jo jo tai pei in allston--has anyone been yet?
I was waiting for the 57 bus when their new marquee caught my eye. I went in to get a menu, but I haven't had a chance to dine there yet. Lots of interesting stuff on the menu, IMO. Anyone care to file a report?
It's just off Linden, actually, in the space that had been New Trend Eatery. (And right across the street from your beloved Yi Soon.)
Looks like TeaTomE got there over the weekend:
I hadn't realized they'd opened already - I noticed when passing a couple of times last week that they've done a nice job on the decor.
Yeah, it's really good. I'm a big fan of Wisteria and I think Jo Jo TaiPei will be a formidable competitor. The host was very welcoming and the whole place was buzzing with happy families and great food. My Taiwanese co-worker alerted me and said he now lives in Taiwan-food heaven (he lives nearby and now has Wisteria, Jo Jo, Infusions and Yi Soon all 5 minutes walk away).
I wrote a Yelp review of my visit. It's still the only one.
Okay.. ctrlC, ctrlV
Look at what little Allston went and done!
An elegant, modern Taiwanese / Szechuan restaurant that's just opened in the old New Trend Eatery spot, right across from fellow Taiwanese gems Yi Soon and Infusions.
The nice chocolate-brown decor gives you an idea that they want to be better than just the tea and snacks of opposite and the quick and hearty canteen dinners of Wisteria down the road at the Super 88. They also give you A LOT of choice too.... where do I begin?
I saw things like chinese lunch wraps, tempura soup, xiao long bao, pig blood sauteed with leek, pig intestine in stinky tofu hot pot (!!!), taiwanese dumplings, super tofu hot pot, twice cooked pork, mango salad, eggplant with basil, fried potatoes, cumin lamb, beef noodle soup special (which I had and loved) and spicy Seafood hot & sour soup.
I'm desperate to go back for Three Cup Specials: a traditional Taiwanese dish cooked with one cup of soy, one cup of wine and one cup of water. They do this for cuttlefish, eggplant, chicken, tofu or duck tongue. Sounds intriguing.
It was nice and busy when I was there, obviously word-of-mouth is spreading quickly. People were ALL getting the huge crushed-ice desserts: Bow-Bin and Sa-Sa Bin. They looked amazing. And you know what else they do?? After 9pm they serve porridge with sweet potato. Life is Good.
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Allstonian and I went tonight for our first time. Within about two minutes of being seated, our waiter came over with some complimentary snacks: perfectly roasted salty redskin peanuts, some lightly pickled cold cabbage and carrots and our choice of pig intestine, pig ear, those little tiny silver fish you see a lot in Indonesian restaurants, something else I'm forgetting, and a big dish of what he termed "Chinese-style kim chee."
I cannot turn down kim chee whenever it's offered, so we went for that, although both the ear and the fish looked tasty. It's really just that there was a LOT of all of these, and we wouldn't have done justice to any of them with just the two of us -- or else we wouldn't have been able to order anything else -- and it seemed a shame to waste anything other than some peanuts and some cabbage. Given a choice, I really would have rather been given an option of a little plate with a bit of everything, you know? I mean, how often do you get to eat pig ear in Allston?
That said, both the peanuts and the kim chee were simply amazing: nothing fancy, nothing surprising, just really good, solid versions of simple, tasty foods. The other cold pickled cabbage, meh. It was just completely outclassed by the delicious kim chee.
We ordered the scallion pancake, the steamed bun filled with pork belly, the twice-cooked pork and the eggplant with basil. My local yardstick for scallion pancake is King Fung Garden in Chinatown, but this version may well be better. It's tender rather than doughy, with crispy outer layers and a good scallion kick. Comes with a ginger sauce rather than the traditional white vinegar.
The steamed bun with pork belly is basically a small sandwich consisting of two slices of steamed bun (imagine lopping the bottoms off a pair of char siu bao and using them as sandwich bread) cradling thick slices of unctuous, perfectly cooked pork belly and chopped pickled vegetables. Each is about three bites worth (about the size of a White Castle), which is perfect because it would just be too rich to eat any more of.
Having just had the twice-cooked pork at Sichuan Garden recently (I described that version of the dish, rhapsodically, to my best friend the next day as "basically bacon stir-fried in chili paste," to which she replied, "You know, we're really very different people in a lot of ways"), we thought we'd do a comparison. This iteration lacks that magical crispiness and is nowhere near so hot, but it was perfectly balanced and had a nice garlic kick that I appreciated. I liked it very much, but I did slightly kick myself for not pressing for the shrimp and scallop with dry-fried chiles. Next time, then.
