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[MSP] Jun Bo Review

My husband and I are coastal transplants to the midwest. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area while I still think of NYC as home and we sorely missed the availability of Chinese food when we first moved to Minnesota. After spending four years here, we have found adequate Chinese restaurants but no Dim Sum houses that come close to the ones in NYC, San Francisco or even Chicago Chinatown. Therefore, we were thrilled to read about Jun Bo when it was rated the best Dim Sum Restaurant by the City Pages. We also read the mostly favorable reviews on Chow Hound and decided to give it a try.

We went on Friday, May 18, 2007, around 5pm and the place was pretty empty. There were only two other tables of two, one Caucasian and another Asian. I overheard the servers speaking Cantonese although the music videos playing were mostly in Mandarin. The servers were friendly, though not the most efficient, and we ordered both dim sum from the cart sitting in front of the dining room and off the menu. Although there was still steam emanating from the metal baskets, the dim sum was definitely not as fresh as it could be and the taste suffered consequently. We ordered some of the basics: har gau, siu mai, cilantro dumpling, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, Shanghai soup dumplings, and pork wrapped in tofu skin. I asked about the bitter melon fritters and was told that they were out.

Only the Shanghai soup dumplings were freshly made/steamed (the server asked us to wait 15 minutes), while the rest had been sitting inside the cart (for who knows how long) and we could taste the difference. Whereas the Shanghai dumplings were good, the others were only adequate. My husband compared the dim sums to ones he could get from a take-out place in Oakland or San Francisco Chinatown, and only at a fraction of the price we paid ($38, with $5 tip). He also pointed out that the frozen dim sum from Asian grocery stores, when freshly steamed and not past their expiration date, will taste just as good! He (an excellent cook) added that the pork wrapped in tofu skin just didn't have all the various seasoning and vegetables we have come to expect and wasn't wrapped as skillfully. Similarly, the sticky rice could have been seasoned instead of just plain with a filled center.

My husband loves char siu chow fun (barbecued pork with wide rice noodles) and orders it in every new Chinese restaurant we try as a measurement of the restaurant. We specifically asked our server whether the pork chow fun on the menu was the char siu chow fun and the answer was in the affirmative. The Chinese writing on the menu stated it was, but he wanted to be certain and inquired in Cantonese while I confirmed in Mandarin. We were very surprised when the dish brought to our table only contained braised pork. The dish lacked the distinctive flavor imparted by the char siu although it was adequately prepared otherwise.

The service was adequate. We may have had better service because the restaurant was fairly empty, the two seated tables left and were replaced by two parties of three, or because we were Chinese and spoke the language. Even then, the water glasses weren't filled as quickly as at some other dim sum restaurants. We didn't order any tea since the temperature that day was in the high 70's with some humidity.

We have tried the dim sum at Yangtze (8/2004) and Yummy (2005) and feel that Jun Bo is slightly better. Unfortunately, Jun Bo can't really compare to the numerous Dim Sum restaurants in Chicago's small Chinatown, much less to the ones in the cities of NY, SF, Vancouver or Hong Kong.

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  1. Thank you for this report on Jun Bo. I think you're pretty spot-on, here. Personally, I've found the best stuff at Jun Bo is what they bring out on those little trays, in part because they are fresh and hot out of the kitchen. Here's a recent'ish thread on Twin Cities dim sum where there's a lot of discussion of "strategies" for ordering at Jun Bo.

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/38081...

    My impression is that many on Chowhound think Mandarin Kitchen has the best dim sum in the Twin Cities, though, I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't yet tried it. Yeah, it's partly because I'm loathe to leave St. Paul (tongue in cheek), mostly because I dread the long wait everyone always talks about, but also, I think a small part of me likes to dream there's a great dim sum restaurant just over the river I can check out any time, if I wanted to. ;-) Better to have the dream than be disappointed.

