"Xiao Long Bao" Journey to J&J (review + pics)
- pleasurepalate Apr 2, 2007 11:09 AM
Being a Din Tai Fung fan for a couple of years now, I didn't realize that there were quite a few other restaurants that also served excellent xia long baos or for short, XLBs, until I read AquaW's post on J&J followed by the thread by ipsedixit ranking the restaurants with the best XLBs. Thanks a lot to both of you!!! With my curiosity aroused, I decided set up a restaurant series where I'd take my dining group to both J&J and the other restaurants listed in ipsedixit's message.
But first, a little explanation about XLBs, which I took from wikipedia.org. So what exactly is "Xiao Long Bao?" To start, xiao long bao (literally "little basket bun"; also known as soup dumpling) is a type of baozi (filled bun or bread-like item) from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai and Wuxi.
XLBs are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets, hence the name. It can be filled with hot soup and meat and/or vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. The fillings are wrapped in something like a jiaozi wrapper that turns almost translucent after being steamed. Shanghai steamed buns can be recognized by their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gathered up into fine folds at the top, prior to steaming.
To eat XLBs, first take the dumpling and deposit it into a Chinese soup spoon and if desired add the vinegar and soy sauce. Some places may also have shredded ginger. Take a small bite of the skin and suck out as much of the flavorful broth as possible. Then eat the rest of the dumpling from the spoon.
Our first "XLB" journey took us to J&J. By the way, what we may refer to as XLBs shows up as "Steamed Pao" on their menu. We didn't know that until we asked the waitress. Our group ordered a total of 9 dishes. Two them were the Steamed Pao with Crabmeat and the Steamed Pao with maybe a Pork/Crab mixture? I honestly don't remember, but what I did remember was that both were tasty
In general, here's my take on the J&J's XLBs. The thing that I didn't like was the thicker, chewier wrapper. It just seemed more difficult to bite into it the without the broth already starting to come out. Maybe, just a little bit thinner? I thought that the fillings were great - very meaty, very juicy, not as refined as you would find at Din Tai Fung, but more rustic, something a Mom would make in her kitchen. That somehow gave it more appeal. Overall, I liked the XLBs at J&J and it's nice to have more than one alternative for certain foods that you like.
As mentioned, the XLBs weren't the only items we ordered. There were 7 more dishes that were a part of this meal. Standouts for me included their Green Onion Pancake which was light, flaky and with lots of great onion flavor as well as the Eggplant in Brown Sauce, which had a sauce to die for.
The pan-fried dumplings were also amazing with a meat filling that was just as juicy and flavorful as the XLBs. Finally, the Fried Crab Shanghai Style was finger-looking good and the sauce had a nice hit of heat without being overwhelming.
The XLBs at J&J are definitely quite delicious and apparently, some of the other items on the menu are tasty as well. I'm just glad that J&J isn't too far from me because I certainly want to make a return trip sometime soon to check out some of their other dishes.
To see pics, go to:
301 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91804
- Next up is Mei Long Village
Palate, thanks for the detailed review. I've been wanting to try this place for a while... but always end up going to Mei Long Village. I stopped going to Dragon Mark Inn as well - not so good. Looking at the photos, the skin of the XLB does look thicker which will taste too doughy. The potstickers (guo tieh) on the other hand, are nicely fried and appear very juicy. For potstickers, I love Noodle King's (Valley Blvd - wendy's plaza) and Mandarin Noodle Delis (in TC) - both fold them the long way - almost 5" long. Also, tried the potstickers at 10053 this weekend - wasn't very pleased with them. Have you had the Beef Noodle Soup at J&J?
The basic problem with the XLB at J&J is that you can walk all of 30 feet, to Mei Long Village, and get better ones. Or stroll across the street to Green Village. Or, at least on some days, go next door to Dragon Mark. If J&J were in Culver City, or even in Chinatown, it would be a destination restaurant, but this is a really tough neighborhood.
I like the thicker, more rustic, versions of XLB.
But then, that's just me ...
Thanks for the great review.
A friend and I recently tried J&J as well, and I thought their crab (thanks ipsedixit, yes craB) and pork XLB were very flavorful, although I prefer the thinner skin of DTF's XLB. We also ordered the Sesame Noodles, which I have to say tasted like a little piece of (thick and sticky) heaven. It was like melted Sesame (think peanut) butter over noodles. I don't know if this is a typical rendering of Sesame noodles, but boy was it satisfying. We also had the cut long beans which were in a delicious (not too) spicy sauce with bits of ground pork, and the Gee-something rice cake w/pork --which were little chewy slices of rice cake, with a few shreds of pork, and some minced up green veggie (the Gee-something), very good as well. We really enjoyed everything.
If you're going to Mei Long Villiage, in addition to the XLB, I highly recommend the Jade Shrimp, lions head meatballs, and the sweet fried Shanghai spareribs --all repeatedly recommended, and thoroughly enjoyed by all 6 of us.
Last month, based largely on posts here at Chowhound, I did a xlb "tour" of Din Tai Fung, Mei Long Village, J&J, and Giang Nan on the same day, and I must say that I was most puzzled by the version at Giang Nan. [Giang Nan made the list based solely on your strong and repeated recommendations.] While the flavour of the dumplings was quite good, they completely lacked for "soup." What gives?
Thanks, Jerome. I suspected that something was wrong, as I couldn't believe that you would otherwise favour their version over the rest.
A quick question: Do you know if Giang Nan prepares the crabs for the xlb in house? It was recently said here that J&J does as much, and now I am curious to know if that is the case at any of the other places I visited.
re: Erik M
Not Jerome, but Erik what do you mean by "prepares the crabs for the xlb in house"?
Do you mean does Giang Nan mix the crab/pork themselves as opposed to buying it from a Chinese equivalent of Sysco?
If so, then I believe all self-respecting dumpling places (Giang Nan included) make their own xlb fillings.
Hi Abby, thanks for the write-up & pics! My favorite dish was the eggplant one (#47) and the Shanghai-styled noodles (#100). The Paos (XLB) were okay (#70 & 71) and I, personally, could have done without the Pan Fried Million Layers Cake w/onion (#83), but everyone else at the table loved it. The Gee-Tsai with Meat Wonton (#10) was actually a very bland broth with the wontons (which were quite substantial and not all bad) was okay once I jazzed up the broth. Stuffed Fried Dough (#19) was just plain weird. Meatballs wrapped in dough with veggies and a sauce. We also got the fried crab Shanghai style was good, but I think I would have preferred the Hot Spicy Crab myself. Sometimes I just feel that it is too much work for crab and I think I felt that way here. Next time, I want to try the Sour & Spicy Noodle Soup.
Great review -- thanks -- esp appreciate the primer as I am, as yet uninitiated to XLB (hoping to remedy this soon) and great to get a sense of not only what this dish is but also how to eat. Looking forward to the next post.