Restaurant: Jiang Nan Spring
Location: 910 E Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801. (626) 766-1688
Date: September 11 & November 3, 2019
Cuisine: Shanghai Chinese
Rating: Very good, but probably not the best in the SGV
Yarom and I set out on another small party SGV adventure and chosen Jiang Nan Spring (which we hadn’t been too because of this review from the LA times which asked “Does Jiang Nan Spring have the SGV’s best Shanghainese food?”
After our reconnaissance lunch (9/11/19), we returned (11/3/19) for a big group dinner.
They have a newish storefront on Main in the heart of Alahambra.
Interior is clean and free of the usual wall menus, TV’s etc.
For our 11/3/19 dinner we dined in this private side room (2 tables). This made for one of those giant 2 table CF dinners — I do much prefer my Chinese dinners to keep to one table.
Boiled peanuts on the table.
Shanghai Duck (9/11/19). This cold marinated duck is flavored a lot like pork.
Cold Drunken Chicken (11/3/19). Nice for this kind of cold bland chicken. It had some good flavor, very nice (if cold) texture, and was quite moist.
Cold Smoked Fish (11/3/19). Classic Shanghai style cold fried fish. Smokey flavor.
Pork belly slices in garlic chili oil (11/3/19). Very tasty pork as the spicy/garlic sauce was excellent.
Scallion pancake (11/3/19). Fine for what it is, but I usually find this a boring dish.
XLB (11/3/19) pork soup dumplings. Decent version of the always fabulous pockets of steamed pork. Not amazing house-made versions like at Juicy Dumpling, but still good.
Beef Roll (11/3/19). Not usually my favorite dish either, but a pretty good version of it.
See the inside.
West Lake Beef Soup (9/11/19 and 11/3/19). A mild goopy soup with tofu and beef, it was actually delicious. I had several bowls. I’m not sure what was so good about it — certainly texture — but it was very addictive.
Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf (9/11/19 and 11/3/19). I’ve only had this dish once before, at another West Lake / Shanghai style SGV place, Chang’s Garden.
Sautéed Shrimp (9/11/19). I asked them if they had the green tea version, and they said they did, but we got the more regular Shanghai version. The shrimp were super succulent and with the vinegar quite delicious. Still, I wanted to try the tea version again.
Shanghai Style Pork Hock (11/3/19). Classic Shanghai dish.
This was a controversial dish. Among those of us who love “real” Chinese food, we LOVED this dish. It was moist, fatty, jiggyly (yes), but had tons of fabulous porky flavor. The other table, with lots of lightweight Chinese eaters found it “too fatty.” Of course, it’s supposed to be fatty!
Peking Duck (11/3/19). Even though it’s not a Shanghai dish, they do offer peking duck. The meat itself was solid but not the best ever or anything. Good flavor, but the skin wasn’t the crispiest possible.
And with pancakes — which were good but a bit large.
Hoisin and green onions.
David L, as always, demanded the “bones” from the duck. Sometimes there is meat on the bones, not really here. But I won’t be critical, as that means it just went into other dishes.
Yarom gnaws on one anyway.
Vegetables, soy beans, and bean curd (11/3/19). Very interesting dish. Nice crunchy texture.
Salted Egg with Chinese Squash (9/11/19). Like Zucchini with salty egg. Ick. I didn’t like this dish at all. Yarom did, but I’m not a fan of this sort of vegetable.
Seaweed fried fish (11/3/19). Crispy moist “fish sticks.”
Walnut shrimp (11/3/19). The classic, tasty, but lots of mayo.
Fried Tofu & Ground Pork with hot sauce (9/11/19). Or maybe it was Hunan Tofu. Not sure. This was actually pretty hot. Not exactly MaPo or Szechuan in style, but quite good.
We special pre-ordered Beggar’s Chicken (11/3/19).
The chicken is inside this pastry and they wallop it open with the mallet!
Inside it’s very moist, with tender meat, sweet Shanghai-style sauce, chestnuts, and other fruits and vegetables. Very interesting, if a touch rich.
Shanghai Purple Rice. Starchy!
