[MSP] Chowdown Report: Jun Bo (very long)
Thirteen of us (including one chow-puppy who arrived well-prepared with her own dim sum “research” materials and several family members who, while they don’t post on the Boards, are certainly chowhounds in heart and spirit) gathered at Jun Bo in Richfield, MN on a soggy Saturday for dim sum. Perfect weather for a bit of tea!
That was a bit of confusion early on—our reservations (which I made about a month ago and confirmed twice this week, including the day before the chowdown) were for 9:30am; however, when I arrived at 9:15am, the expansive black-top parking lot was deserted, and the laser-printed sign on the door clearly indicated that they weren’t open until 10am on Saturdays.
In spite of my immediate flash of horror that I had failed twelve of my fellow chowhounds and my overwhelming urge to flee and never be heard from again, I went to the back (kitchen entrance) of the building where the staff was busily preparing for their day and found someone who told me that they changed their hours. (The Manager—who didn’t arrive until 10:30 or so later explained apologetically they didn’t have my phone number.) My suspicion is that they don’t actually take reservations for dim sum (and therefore didn’t bother to check the reservation book when they changed their hours) and just humored me and gave me one because I insisted on making one.
They did open their doors and let us in early, and plied us with plenty of tea (eleven pots!), which they graciously comped. Thankfully, my fellow chowhounds (who were all regretfully prompt) were good sports (up for anything!) and swapped their favorite chow stories over tea until the dim sum carts started rolling out at about 10:15.
We tried about a zillion dishes, which I will do my best to name, and then ask my fellow ‘hounds to jump in add in anything I missed, and then add their impressions, and note their favorites and disappointments. I’ll confess, I don’t remember many of my own impressions of the food, as my overwhelming memory is my anxiety over being responsible for having a bunch of 'hounds and their guests wait 45 minutes for something to eat, while the phone at the hostess desk rang maddeningly in the background.
The meal came to an astonishingly affordable $175.00, including gratuity (automatically added) and tax. (Remember, the tea was comped.)
Our initial plan was to test the same “standard” dishes the San Francisco ‘hounds tested during the dim sum civil war:
har gaw (steamed shrimp dumplings)
shui mai (pork dumplings)
braised spareribs in black bean sauce (although, we wondered if what we had was really garlic sauce)
braised chicken feet
shrimp rice noodle rolls
deep fried taro balls
Baked custard tarts
We tried all of that and more:
Steamed smooth egg custard bun
Steamed lotus seed bun
Fried pork dumpling
Crispy spring roll
Baked pineapple bun
Steamed roast pork buns
Fried sticky rice w/pork and peanuts
Beef rice roll
Chinese broccoli (with black bean sauce?)
Bell pepper stuffed with shrimp
7717 Nicollet Av. S.
Thank you, everyone, for your patience and adventurous spirits. I will definitely try to arrange another dim sum chowdown --maybe Mai Village or Mandarin Kitchen--so we can compare and contrast.
Missing from that list is The Chowish Lurker's favorite, the Sesame balls.
One note about the stuffed peppers - there was one piece of red pepper, one piece of green pepper, and a chinese eggplant - all three had the same shrimp stuffing.
One thing that stands out about Jun Bo's Dim Sum is how vegetarian friendly it is (for those who don't enjoy seafood.) TCL ate no meat, and almost no seafood, and still left feeling full. That can't always be done with Dim Sum.
The other thing that stuck with me was the reaction to the fried pork balls. Those have been one of my favorites since my childhood, so it never occured to me that others hadn't enjoyed their sweet porky goodness. (I'm guessing it is because the always popular BBQ pork steamed buns seem like they would cover the same ground) Anyways, I really enjoyed the reactions of others when they tried them for the first time.
Whoops! I think I listed the lotus seed bun instead of the sesame balls. Good catch, Danny. EDIT: I'm accustomed to having them cut the sesame balls open with a scissors before they serve it to you--then you can definitely see whether it's black bean paste or lotus paste inside.
The pork balls were a definite hit with the group, as were your other choices, the fried sticky rice, the seaweed salad, and the baked pineapple bun KTFoley mentions below. I was wondering how TCL was faring at her side of the table with her vegetarian-ness: I'm glad she didn't go hungry. :)
Danny also went for one other dish that launched me on a nearly-incomprehensible conversational tangent, so I'm going to try to say that thing a bit more clearly here.
Those warm pineapple buns, oh wow oh wow.
The bakeries in the Twin Cities would do us all a great public service if, once and for all, they would concede that the last decent danish pastry was served up decades ago. We should hold a decent memorial service to send that breakfast food to the day-old afterlife, another of the unlamented dead.
