Despite A&J's numerous accolades, I've always been somewhat disappointed by their offerings. For instance, both the steamed spareribs with spiced rice powder and the Chinese sesame biscuit with sliced beef were decidedly unappealing each time I tried them. The rice powder lent the spare ribs an unsettling texture, and the sesame biscuit was stale and stuffed with dry, tired beef.
But I slowly worked my way through the menu until I discovered their "noodles with ground pork and bean paste sauce" (Zha Jiang Mian). I ordered it with their thick noodles, which are wide like Japanese udon, and so pliant and doughy that they must be homemade. I can't stop thinking about them.
The ground pork was cooked in a bean paste sauce that lent it an appealing reddish hue, and was not too sweet and only mildly spicy. And much to my surprise, the substantial mound of pork and noodles turned out to be flanked by a pile of cucumber shreds and another pile of fresh bean sprouts. The cucumber shreds may have had a touch of rice wine vinegar, but seemed otherwise untreated, as were the bean sprouts.
But heres how A&J presented the cucumber in an ingenious format for this dish: they shredded it lengthwise into long, thin, noodle-like pieces of cucumber. This enabled me to easily wrap both the noodles and the cucumber around my fork, spear a few bean sprouts with the exposed tines and coat the bound parcel in ground pork. Awesome. The combination of the two crisp, refreshing vegetables was a perfect counterpoint to the savory ground pork, and the thick noodles were the perfect starchy bond to bring all of the elements together. I'm not sure if a similar effect can be achieved with chopsticks, however.
Though most of A&Js menu features small plates, this dish is a kingly portion, practically enough for two to share, and a bargain at only $5.95. I go to the A&J in Annandale: 4316B Markham St.
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