    I hear that Tea House II in St. Paul on Suburban has dim sum on weekends, but the time I was there they weren't serving it, so, alas, I cannot comment on that personally, either.

    http://www.ourteahouse.com/

    ~TDQ

    1. Dairy Queen, before you head over to Madarian Kitchen, you'd better call first - I tried to go there last night, and they are closed for remodeling. The sign said for two weeks starting on the 15 of May, but judging from the progress I saw when I looked in the window, they are nowhere close to reopening.

      So, we went to Jun Bo instead since it is very close. This was my second time there, and while I really want to like the food, I can't say it was very good. My experience was similiar to the post above, and also the fresh made dim sum was far superior to the ones on the cart. The shanghi pork dumpling was really good, but that was about it. The waitress told me that the dim sum chef had gone home of for the day, so no other fresh dim sum. To go with the dim sum, we ordered the pan fried seafood. The noodles were not pan fried, but they appeared that they had been placed under a salamander and when the corner started to burn, they were removed. The result: soft noodles with one burnt corner, served in a glass pie dish. The seafood in the dish was good, but it was otherwise unremarkable.

      1. I agree with you. Jun Bo sucks.

        Try Mai Village in St. Paul, on University.

        Also, try Little Szechuan on University in St. Paul.

        I've had some good food at Mandarin Kitchen.

        4 Replies
        1. re: JimGrinsfelder

          Ack! Jim, normally I agree with you--you're one of my tried and true steady opinions on this board-- but I have to respectfully disagree with you about the dim sum at Mai Village. It's really not very good. I'm not even sure I would say it's average. I agree that Jun Bo is not exceptional and is very inconsistent, but the dim sum at Mai Village is at least one notch down from Jun Bo. I could only find one dish at our Mai Village dim sum chowdown to say something nice about.

          Of course, I agree with you about Little Szechuan--love the food there. But, they don't do dim sum, do they? (DO THEY??? Because, if they do, you'll find me there tomorrow morning! HA!)

          If you're just referring to good Chinese food in general, I also love China Jen in Roseville (on Snelling, right near Cty Rd B.)

          And, Tea House II on Suburban near White Bear Avenue in St. Paul seems promising. (And is rumored to have dim sum.)

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            DQ, we had a good experience at Mai Village one sunday morning. They were frying FUN on the carts, the dumplings with shrimp and cilantro were particularly delectable and bursting with bright flavor. I dunno, maybe it was an unusually good day for them. Maybe it was a good crew of friends that day. I liked it.

            Jun Bo doesn't really suck, but it's not as good as other places in town that do not seem to have specialized into Dim Sum they way they have, so I expect them to be the best. So, I agree with you on Jun Bo, inconsistent, not exceptional.

            My kids loved China Jen. I thought it was good. I liked their West Lake soup. I have only eaten there one time. I'd go back but my car keeps going to Little Szechuan or I walk to Grand Shanghai, just because it's close.

            1. re: JimGrinsfelder

              Hmmm, interesting. I can't remember exactly which dish it was (some kind of taro cake, I think), but the one dish I liked at the Mai Village dim sum chowdown was one of the ones they were frying on the carts. Maybe they particularly excel at that? I will say that the atmosphere for dim sum at Mai Village is a bit less frenetic that Jun Bo (or most dim sum places, for that matter), which could make for a more pleasant meal depending on what you're in the mood for.

              I haven't tried the West Lake soup at China Jen. I will have to put that on my list of things to try! I especially like their scallion pancakes--even cold the next day as leftovers.

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I've never understood the appeal of taro cakes. I've tried them in Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Chicago and Mpls. Mostly because I have friends who go nuts for them, but to me, they're just...crispy outside, gooey inside and mostly flavorless.

                Now the steamed buns with a little BBQ pork inside, those I would gladly kill for.

        2. Big ups on the review. The key to great dim sum is turnover and a full dining room. The fact that Minneapolis has no Chinatown or Chinaburb or Chinese language public access channel might give one the impression that our market can't sustain this style of eating, which it can't and you learned the hard way.

