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J & J Restaurant in San Gabriel ~ xiaolongbaos before Din Tai Fung (review + pics)

a
AquaW Jan 4, 2007 06:46 PM

Full review + photos here:
http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com/2007...

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 *in* 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! 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 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.

Hiding beneath its thick but translucent skin is 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:
Pretax/tip total: $13.45

Total score: 31.5/40 (great place to swing by for casual comfort eats, either alone or with a small group of pals)

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

~AquaW
http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com

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  1. ipsedixit RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 07:03 PM

    Nice review.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again ... DTF is overrated for xlb.

    There are many places throughout SGV to get as good and better xlb than at DTF.

    JJ is one of them, and in fact, right next to J&J there is Mei Long Village and Dragon Mark, both of which make good xlb. A troika of xlb offerings!

    3 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit
      a
      AquaW RE: ipsedixit Jan 4, 2007 07:04 PM

      a walking xiaolongbao tasting menu! marvelous! (and something I'm half-seriously considering!)

      ~AquaW
      http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com

      1. re: AquaW
        ipsedixit RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 07:10 PM

        Not only a xlb tasting menu, but a scallion pancake and niangao one as well!

      2. re: ipsedixit
        raytamsgv RE: ipsedixit Jan 4, 2007 07:16 PM

        Exactly my sentiments. DTF is good for many things, but XLB is not one of them.

      3. notmartha RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 07:41 PM

        AquaW - I have to say your post had me puzzled.

        "the thick-skinned, soup-filled xiaolongbao".

        The thing to appreciate for the xlb at DTF is the fact that theirs is about as thin skinned as you can get without being too fragile to carry the meat payload. That refinement is part of what you paid for, plus the fact that the facilities isn't a dive.

        Seems like there are plenty of posts in the past dissing or praising DTF. I think whether you like DTF or some other place depends on what you expect - the delicate version, or the rustic version.

        Both I think are good. Nothing beats a hot juicy dumpling straight out of the steamer, as long as the skin doesn't disintegrate into a mush.

        8 Replies
        1. re: notmartha
          a
          AquaW RE: notmartha Jan 4, 2007 07:57 PM

          Yes, I agree DTF's xlb skin is thinner than most, but I was making a point that xlb, compared to other dumplings (say, shu mais and har gows at dim sum places), have a thicker skin due to its soup & meat payload.

          I agree that there's lots of DTF praise/bash posts -- I personally like DTF, but wanted to give some exposure to the other places out there that serves xiaolongbaos (and have existed before DTF came to U.S.~ which seems to be getting the bulk of the credit for xlb's popularity).

          ~AquaW
          http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com

          1. re: AquaW
            notmartha RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 08:29 PM

            Thanks for the clarification.

            I think it's easier to do the thicker skin than thinner ones, so I tend to give it more credit - but I truly enjoy either versions.

            Har gow at some dim sum places have skins thicker than the xlb at DTF. The 'rustic' har gow at SF chinatown is one example.

          2. re: notmartha
            r
            ristretto RE: notmartha Jan 4, 2007 08:10 PM

            Just returned from Taiwan (both Taipei and Hsinchu) and discovered that there ARE such things as thick-skinned (read: doughy, spongy) xlb, same soupy filling as the thin-skinned version.

            Haven't been to DTF-LA, but I went to one of their Taipei branches (the original, I believe) and have to say that the xlb there was incredible. Anyone been to both DTF-LA and any of their other locations to make a comparison?

            1. re: ristretto
              ipsedixit RE: ristretto Jan 4, 2007 08:17 PM

              I've been to both and they are the same in LA and Taiwan (as well as the one in Hong Kong). However, one thing that the Taiwan store had that the LA/HK branches did not was the "miniature xlb" (or xiao long tang boa).

              To me, DTF is the McDonald's of xlb.

              1. re: ristretto
                wilafur RE: ristretto Jan 4, 2007 09:17 PM

                i've been to the one in taipei and the one in arcadia. i dunno why, but it seemed as though the food at the taipei location was better (perhaps it is the taipei water?? lol). definitely a different and livelier (sp?) ambiance in taipei though.

