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May 13, 2010 03:33 PM

Tian Jin

Maybe I'm just seriously out of the loop on this and the last one to hear, but learning yesterday over a very mediocre (kinda bad, really) meal at Tian Jin in Chanhassen that the ownership changed earlier this winter, just explained so much about the sliding food and service quality over the last months.

Ryan and his wife and daughter have sold Tian Jin and moved permanently back to China.

We ordered our usual fare of boiled beef in spicy broth, chung king chili chicken and Mandarin Beef with Golden Garlic. We didn't know the owners had sold at this point, but the Mexican waiter should have been a clue that things were different. When the food came it was completely void of its usual robust flavors. Someone came and asked if we thought the food was too spicy and we told them "No, it wasn't spicy at all." We were then offered "Szechuan sauce" to spice it up. I have no idea what Szechuan sauce is, so I politely declined.

Long story short, we no longer feel the need to drive to Chanhassen for Boiled Beef. Tian Jin's was the best in town, and it is now sadly a distant last.

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  1. thanks HuaGung, that is sad news- I had read on here that Ryan was out of town but didn't realize it was permanent and that the place had changed hands. I suppose maybe the decision didn't happen all at once. I was also a fan of the place, only ate there once.

    And was bummed by some of the hater posts that appeared here, although many positive ones appeared as well. I loved that they had what to me was an authentic flavor without using msg.

    1. The Owner and his wife moved back to China last November. Some of the best bad Chinese in the Twin Cities.

      21 Replies
      1. re: scoopG


        Could you please elaborate on why you believe all Twin Cities Chinese restaurants are inferior? Please read previously posted info on TJ, The CHEF formerly cooked at a highly rated restaurant in CHINA. Here's a little info for you. San Fransisco has some of the best Chinese restaurants in the US. I was speaking with the former owner, Ryan, and he told me that he had several customers from the bay area comment to him that his food was on par with the best restaurants there. I want readers on chowhound to make decisions on dining choices based on professional opinions. I encourage all readers of this thread to research all the reviews done by local food critics.

        1. re: kriminalrat

          Kriminalrat, it has to be about the food itself. To quote from the estimable limster, “Chowhounding requires one to think for oneself and an eagerness to explore to uncover new delicious things.”

          I’ve never said all Twin City Chinese restaurants are inferior. Most are though. Based on my visits, I think Little Szechuan is the best Chinese restaurant in the Twin Cities because they are putting out the best fare with minimal American-Chinese dishes and no buffet. Most importantly they were able to offer at least one of the hundreds of greens found in Chinese cuisine: Pea Shoots (豆苗 - dou4 miao2) when I was last there. The Plymouth Tea House I would put at number two. (Please see links to threads below for more info.)

          The claim that TJ now has or once had a top-rated chef from China is highly implausible to me. First-hand evidence: none of the dishes I tasted coming out the kitchen at TJ was made by a chef. Chinese cooks yes, but a chef? No. Because the former and new owner claim they have a top chef in the kitchen, does that make it so? Do we know the old/current chef’s name and can he/she produce the certificate/diploma from the appropriate mainland Chinese culinary school as well as relevant CV? I know that is over the top but you get my point! Top prestigious Chinese chefs can earn excellent pay in the major cities of China, are held in high regard and have no reason to emigrate for financial reasons. The first “chef” at TJ came out of the Tianjin Hyatt – not the center for great Chinese grub in Tianjin. Finally, since 9/11 it is extremely difficult for skilled foreigners to obtain a visa to enter the US. It is just too much of a hassle.

          The Twin Cities Chinese food scene is stuck in a 1980’s time-warp. There are no Dongbei, Fuzhou, Hunan, Shangdong, Taiwanese or Wenzhou restaurants as there are in NYC and the SGV. Hey, I'd love to try TJ again and while I am sure it is great for Chanhassen, I am just not seeing any evidence that it has improved enough to make a long trip from either downtown.

