Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Thing You Need to Know…

New Orleans, or southern Louisiana for that matter, is not the epicenter of Asian dining. I remember asking numerous people—including restaurant owners who should be in the know—to recommend a good Chinese restaurant in Lafayette. My question was usually met with blank stares and mentions of a Chinese buffet. I don’t have good luck at Chinese buffets. Whether it is the excess of salt or use of MSG, I usually end up with a headache.

So I paid little attention to Jung’s Golden Dragon as we walked back to the truck after our lunch at Joey K’s. It wasn’t until later that I learned that Jung’s had been named New Orleans Magazine’s Chinese Restaurant of the Year in 2010. So, to coincide with our bus/walking trip of Magazine Street, we scheduled ourselves for a Chinese lunch.

Jung Tan and her parents operated the Golden Dragon restaurant in Metairie for thirty-three years. Ms. Tan studied at the University of New Orleans and majored in hotel and restaurant management and tourism. The Metairie location
“was a place where successive generations of locals learned about Chinese food, or at least its familiar American iterations. Relocated Uptown and significantly reimagined, this restaurant is still dishing out Chinese cuisine lessons, but now more of them concern flavors and traditions a great deal closer to the source material…

“With its new approach, Jung's joins a growing roster of local restaurants where diners can experience Chinese food more in line with how it's actually prepared and eaten in China.... Tan tested these waters a few years back at the old Golden Dragon in Metairie, where she served a traditional
‘Chinese breakfast’ on weekends. It didn't catch on with customers, but when she moved to Magazine Street in 2010, she instituted today's two-menu system full time.

“This restaurant space, encased in sleek lacquered paneling, is small but comfortable. The way to make a night of it here is to bring a group, secure one of the larger round tables and order dishes to share. That's the familiar format at Chinese restaurants anywhere, but with Jung's new menu there is a lot more to talk about as the dishes go around the table” (Ian McNulty at bestofneworleans.com). It is the color of this warm blond wood that gives our food photos their golden tones.

Thomas S on yelp.com writes: “Jung's Golden Dragon is the best Chinese food in the area PERIOD. Consistently delicious, and a quaint atmosphere with friendly service ads to the overall experience, but the food is why you should venture down Magazine street and look for the multi-colored glowing dragon.... The real beauty in Jung's is found in their daily specials and the Chinese menu. I don't want to let a cat out of the bag but ask for the Chinese menu when you sit down and don't be scared to go outside the box with ordering. I have tried something new each time and have come away very satisfied.”

We were given the white Chinese menu, but didn’t spend much time looking at it. Since I consider the lunch specials at a Chinese restaurant to be one of the greatest food bargains around, that part of the menu is where we directed our attention. All lunch plates are served with shrimp fried rice or steamed rice and your choice of soup (egg drop or hot and sour) or a spring roll or a fried wonton.

From the list, Chuck chose the Sesame Chicken with white rice and hot and sour soup. I selected the beef Szechuan style also with white rice and hot and sour soup. And we added an order of cold sesame noodles.

First to the table was the hot and sour soup which was a large portion for inclusion in a lunch special and was full of tree ears, meat shreds, and egg threads. The soup had a good balance of hot and sour with plenty of the former. At first you didn’t notice the heat, but soon it began to register in the back of your mouth.

Next came the sesame noodles. I give Jung’s their props for this version since it seemed to be made with Chinese sesame paste made from toasted sesame seeds rather than its poor cousin substitute—peanut butter. The noodles were almost al dente—certainly not over cooked—and the cucumbers balanced the softer texture of the noodles. My only complaint was that the dish seemed somewhat dry. I would have liked the addition of some soy and sesame oil to loosen it up a bit.

Chuck’s sesame chicken was a different rendering of this Chinese restaurant staple. We have also seen it presented as thin strips of chicken in a semi thick sweet and sticky coating. Here, the chicken was prepared as a whole piece and then cut. This made the overall dish less sweet which to some might be a good thing. What you missed was the profusion of crisp coating.

When I ordered my Szechuan beef, the waiter warned me that this dish is very spicy. No problem. I would call it more peppery than spicy which is a small but, to me, important distinction. My plate was full of very tender strips of beef along with broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, and snow peas in a sauce that was peppery, sweet, and sour at the same time. It was good but I would have preferred less of the sour flavor which, coupled with the hot and sour soup, became too much of the same taste.

No way am I going to claim this is the best Chinese food ever but, in a region that is Asian-cuisine deprived, this may be as good as it gets and merits a 3.5 Addie rating.

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