But the real star of the table was the eggplant with basil. Salty, unexpectedly sweet, gently hot, with the crispy fried basil leaves perfuming the entire dish, the eggplant just cooked through to tenderness (how did they get eggplant skin so crisp?), it was one of the best dishes I've had in a long long time.
Service was prompt and attentive, perhaps to a bit of a fault. Three different people, including a woman I assume was the manager or one of the owners, came by to ask us if everything was okay and if we had any complaints or questions. We weren't hustled out the door or anything, but the paying of the check was handled extremely promptly -- which I'm perfectly okay with -- and I suspect that was because every single table in the entire place was packed. Five days after opening. At 7:45 on a Wednesday night. Yeah, this place has nothing to worry about. They're going to do fine.
Thank god New Trend Eatery (a place I wanted to like much more than I did) closed down so this could open up instead, because Jo Jo Tai Pei just crushes them. The owners of Wisteria should be extremely worried though: just on this visit alone, I can tell that they have been thoroughly supplanted as the best Taiwanese restaurant in Boston.
I went just the other day. Very good over all, with a broad breadth on the menu and impressive execution.
The scallion pancakes were amazing. Flaky, hearty, and delicate at the same time. The dipping sauce could have used a little more kick, and they could have been a little thicker, but still, extremely good and obviously fresh.
The kong1 xin1 cai4 was also amazing. Cooked to perfection in a light, flavor maximizing sauce.
When you sit down they come around immediately with a tray of six cold appetizers for you to choose, including fu1 qi1 fei4 pian1, niu2 jin1, xiao3 yu2 gan1, and several others. I apologise for not paying close enough attention. The beef tendon was excellent --- with flavor and texture that would not be embarrassing in Chengdu. The pao4 cai4 and peanuts on the table were very refreshing.
The only disappointing item was the Cumin Lamb, which was had high quality ingredients, but was not nearly cuminy enough --- almost as if someone made cong1 bao4 yang2 rou4 and lightly dusted a pinch of cumin on top.
The restaurant has decor reminiscent of Shanghai Gate inside --- well, at least the plates are square and there's a kind of up-scale feel to it.
The menu has both traditional Taiwanese fare, as well as "fusion" dishes which seem more interesting than Chinese-American food, but might also appeal to other palates. More like Buddakan in New York than the Hong Kong in Harvard Square in that regard. :)
This looks like a wonderful addition.
Five of us met for lunch this afternoon and explored the menu a little further. This time we got the thin-sliced pig's ears and a cold tofu skin dish as appetizers, along with the complementary dishes of salted peanuts and pickled cabbage. The pig's ears were judged to be more enjoyable for their texture than anything else - just not a lot of flavor there. I quite liked the bean curd skin dish, which was apparently stewed with a good hit of five-spice powder, along with some chunks of bamboo shoot and a couple of dried black mushroom caps.
We had xiao long bao (on the menu as "Jo Jo special mini steamed bun") which were tasty enough, with a thin skin, but I didn't think they were as juicy as some. The vinegar with which they were served seemed especially flavorful, though. We also had the grilled Taiwanese sausage, thin slices of a crisp-skinned sausage about the size of a standard Italian sausage, but flavored somewhat like Cantonese lop cheong - sweet, with an unexpected hit of clove.
We shared four entrees. The spicy minced pork with dried radish and hot peppers was both spicy and quite salty; I liked it well enough but it didn't stand out for me, and others found the saltiness off-putting. Sour cabbage with spicy garlic sauce was a hit, as was the eggplant with basil. We also tried the three cups combo (hot pot dishes braised in one cup of water, once cup of wine, and one cup of soy sauce) which was chicken and cuttlefish. I think none of us had eaten cuttlefish before - I was a bit daunted by the fact that they were whole, including the pen, which was a little tricky to remove. Chicken was rough-chopped bone-in chunks; good pieces were tender and flavorful; bonier pieces were a lot of work for a little bit of meat. The braising liquid was delicious, however, and Barmy and I felt that another time we would be up to try it with eggplant or tofu. I'm not opposed to the duck tongues, but they're pricy and I suspect be another experience more interesting for texture than taste. Rice for our large group was served in a beautiful covered wooden pot, which was a nice touch.
After all that, we were pretty stuffed, but we really wanted to try one of the desserts, which we could see being enjoyed at many other tables. We had a large order of the bow bin, shaved ice with assorted sweet toppings and corn syrup. It came served in a pyrex pie dish, and featured large red kidney beans, small red (adzuki?) beans , green (mung?) beans, boba, chunks of taro, and chunks of sweet potato. It was delicious! The five of us polished it off in no time.