And rising in its place, like a phoenix from a pile of crumbs, is the JunBo pineapple bun. Freed of the worthless icing, soaring above the gummy filling, transcendent beyond the spongy-chewy pastry, the pineapple bun is what the danish pastry would be if it were reincarnated as a higher pastry form. Warm, flavorful, delicate. Unmistakeably pineapple-y.
Okay now, those fried pork balls? Maybe regular dim sum diners know all about these. For the rest of us, "ball" doesn't really describe the pork-and-sweetness flavor. We called it a "pork donut" and that seemed to capture the essence more fully. Heck, it was practically glazed. What a great contrast.
The baked pineapple buns were a definite hit with the group. I didn't taste it, sadly, and the funny thing is, that was my second miss on the baked pineapple buns. I just looked back on my post about my first visit to Jun Bo--that evening, I was looking for the baked egg tart. They explained they were out, but they came out with trays of the baked pineapple bun or coconut custard tarts, and we opted for the latter. Next time, I'm going to try the baked pineapple bun no matter what. :)
re: Gary Soup
I haven't been to a Leanne Chinn restaurant yet... :)
Funny thing, in San Francisco, one of the indications I was always told to use for identifying a "good" Chinese restaurant was whether it was crowded with Chinese families. The first time I went to Jun Bo, it was packed with Hmong families. I wasn't sure what to make of that, except to conclude that Jun Bo is one of a handful of elegant dining places in the Twin Cities that is capable of handling large family groups. Gary, do you know if dim sum is a Hmong tradition, too?
The other thing I noticed, is that while I thought Jun Bo had the full complement of steamed and fried items I usually see at dim sum, I haven't noticed as much of the baked tarts--like the curry ones, etc. The baked pineapple tart that was such a hit obviously falls in that genre, but I didn't see a lot of the others, even the usually ubiquitous baked pork bun. I don't know if those come out later in the day or they don't have a good "pastry" chef or what. According to Dara's article on Jun Bo in the City Pages, the chefs at Jun Bo are from San Francisco, DC and Vancouver. http://citypages.com/databank/27/1341...
I wish I knew which restaurants in SF they came from.
Danny quoted a statistic he heard that they have more than 80 dim sum items!
I think Jun Bo does a pretty good job--I think its biggest issue is working out the kinks of being such a gargantuan venue. That's got to be a huge challenge no matter what the cuisine.
Also, in the dining hall (in the East part of the building?) has a giant screen where they play various videos (no sound). I didn't have a good view, but it looked like it might be Chinese music videos. I always try to seat myself near the kitchen when I can, but I suppose you could try to seat yourself in view of the videos, too, if you were curious.
Finally, I meant to mention that they are offering a special 10-person menu through December 15 with one day's notice for $299.00 (plus 18% tip and 6.5% tax). It might be fun to do a Jun Bo chowdown II if we wanted to assemble 10 people. Or, might be a fun thing to assemble a family group to do for the holidays. All kinds of interesting things on the menu: Hong Kong Style dungeness crab, hung shu walleye with meat sauce, stuffed crab claws, fish maw and crab meat soup, champaigne baby beef (we had this on our first visit and liked it), ginger sallion lobster and so on.
re: The Dairy Queen
According to the very article you cited,
"Dim sum isn't just for Chinese people," Kee Lo told me. "It's a part of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Lao life, too."
That's news to me, but those countries are all along southern China's borders so it's not illogical. (Shanghai and northern China, on the other hand, have no tradition of Cantonese-style dim sum service.) I understand MN has a large population of recent Hmong immigrants, so they may be hungry for tastes of the home area, while your Chinese population may have been there for generations and possibly even forgot what good dim sum is like.
I'll try and find out more about Jun Bo's SF chef origins.
re: Gary Soup
Oh, great catch about the "dim sum isn't just for Chinese people," quote. How did I miss it?!
Do let us know what you find out about the chef--you're awesome, thank you.
Gary, do you know the answer to The Chowish Lurker's question below about the flour used in the steamed custard balls--whether it's rice or wheat flour?
re: Gary Soup
Yes, the Hmong immigration in the Twin Cities is recent--and, in fact, ongoing. I don't know how true it is, but I've heard that the University of Minnesota attracts a lot of students from China. I'm not sure which part of China or why, but if it's true I suspect that some of the Chinese restaurants near the University might cater to that community. I know several of those restaurants were mentioned in my "One Dish Wonder" thread. Perhaps their best dishes are not even on the menu?
re: The Dairy Queen
I did see the baked pork buns go by. They weren't on the same platter as the Pineapple and Coconut buns, but I did spot them. (Like the soup cart, I don't think they made it to our table.)
From what I've seen in my two weekend visits to Jun Bo, you really need to be there a long time to get a taste of everything. With the non-steamed or fried dishes, rather than put them on a cart, they filled a tray and sent around from table to table by a waiter with a single offering. (I also noticed that when the trays started to empty, they consolidated - so if you see a tray with a few plates of 3 or 4 dishes, you can pretty much be assured that they're not fresh out of the kitchen.
