except that I want quality food for my hard earned money! Not reheated buffet fare. I will not go back. They may have other items on the menu which are fabulous. I will not take another chance on China Jen though.