                1. re: wilafur
                  notmartha RE: wilafur Jan 4, 2007 10:06 PM

                  I thought I read that the owner had to try many meat mixtures to get the taste/juiciness close enough to the original.

                  I imagine they use US raised pig here, and taiwan raised pig there?

                2. re: ristretto
                  t
                  TravelJack RE: ristretto Jan 16, 2007 07:23 PM

                  I have just recently returned from Taiwan and China, and I'd have to say the xlb at the DTF in LA cannot compare to the ones in Taiwan or Shanghai for taste. Somehow I don't think its their fault... I suspect the recipe is the same, but using different pork might be the reason they are so drastically different. I've also tried JJ's xlb after reading all the rave reviews and I was disappointed. It's the pork!

                  1. re: TravelJack
                    r
                    ristretto RE: TravelJack Jan 16, 2007 08:30 PM

                    I have found the meat (chicken, pork, etc) in Taiwan to be more flavorful and more sinewy in general. Less processing? More free-range? I was also told that it is customary to drain the blood in the animals so there is less of a "gamy" taste to the meat. Can anyone explain?

                    Also, fish is fantastic.

              2. ChinoWayne RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 07:52 PM

                Very nice report here and on the blog. It illustrates that deliciousness can be found in a myriad of packages. I think the whole point of being a 'hound is having a temperament that will sniff out the good stuff, whether it be on a "champagne and caviar budget" or a "beans and rice" budget, good food, from good ingredients, prepared with care and skill, is good food.

                1. wilafur RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 08:02 PM

                  ooh, the nian gao and scallion pancakes look delicious! i am definitely going to try j&j out when i am back in town.

                  and i agree with ipsedixit, DTF is OVERRATED.

                  1. notmartha RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 08:32 PM

                    Just noticed. Is it traditional to have carrots, ginger and other veggies _inside_ the xlb? I've never seen it that way.

                    1. e
                      estone888 RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 09:17 PM

                      I just got back from lunch at J&J with a friend who had never been there before. He was suitably impressed. We had both kinds of XLB - pork, and pork & crab - and having tried XLB in about 20 different places around town, J&J's remain by far my favorite.

                      We also had the panfried dumplings - which are excellent, among the best in town, and an order of gee tsai (a Shanghainese green vegetable) and bamboo shoot which was also excellent.

                      As for Din Tai Fung, I've been to the one here, in Taipei and in Shanghai. I think the Taipei shop is the best of the three (though not really any better than J&J - although I do very much like the miniature dumplings), and the Shanghai shop the worst of the three. There are far better places for XLB in Shanghai. What I like best at Din Tai Fung here are their green beans - which I think are one of the best, simple vegetable dishes in town; and I have an odd fondness for "appetizer."

                      1. y
                        yclops RE: AquaW Jan 4, 2007 10:39 PM

                        FWIW, there are three Yi-Mei joints. The Rowland Heights mentioned above, and two others in the SGV:

                        736 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park (adj. New Concept)
                        608 E Valley Blvd. #G, San Gabriel (adj. San Gabriel Superstore)

                        Their Pork & Mushroom Bun (taiwan roubao) and Preserved Snow Cabbage & Pork Bun (xuecai roubao), when fresh, are terrific, IMHO (tho', admittedly, an aquired taste).

                        1. f
                          Food622 RE: AquaW Mar 25, 2009 08:11 PM

                          What is the best day and time to go to J&J for the soup dumplings. I have heard of some of these places running out, or the dumplings are not as fresh depending on the time of day. We haven't had these since we were in Shanghai, and I would love to take the hubby and son, but would prefer to go at a time it is not too packed.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Food622
                            wilafur RE: Food622 Mar 26, 2009 09:59 AM

                            any time of day works fine. xlb are not cooked until ordered.

                            1. re: Food622
                              raytamsgv RE: Food622 Mar 27, 2009 01:01 PM

                              Get there before noon. Otherwise, you might have to wait because the restaurant is really small. I don't think it can seat more than 30. It'll also be easier to find parking.

                            2. b
                              bulavinaka RE: ipsedixit Mar 27, 2009 02:33 PM

                              Is no one left untouched? Who would have ever thought xlb's would be the new center of controversy? Someone's bound to demand powers to expropriate troubled Shanghainese places next. Was Green Village too big to fail?

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