The "waiter with a single offering" is how I recall us getting the firecracker shrimp, the stuffed peppers, the Broccolli, the fried sticky rice, and the custard tarts.
There were other dishes that circulated like that as well. Last time we was there, a waiter came around with big plates of Lo Mein (which were a very welcome sight to our non-chowish dining companions. They almost launched out of their chairs to grab "normal Chinese Food," but I digress). They also had bright green "watermelon balls" - which I was hoping to try this time, but didn't come around while we were there.
I guess we'll just have to go back.
I think the waiter came with the custard tarts because I asked for them to be brought. It was the last item on the list of "8" that we hadn't seen yet...when I first asked, they said they were too hot; still cooling. :)
But, in general, you're right that it's pretty typical for them to bring out special dishes to offer up.
I completely see your point, though, about needing to be there a long time to "see" everything. If they really have more than 80 items, it would certainly take a long time to cycle through them all, assuming they even offer all eighty on a given day.
Did you see any of the curry tarts go by?
The Jun Bo Chowdown was a delight, and the favorites we all tried were almost too multitudonous to mention, but a couple more that stood out for me were the turnip cakes and, surprisingly, the fried sticky rice with pork and peanuts.
The turnip cakes had a great, nutty/sweet overtone, and were studded with all sorts of unidentifiable delicious stuff. They seemed almost gelatinous when they were served onto the giant lazy susan, but actually had a firm texture...just a perfect bite.
The fried sticky rice with pork and peanuts was outstanding as well. Like omelettes in French cooking, or pancakes at a diner, fried rice may be both simple and iconic for Chinese cuisine. But done right, as it was here, it can be a revelation. Filled with the nutty sweetness of the peanuts, and the savory/sweet of barbequed pork, the starch on the sticky rice had met the heat of the wok and carmelized, but did not burn, for that crunchy/chewy texture that it's so hard to get in regular fried rice...it was amazing.
Just as a side note, Jun Bo has got to be one of the kid friendliest places in town where you can actually still eat a decent meal. As the parent of the two year old chow puppy at this event, it was truly gratifying to be able to let her roam around, look at this fish and all the good luck cats, and return to a table of delicious food. I heartily agree with the title of the book she brought along: Yum Yum Dim Sum.
I'm with everyone about the Pineapple Buns. Wow. Amazing. Fantastic. Oh I want another one something bad! I may have to go there on just a Pineapple Bun hunt. yummmmm.. I remember seeing them last time Danny and I were there, however, our table turned their noses up on them and I was not about to let those go by again!
Besides the Pineapple Bun, I was really surprised at how many dishes were veggie-ish friendly. It's definitely not the kind of place you would go if you are a strict vegetarian, but if you are veggie-ish I found that there were tons of options to eat.
Here's the rundown of my veggie-ish favorites:
I loved the sesame balls, but they are always a favorite of mine. I really never have had a bad sesame ball, but its bound to happen sometime. Thank goodness it wasn't at JunBo.
The seaweed salad was yummy. I'm not really sure what was in the dressing but it was tasty whatever it was. I also liked the veggies that were underneath the seaweed. They seemed to be marinating in some vinegary kind of sauce.
The Chinese broccoli was tasty too, but I found it really difficult to eat.
I liked the steamed custard bun. What is the steamed bun part made out of? It doesn't taste like regular bread? Is it rice based? Just curious.
My chow-mom said that her favorite was the turnip cake. She LOVED dim sum, but did remark "your father would not like this at all." It's a good thing only mom came to visit this weekend!
Thanks all for a great dim sum experience. It's hard to believe we actuall missed some dishes!
re: The Chowish Lurker
TCL--your Chow-Mom was a great sport. I'm glad she came along.
EDIT: yeah, I think those steamed custard balls are rice flour. (Maybe Gary Soup who I know popped in for a look at this thread earlier will pop in again and enlighten us.) Look at this link:
The steamed pork buns are not rice flour, though. Just the more transluscent items, I think, like the wrappers for the har gow, sui mai, shrimp rice rolls, and sesame balls.
Hey, look at this link to the pineapple bun. Was there actually any pineapple in it? This link would suggest, no.
I've never found a good way to eat the broccoli at dim sum.
MSPD, I did actually bring my digital camera. The problem was, by the time we waited for 45 minutes for the dim to start rolling, I abandonned the plan to photograph the items before people "dug in."
We also abandonned our plan to "score" the items because, again, once the carts started rolling, it was a bit of frenzy. I had anticipated that we'd pace ourselves a little bit more.
It just seemed too cruel to make people wait any longer, (although two folks did keep score and gave me their sheets, which I will hang onto and use again at some point, maybe for a Jun Bo Dim Sum II where we circle back after trying some other places like Mandarin Kitchen or Mai Village.)