          Little Szechuan Review:

          Tian Jin:

          Grand Szechuan:

            1. re: kevin47

              My guess is the owners are Taiwanese of Hakka origin. (A good many Hakka or "guest people" ended up in Taipei from the mainland.) Their website says they serve Cantonese, Taiwanese and Hakka. While they list a couple of Taiwanese dishes they do not have the great Taiwan classics of Minced Pork over Rice,Three Cup Chicken, Stinky Tofu or the Oyster Omelet. A famous Hakka dish is Salt Baked Chicken which they do not seem to have. One trait of Hakka cuisine is using a variety of vegetables stuffed with minced fish. Although the menu is loaded with a bunch of non-Chinese items (did you really have to order the cream cheese puffs! :) It appears that there is enough there to make it interesting. Plus I like the idea of the owner and his wife there and the fact they seem to try to get their hands on fresh Chinese greens!

              1. re: scoopG

                What do you think of Mandarin Kitchen?


                Mandarin Kitchen
                8766 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55420

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I see it gets some mentions for dim sum but a quick look at their menu was depressing - overloaded with classic American-Chinese dishes. I thought Chop Suey was outlawed years ago!

                2. re: scoopG

                  evergreen is well known in the msp vegetarian scene for being extremely veg-oriented, & you can order any meat menu item vegan-- usually with a faux meat substitute. they have a frozen case where you can buy the different types of faux meat and their yummy house-made veg potstickers. i like the dried tofu dishes there. evergreen is quite out of the norm-- i vote it stays! :)

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I forgot to mention all the vegetarian options on their menu that I saw made with gluten or tofu. Will definitely put this on on the top of my Minneapolis must-try list! Do you know if their vegan dishes contain meat stock?

                    1. re: scoopG

                      pretty sure vegan means vegan at evergreen, and the dishes are either all made with a meat-free sauce or the restaurant maintains separate meat and veg stocks for to-order cooking. they have a very loyal vegetarian customer base-- in fact it's so popular with the veg crowd that i was under the erroneous impression that it was an all-veg restaurant before i first visited. evergreen lacks in ambiance (it's a bit like a bingo-hall, in a windowless basement, but is clean and well-kept) but there is a lot of attention on the food-- it's not thrown together american-chinese glop. i'd love to know what the family's story is, actually. i know they are taiwanese, that's about it.

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        Thanks much. It is at the top of my list for my next visit.

                        1. re: scoopG

                          AND, very important, they DON'T add MSG---which puts them high in my book, but the food might not have the addictive kick of some of the other popular places discussed on this board. I'm curious to see what scoopg and others who love Little Szechuan and the like , think of Evergreen.

                          Little Szechuan - West End
                          5377 16th Street, St. Louis Park, MN 55416

                          Evergreen Chinese Restaurant
                          2424 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404

                          1. re: faith

                            Thanks faith. I know msg is a major concern of yours.

                          2. re: scoopG

                            In fairness, some of the best dishes are probably not authentic in origin. The lemongrass mock beef is fantastic, but I doubt it's a staple in Taiwan. They do have three cup tofu, and you should certainly spring for the boiled peanuts and dumplings.

                            1. re: kevin47

                              Oh the boiled peanuts and Three Cup Tofu will suffice! I wish I was there now.

                                1. re: scoopG

                                  i don't think it even needs to be said, but just in case-- the veg menu items are the way to go on the evergreen menu, and where the place shines. i rec the 5 spice dried tofu, it's quite good.

                            2. re: soupkitten

                              went to evergreen today for a quick lunch. the menu notes that there is separate (prep) work for vegetarian and non-veg dishes. dh actually got a beef dish for 1st time there, and noted that the nice thing about getting a meat-based wok dish in a vegetarian-oriented restaurant is that the vegetables are cooked well, not mushy or gloppy/overcooked.

                              there is also a specials board on the wall in english/mandarin (i don't read mandarin) w about 10 items. among the specials were three cup chicken, 2 whole sea bass preparations (one was crispy soybean topping iirc), 2 croaker preparations, and a bamboo pork belly stew. note that evergreen is closed on tuesdays.

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                Croaker preparations? (I could speculate, but don't want to sound like a complete goof. Not that you all don't already think I'm one anyway. But, still...)