          I love travelling to San Francisco and Seattle and I enjoy going to their Chinatowns to dim sum places every time we're out there, but I have come to the realization that trying to reproduce that experience here is simply not realistic. I've resigned myself to the hundreds of other good things I can get. I wish I could get great Korean here as well, but again, same problem.

          Now, Vietnamese food we have, and boy do we have it good IMO. I will continue to hope that native Chinese find a reason to flock here, until then, I'll be at Little Szechuan quietly dreaming about a warm bowl of chicken feet.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Foureyes137

            Actually, chicken feet is the one dish I've had at Jun Bo that I've consistently been delighted with, though, I'm certainly no expert on chicken feet. But, I've always found it very tasty.

            ~TDQ

            1. re: Foureyes137

              I agree that the overall quality of the Vietnamese restaurants here in the Twin Cities is the best among the various ethnic Asian cuisines. The one time my husband and I dined at the Wayzata Origami, after reading rave reviews about the restaurant, was so nauseating (due to the not so fresh fish, both raw and cooked and the soggy, overcooked rice) that I decided to abstain from Japanese restaurant food until I recovered from the experience.

              The Twin Cities have an interesting situation. Other than Vietnamese cuisine, the other Asian (and Middle Eastern according to a Syrian friend) cuisines just aren't authenic; additionally, the price is much more expensive when compared to other metropolitan cities. However, there is a plethora of wonderful gourmet restaurants: Vincent, 112, Cosmos, Chambers, etc. with excellent food that is on par with those in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere, but at a much lower price. Unfortunately, the service at these restaurants could be inconsistent.

              As for the taro cakes, they are more of a Taiwanese/Hawaiian dish rather than traditional dim sum cuisine and I would consider them as comfort instead of gourmet food. However, it all depends on how they are made, if they are really well seasoned and freshly pan fried, then I could tolerate them, otherwise, they are as Jim described, gooey and bland. The BBQ pork in the steamed buns is the char siu I mentioned in the chow fun. I prefer them in the baked fluffy pastry dough to the steamed buns but the filling is ultimately what counts. You could generally measure the quality of a Cantonese style restaurant by the roasted ducks, pigs and calamari hanging in their window. We found this wonderful place in London while we were visiting this past March, by following my husband's eyes and gut instinct. Best of all, the price was quite reasonable.

              1. re: L and R

                It was the hot-off-the griddleness of the cakes that I found appealing, compared with every other dim sum item that crossed my plate that morning at Mai Village which I didn't particularly care for. But, I have to confess, I just looked back at my notes from my Mai Village dim sum visit and it wasn't taro cake, but the pan fried radish cake I liked that morning. Either way, I haven't had a lot of experience with the various fried cakes at dim sum, radish or otherwise, even though I had at least monthy dim sum outings (for one 2-3 year stretch, nearly weekly) in San Francisco or NYC for many years. Either the fried cake dishes never caught my eye in the flurry of excitement, or I tried them and found them unmemorable. Actually, it was most likely that whoever was doing the ordering, usually not me because my Cantonese is, um, not great, didn't care for them much so they just flew under my radar. Tastes change, though, and for whatever reason, that morning at Mai Village, the radish cake was a pleasant standout in what was otherwise a very unremarkable meal.

                Jim, a couple of other folks that morning mentioned they liked the shrimp dumplings, too, at Mai Village, though my recollection was those fell short of my expectations.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  On the topic of fried starchy savory 'cakes', one of my favorite things at Rainbow
                  Chinese is their turnip cake. And yes, the plain cake on its own is sort of like
                  pasta, not a ton of flavor, but it's what you do to it that makes it interesting, in
                  this case, the turnip cake is fried with eggs and has a really yummy dipping
                  sauce.