Once again, the staff were friendly and helpful, although we got off to a rather slow start (I think they may have thought we were waiting for another addition to our party.) Once we got going, though, service was great and the hostess, who took our order, expressed approval at several of our choices. All in all, this is a great new addition to the excellent Allston dining scene.
Went for lunch yesterday at around 2:30pm and had a 4 items from the menu:
kao fu (dried bean curd rehydrated with bamboo and mushrooms) - this was fine, moist enough, perhaps a bit warm due to sitting out in the service window, maybe the liquid was too thick, or my grandmother just used to make it differently
five-spice beef - pretty flavorless, not enough 5-spice, DC commented that the texture was too tough or dry which I thought they offset by slicing it very thin.
five-spice beef sandwich - thicker slabs of 5-space beef with a bit of plum sauce and scallions folded into what amounted to a scallion pancake. This form tasted better than the plan 5-spice beef appetizer from earlier.
cumin lamb - disappointment. Not enough cumin at all, more like a hint of cumin or an initial taste of it. Like lipoff, it seems as if they took the onion+peppers+lamb dish and threw cumin in and took peppers and forgot the cilantro garnish. I also think that the cut of lamb they used was not right for the dish, it needs to be smaller, 1" squares instead of what amounted to almost 2" squares or triangles.
beef noodle soup - they apparently had sold out of this by 2:30pm.
seafood noodle soup - broth was lacking flavor, noodles (white, semi-flat udon type) were al dente but had an odd flour/meal taste to them, seafood seemed like it was cooked in a water bath and dropped into the soup and did not particularly taste like much. Combination of fake crab, scallop, shrimp and bamboo.
jasmine tea - 2.99, came from a tea bag, free refills of water, doh! Reminder to self: get the house tea next time which would theoretically be free.
I also saw many people tables ordering the shaved ice dessert but I was far too full to attempt it.
As for the service, the only part that was fast was when they brought the peanuts and the tray of other cold dishes. That happened about 1 minute after we sat down. We waited significant amounts of time for our 2.99 teapot to be refilled even though we were sitting by the waiter's terminal near the back by the restrooms and both our waitress and another waitress walked to the terminal to take care of a bill maybe 3 or 4 times each and did not take the pot to refill. The only person who did refill it was a waiter or possibly a designated runner/busboy who finally refilled it. They also did not bother refilling after we finished and asked for the check. Perhaps they wanted to take a break before the dinner rush. Perhaps there were only 4 other tables of guests in the restaurant at that point. Perhaps it is only their 3rd day of business.
Jury is still out to lunch for me, will definitely need to make a 2nd trip with a much larger group to better assess the entire menu.
Went last night, 6/21/08 around 8 pm. The place was quite busy, but we came on the tail end of one service round of customers, so the wait was just 20 minutes. The wait for the food, however, was very quick, since we ordered in time to be on the previous round of customers rather than with the new ones who were being seated at the same time we were. Dishes for my husband and me were:
Oyster pancake - savory and sweet, without being cloying as it can be at Taiwan Cafe. The edges remained crisp throughout the meal, and the oysters were plump and not too briny.
Cong you bing (scallion pancake) - we haven't been able to find a great scallion pancake here in Boston, but the reviews on Chowhound made me eager to try it here. And I'm glad we did. Tender, flakey, and so satisfying, with a lot of scallions.
Xiao long bao (Jou Jou special mini steamed buns) - these were pretty good, with a delicate skin and a soupspoon of soup. I would have appreciated a slightly larger bao with more filling (to be more similar to Joe Shanghai) but I think these are better than that of Shanghai Gate, Gourmet Dumpling House, and Taiwan Cafe.
Chou doufu (Stinky Tofu) - my husband was thrilled when he saw this on the menu, and I've never smelled or tasted it before. It came out beautifully, looking very light and smelling pretty strongly. He says it was well made, with a nice sauce on the side. The only way I can describe it is that it's... funky. I only had one cube. He took the rest (and there were a lot of cubes).
Kong xin cai (Chinese watercress) - they didn't have any dou mao, so we settled on this. This had great wok hei (sorry, we're cantonese) with a delicate garlic flavor. We noticed a lot of people ordering the stirfried squash, which looked like it was probably long squash or fuzzy squash.
Niu ro mien - this was good enough to give Shangri-la in Belmont a run for its money. The broth didn't have the strong anise overtones of Shangri-la (I actually like anise, but I know it turns other people off), and the meat was very tender brisket. Pretty spicy but not overdoing it.
By this time we were too full to finish everything so we skipped the desserts. But we'll be back for sure.