Now that we have a baseline, though, I think we'll try again on our next chowdown.
And while I'm glad you're following along, we'd certainly love to have you at the next chowdown, whenever that may be. Attending a previous chowdown is not a prerequistite for attending the next one. :)
re: The Dairy Queen
Excuses, excuses! Ha Ha.
I'd love to hit a chowdown sometime. I'm kind of in a lull right now when it comes to dining out -- free time and money are spent on cycling/getting ready for baby. I'm more of an observer on Chowhound than a useful participant nowadays. Aside from loving the heck out of a couple trips to Cupcake lately and a Kitchen Sink Burger at Town Talk Diner, I haven't made any noteworthy discoveries.
Holy cats, what a grand time. I continue to marvel that a group of near-total strangers can have such fun. In general, I'll say that Jun Bo may have some issues to work out about communicating their hours, but all the folks working there seemed pleased to see us, and ready to try to answer any questions that we may have had. The folks I saw all seemed genuinely happy to see our interest in their food.
Hits for me:
Spareribs (though an odd presentation for me. But me am dim sum newbie)
Bacon and shrimp wrapped asparagus (oh, frabjous day! deep fry that rascal, and you'd have several food groups in one bite)
Broccoli (and Dairy Queen, I am pretty sure that I heard the server mention Oyster Sauce on that)
Bacon and shrimp wrapped asparagus
Bell pepper with shrimp
Did I mention bacon and shrimp wrapped asparagus?
Misses are a shorter list:
Chicken Feet (I think that it was Orange Julius who said 'too much work for what you get'. Amen)
Taro balls (better on the outside than the inside)
Fried Sticky Rice (while I have no problem with fried rice, there seemed to be a wee bit of 'what's the point' for me with this one. Probably should have sclorped some off to soak up juices)
Pork dumplings (Fried good. The steamed variety (one of the first things at the table, if I am remembering) was a trifle long on dumpling for me)
Crab Claw (sounds better than it plays. A sphere of deep fried dough with a crab claw poking from the side. More dough than crab, in my sample)
I got around the broccoli issue by grabbing on of the knives off the lazy susan and sawing up my portion in one fell swoop. The broccoli inspired me to pick up some at the Saint Paul Farmer's Market the next morning. Sauteed it with garlic and olive oil (all out of bacon grease right now), and served it up with some Tilapia I smoked last night.
I can see that you feel deeply about the Danish issue. I gotta say, the only thing that'd make those pineapple buns better is perfect cup of coffee to go with them. BTW, I followed your conversational tangent just swell.
And I concur utterly about the pork donuts.
I expect that a number of us have digital cameras. But by the time food started appearing, anyone slowing things down to take pictures would have risked serious personal injury!
Again, my thanks for organizing. And don't beat yourself up over the venue's mis-steps. I did not know that the tea was comped -that was a gracious gesture on JunBo's part.
until we meet again,
Here, here on the taro balls.
Deep-frying the taro balls added a crusty outer texture, but didn't change the basic essence of taro itself.
They are a step above the poi served at Hawaiian luaus, where taro comes in the form of a plain purple glop. I think it's mostly to challenge the tourists' fantasies about making the islands their permanent home. One would have to grow up with poi to have a taste for it: culturally it is the south Pacific version of lutefisk, taste-wise it's more like the south Pacific version of kindergarten paste.
I've tried both versions of taro now and while the balls are better than the poi, both are just taking up space on the plate. Enough of that, got any more pork donuts?
ajs, as always, thank you for your wonderful insights and your enthusiasm. We might have to prevail upon you to expand the discussion of your smoked tilapia on the home cooking board. That sounds excellent! You can get whole tilapia right from the tank at the Shuang Hur market on University Avenue in St. Paul. Smoking it sounds like a perfect use.
Funny about the chicken feet--I really liked them my first visit to Jun Bo--the effort felt worth the reward. I wasn't as enamored the second time out. Not sure why.
My wife and I had own private "chowdown" last night at JenBo. We arrived about 8pm Sat night. I read that they serve dimsum until 9pm. The atmosphere was great and after the waitress noticed us, the service and attention was great. However, the dimsum was disappointing. The offerings were consolidated to one or two carts and, as someone mentioned earlier, probably a bad sign. We ordered a variety of dumplings, which tasted like they had been sitting on the cart for awhile. At the end of our journey, we were offered shui-mai, which evidently had just been prepared - and they were the best thing we had all night. Instead of the usual ground up filling, the shrimp had been added later and left in small pieces which added a nice texture to the finished product.
So, even though my experience wasn't great, I think I'll try the dimsum again, but when there is a higher turnover - if the shui-mai is any indicator, I think we'll be happy.