                2. re: L and R

                  The bottom line is that in order for a market to have "authentic" cuisine, there needs to be a sizable population of people from that area where this food is coming from to keep it that way. There are 20+ Thai restaurants around here and I highly doubt 5% of the people that eat there have been to Thailand or even care if it tastes like Thai food in Thailand. As a business it is in any restaurant's best interest to make a product that appeals to it's market, otherwise you get Minnesota's most authentic (closed) Hungarian Roasted Yackateria (as an example, man I wish this place existed).

                  I've been to Guangdong, most of the food there did not appeal to my palate. I tried, some of it was very good, but on the whole the cuisine was not to my liking. If I have what is indicative of an American palate, it might be best for a new Guangdongian restaurant to change a few things so that I would give them my money. If I want "authentic" anything, I figure I'm well served going to where-ever it originated.

                  1. re: Foureyes137

                    I was very excited when Jun Bo came to town because the buzz was that they'd brought in chefs from San Francisco, Vancouver, and, I think, Hong Kong. But, clearly it takes more than just that.

                    I think we should be careful to avoid making assumptions about our fellow Twin Citieans and how many of them have been to Thailand (or whereever). I'll bet many Twin Citieans are better-traveled than many think. Having NWA as a hub is a giant help. Northwest Airlines, in its initial incarnation, was the first US carrier to have nonstop flights to China. Students from Edina High School are considered the best-travelled public high school students in the U.S. 40% of the kids in St. Paul's public schools right now describe themselves as Asian. I'm sure the reasons why there aren't good dim sum or Thai restaurants here are varied and complex but I'm not sure it's because no one has been to Asia.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I've been and 5% is being generous considering less than 1% of US residents have ever been off this continent. I am saying Twin Cities residents are 5 times more likely to have travelled than Joe American. I think it's reasonable to say that 150,000 people in the metro have left the country, my guess is that few of them go to Asia that are not from Asia.

                      While I look at my friends and know almost all of them travel for pleasure, I have no doubt that most people are not like us, and the more I learn about this country, the more I learn we are a minority (think marriage amendments and, you know, all politics).

              2. Jun Bo took over the old Chi Chi's and the building is just enormous. So its unfortunate only two seated tables were there because then you feel like no one likes this place. However, when I went during the lunch hour -it was almost packed. I agree the service is adequate if not poor and I had better dim sum in New York and San Francisco. However the dim sum was good enough for me to go again.

                As for Mandarin Kitchen - it is expanding and remodeling due to the high demands. I was at the city council meeting where the discussion was whether the minor expansion would cause traffic and parking problems since the restaurant is so popular. So if you want to go to a building completely opposite of Jun Bo where you know there are loyal fans - go to Mandarin.

                4 Replies
                1. re: MNLawGirl

                  Thanks for the suggestion on Mandarin Kitchen. However, not knowing the name of the restaurant in Chinese, I just have to get over my reservations about trying dim sum in a restaurant named "Mandarin" since these are totally different styles of cooking.

                  1. re: L and R

                    I, too, wondered how a restaurant called Mandarin Kitchen became know as the best dim sum in the Twin Cities. One of these days, (when they're done remodelling), I 'll haul myself across the river and find out for myself, but, yes, it does seem curious, does it not? Does this link help you at all (with the name of the restaurant in Chinese?)

                    http://www.mealmeal.com/main/member_m...

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Hmm, the characters under "Mandarin Kitchen" mean "Chinese Restaurant," and the characters in the illustration next to "Mandarin Kitchen" mean "North Sea." Not very illuminating as far as this particular mystery goes! (Correct me if I'm wrong - I haven't used Chinese for quite some time!)

                      However, in the "about us" section they say they specialize in Cantonese cuisine, live seafood, and dim sum.

                      1. re: diesel

                        "Chinese restaurant," eh? Doesn't really clear much up, does it?

                        Also, Jun Bo has a website, which I hadn't realized before. Here's the link:

                        http://www.jun-bo.com/about.htm

                        ~TDQ