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  yellow croaker, i'm nearly positive! ;-P it's a fish, and i think i've only eaten it once, but i've seen it sold at shuang hur and dragonstar. here's an older chowhound thread:


                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Ah! Okay, thank you. I was imaging a croaker of the Kermit-type, not that that is so bad, but just seemingly out of place.



                3. You may have different taste to the city page and Minnesota Monthly journal which had good comments on all the three dishes your complained about.

                  Spicy or not spicy? That is based on individual preference, nothing standard, and you can tell the waiter to make sure to bring out the most spicy one. Speaking of waiter, does a Mexican waiter bother you, or you prefer Chinese waiter.

                  When old customers are glad to see the great improvement of new management, your comment is sadly exceptional.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: reality

                    I have no preference for from where my waiters hail. I made the observation that it clearly indicated that there was something different on this visit, since the prior owners did the table service largely by themselves. No slights intended to anyone, just observing differences.

                    Again, with the spice and flavor issue, with the previous owners, no coercion was necessary to bring out a dish that was vigorously spiced and flavored. The dishes I had on this trip were profoundly different from what I had become accustomed to. While it is any new owners right to offer whatever they feel is best to their customers, it is also a customers right to note how things are different and if they approve of or appreciate the differences.

                    While many or even most of Tian Jin's customers may be quite happy with the changes, I was not. The owner has the great luxury of knowing the quality of every dish that leaves their kitchen. I know only what they bring to me. Perhaps mine was an exception to the rule on this trip, it just never was in the past. No one ever offered Szechuan sauce to me to fix a dish previously, it was always lovely the first time.


                    1. re: reality

                      I'm also wondering how it was determined the waiter was from Mexico. Did you ask?

                    2. I've been at TJ numerous times for the last few years and it is still my favorite Szechuan restaurant. I did not see a significant decrease in food quality (the chef did not leave); the major difference since the new owner took over is that the service is better.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: kzuiderveld

                        CH works best on specifics. TJ has only been open about two years and you do not proffer any specific reviews on any of the meals you have had on your many visits.

                        1. re: scoopG

                          My two favorite dishes are Chung king chicken and Boiled Beef in Spicy Sauce, which usually are ordered together when dining with a good friend who also is fond of spicy food. We order both dishes extra spicy (the Boiled Beef is otherwise pretty mild compared to Teahouse and Grand Szechuan) and that usually turns out great. I've been to Grand Szechuan twice; the chung king there was a MAJOR disappointment, GS' Boiled Beef was OK but I prefer TJ's.

                          I was among the first ones that reported on TJ. I don't think that I need to post detailed reviews of dishes to share my opinion that I still consider the best of the Szechuan restaurants in the Twin Cities (and I've been to all of them, except Teahouse Dinkytown that just opened).

                          1. re: kzuiderveld


                            I think your post speaking highly of the Sichuan dishes is a testament to the cook's skill's. The chef at TJ as discussed before was mainly trained in the northern Chinese style as he was from Tian Jin. He was also trained in Chengdu in Sichuan but northern Chinese was, and still is his main focus. The new management has put a lot more focus on the northern style and has added more dishes from the southern region as I believe one of the owners is from Shanghai.

                            1. re: kriminalrat

                              I remember there was a discussion about "secret" menus awhile back. There is one at Tian Jin...unless you can read Chinese. There are alot of unique items that I have enjoyed trying lately. The menu changes every once in awhile while some things remain the same. I have been begging the owner to translate the specials to English. I like how it utilizes fresh local ingredients. Two current dishes are pork sauteed with garlic scapes and pork and pea tips. There is a bean noodle that is very good but most Americans wouldn't like as it has a very slimey consistency. Pork strips with a black carmely soy dipping sauce that had a burnt flavor was excellent as well as a huge bowl of soup that is similar to egg drop soup but with pork and other ingredients (This soup was on all the Chinese customers table) The owner said it is a very popular dish in China. I encourage everyone to ask for the Chinese menu and ask the owner to recommend something. Just a note...As far as I know the special menu doesn't carry any Sichuan dishes, and please enjoy Tian Jin for what it is...good Chinese food. It is not a Sichuan restaraunt and never claimed to be. It does Sichuan dishes well but many other regional Chinese dishes also.