Because apparently I can't get enough of this place, I popped in for lunch this afternoon while running some errands. I had a specific craving for the ma po tofu lunch special, which is one of my standbys. It's $6.99 for the dish, steamed rice and the soup of the day, which admittedly is more than twice as much as my usual neighborhood lunch standby, a banh mi at PhoViet, but it's still eminently reasonable.
The soup of the day was egg drop, which to my mind is an often quite misunderstood item. Put out of your mind all of the diluted Maggi powder plus rubbery egg stands you've ever been served in cheap Chinese-American dives (like for example, this space's previous incarnation as China Garden!) and think about what egg drop soup should be. And that is what this egg drop soup is. This is one of my lifelong favorite dishes (when done correctly, which is so rarely is), and I'm going so far as to say this was the finest egg drop soup I have ever had. The broth was neither salty nor oily, filled with small flavorful shreds of chicken and occasional kernels of crisp-sweet corn. But the star of the show, the eggs, were exactly as they should be. The key to egg drop soup is that it should have a certain gelatinous texture: it is not a thin, brothy soup. This was unctuous, delicate and perfect. If I wasn't already a fan of this place, this egg drop soup would own me for life.
The ma po tofu was not up to that level of perfection, but it was exactly the comfort food I had been craving: large, perfectly soft cubes of soft tofu that did not fall apart at the chopsticks' approach, in a thick, spicy sauce that was neither sweet nor overtly porky. (Too much pork is the inevitable downfall of this dish.) The sauce was perhaps a bit one-dimensional, but I barely left a grain of rice regardless.
So far, there has been little I've found to complain about with this restaurant. I haven't been so happy with a new place since Gitlo's opened.
Went there for the first time last night with my lady and her sister.
Food was excellent. We started with the pickled veg, peanuts, beef tendon and tripe with lung freebies. Couldn't stop eating the tendon. It was all delicious.
I had the scallion pancake starter which was by far the best scallion pancake I've ever had. Crispy, light, amazing. My ladies sister had the fried squid which was perfectly cooked and seasoned.
I moved on the the 3 cups chicken which was very nice. Super ginger-y and flavorful. My lady got a spicy beef and noodle soup which they unfortunately lost the order for. They were clearly short staffed on the floor and the place was packed so it was entirely forgivable.
Funny though ... when they finally brought the soup a strong poo-stank hit our table. Straight up manure stink. We all thought it was the soup so when the waitress came back to see if we need anything else the smell stopped her dead in her tracks. She smelled the soup, then looked around. There was a couple seated next to us with a baby which we foolishly didn't notice earlier. The waitress walked up to the table with the baby, proceeds to shove her nose up to the baby ... looks over at our table ... points to the baby and yells-out: "it's not soup stink, it's baby stink!" then walks into the kitchen.
The whole series of events made my night.
The soup ended up being delicious. I can't wait to go back!
I made a return trip last night with 3 others, while I enjoyed the meal, I was not blown away.
marinated bean curd - warmer than the last time I had it and the sauce/marinade was a thinner as a result of it sitting out which actually made it better
tendon - a good texture to it, just a hint of whatever it was marinaded in, I wish this prepped with a nice ma la oil instead
salt-cured pork - had a nice smoky and fatty flavor, crispy on the edges but not spicy at all even though it was given two red stars (or did I just misinterpret what the stars mean?)
oyster pancake - in the humble opinion of one of my friends, it was clearly not as good as Taiwan Cafe's. I didn't really get much of an oyster taste either out of any of the oysters or the pancake itself.
shrimp and tofu - pretty plain, nothing to see, move on
stir-fried chinese watercress - tasty, well cooked, perhaps a bit over?
fried calamari with basil - the rings were not crispy but were not soft
shaved ice - their snow is a lot better than that of Taiwan Cafe's, probably a result of the blade on the machine being significantly newer than the blade on the machine at Taiwan cafe
Again, service was uneven, they did not provide us with tea until asked, a good 20 minutes after the first two of us sat down and ordered some a few of the cold appetizers to snack on instead of bringing it when we first sat down. Tea refills were also randomly done even though there were maybe 6 to 8 people working the room at the time when the house was about 3/4 full. It felt like a lot of the staff were just standing around watching the scene.
On a down note, I recognized one of the waiters last night as the waiter from Qingdao Garden who chased me down for an extra dollar's worth of tips about two years ago - during that entire experience, he was extremely pushy and rude to the point that I did not leave 15% tip on a check of about $30-40. My party had walked about 20 feet down the street when he came running out and demanded that I pay 15% tip.
While I enjoyed the meal, it was more for the fact that I have it as an option and they serve up a style of food that I like to eat. I imagine I will eventually find a go-to dish at Jo Jo's, just not yet.