My family and I have started going regularly to a wonderful, newish Shanghai-style restaurant in San Gabriel called JZ Restaurant, located in a tiny strip mall at the northwest corner of Valley and San Gabriel. In Chinese, the restaurant is known as the Jiangze Restaurant, referring to region surrounding Shanghai.
They have lots of Shanghai classics, including xiaolong bao (known by some as soup dumplings), braised pork pump, scallion pancakes, claypot soups, a number of eel dishes, panfried rice cake (nian gao), moss-battered fried fish (like the dish sold at Green Village), savory shredded turnip pastry, and a good selection of the little cold dishes that begin every traditional Shanghai dinner. Everything I've had there has been great and amazingly inexpensive.
Last night, the restaurant was completely full of large tables of Chinese families eating prodigious amounts of food. Our table of seven ordered the following. Cold dishes of spicy pickled cabbage, rice wine-marinated chicken, and the excellent kao fu, which may only be listed in the Chinese written on the wall -- soy-braised wheat gluten with peanuts and black tree fungus, a very traditional Shanghai cold dish. The sauteed, braised pressed tofu julienne with pork (xiang gan rou si) was excellent, finely julienned and full of good pork flavor. The chicken and chestnuts braised with soy, sesame oil and rice wine was made with fresh chestnuts, tender and pleasingly floury, not the usual dried chestnuts -- wonderful. The eel braised with yellow chives came in the thick, sweetish brown sauce that is characteristic of Shanghai cuisine, and smothered with a heavy dose of white pepper, minced ginger and scallion slivers. The eel was julienned into thin strands, wonderfully firm and chewy and carrying more than a little of the eel funkiness that I love but that others might find a little too strong. Also, garlic-sauteed "ai cai" (I don't know the English translation for this Shanghainese vegetable -- it has only become available here in the US in the past few years); Shanghai "small saute" (xiao cao), which is a saute of the strong and electrically-flavored Chinese celery, pork julienne, pressed tofu, and tiny bamboo shoots; Shanghai panfried rice cake; clear sauteed shrimp. Finally, a claypot soup (huo guo) of pickled cabbage and pork. The broth of rich and milky white, a well-balanced mix of shitaake mushrooms, mung bean vermicelli (fen si), slices of pork belly, and pickled cabbage.
For dessert, they present every table with a complimentary plate of marvelously tiny, three-inch long sweet red bean zongzi (similar to the bamboo leaf-wrapped variety of "kueh" in Southeast Asia for those fans of the excellent Shiokadelicious! blog, where Renee recently did a fabulous post on kueh). These are little bundles of steamed, sweetened sticky rice with a smidge of sweet red bean paste in the middle, wrapped in bamboo leaves. They look quite striking, tiny green leaf packets tied up with red string. There is also a sesame pumpkin pastry for dessert, quite traditionally Shanghainese, but I haven't tried it yet.
Or, you could walk over the boba place in the same little strip mall for a taro boba. The bakery a few doors down also does a durian cream sponge roll, which I haven't tried yet.
The bill for all this food came to a whopping $65.
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