Chocolate Peppermint Gelato — Chocolate base made with Valrhona 62% Satilla Chocolate and melted in peppermints, mixed with Mint Oreo Cookies — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #Valrhona #chocolate #oreos #peppermint #mint #ChocolateMint #MintOreos
Pistachio Lemon Cookie Gelato – using my new egg yolk based nut formulation with a custom blend of two Pistacchio di Bronte DOGC sources to produce an intense pistachio base, with layers of Southern Italian Lemon Cookies — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #pistachio #sicily #nuts #LemonCookie
Overall, Jiang Nan Spring has a good kitchen and most dishes were really tasty. I think the chef (or the menu) leans toward Hangzhou (the old Southern Song capital just south of Shanghai). I don’t really agree with the Times — I think Shanghailander is slightly better, but this was certainly a very good place, in the top 3 LA Shanghai places I’ve tried no question.
Our big two table CF dinner was polarizing as all the people who like adventurous Chinese food (including myself, Yarom, and the AFF) all loved it and the people who like their Chinese more “American” found it a bit over some magic textural or fatty line. They can head back to PF Changs!
Location: 1440 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007. (626) 348-8866
Date: May 19, 2019 and January 18, 2020
Cuisine: Shanghai Chinese
Rating: Excellent – best Shanghai food I’ve had in the US
Hedonist trips to the SGV and its requisite Chinese adventures are among my favorite dinners. Shanghailander specializes in Shanghai style cuisine (obviously). We’ve been out many times to their Hacienda Heights location, and last time the owner invited us to try their newer spot in Arcadia — which is closer so no complaints there.
Cold appetizer plate (5/19/19 & 1/18/20) to start.
Greens in a mustardy sauce to the left. Sweet meat and tofu to the lower left. Hainan chicken on the bottom.
Mushrooms to the right.
Perhaps an eggplant to the right.
Crunchy marinated sweet turnip in the upper right and pork jelly at the top.
Jellyfish in the upper left.
Sautéed shrimp (1/18/20). Simple but tasty. I’ve had this dish dozens of times at many Shanghai restaurants and this was for sure one of the best versions I’ve had in the US.
Sea cucumber with shrimp roe (1/18/20). Sea cucumber, the white stuff was roe, shrimp and fish. Weird soft textures but very pleasant. Not exactly a looker, but quite tasty.
Sea cucumber (1/18/20) — nice texture, odd mild garlic and grain sauce.
Shrimp with pineapple in mustard sauce (5/19/19). Close to walnut shrimp, but with a distinctly different flavor.
Shanghai style crab with rice cakes (5/19/19). Really nice garlic and ginger sauce (delicious with the cakes).
Seasonal special: Crab with sticky rice (1/18/20) — really nice. sticky rice has mild but good flavor with sweet Chinese sausage.
Peking/Shanghai duck (1/18/20). Sometimes peking duck isn’t so hot at non Beijing places, but this one was excellent with a rich thick hoisin sauce and pancakes (way better than buns).
The whole assembly.
Duck soup (1/18/20). This was actually a tasty duck soup! It was rich, not overwhelmingly salty, and tasted of actual duck. There were also big chunks of juicy meat. Usually I hate duck soup, but this was quite enjoyable.
Shanghai style eel in pot (5/19/19 & 1/18/20). This was delicious. Soft and rich in a savory slightly sweet sauce.
Shaking Beef or French Style beef (5/19/19). Excellent juicy beef with lots of beefy flavor.
Fried fish with herbs (5/19/19 & 1/18/20). Lovely fried fish. We always order this.
Shanghai style braised pork in brown sauce (5/19/19). A huge hock of pig that falls off the bone. This is about as good as roast pork gets.
Cut up a bit. It’s a lean meat.
Meatballs stuffed with egg (5/19/19). Very unusual dish (here, typical in Shanghai). A kind of fried meat ball with a gooey duck egg yolk INSIDE!
Soy sauce or 3 cup chicken with chestnuts (5/19/19). Not always my favorite dish but this example was really good.
Jellyfish with cucumbers (5/19/19). We loved this dish so much we ordered another (larger) one. Awesomely tangy with a textural contrast between the crunchy cucumbers and chewy jellyfish.
Braised eggplant with salty fish flavor (1/18/20) — sweet sticky sauce and distinct bonito flake flavor. Almost Japanese in style like miso eggplant.
Grandmother’s special pork (1/18/20) — super tender, fatty, delicous with that thick sticky sauce
Pea tendrils with garlic (5/19/19). At first it was a little short on the garlic and we mentioned it and they remade it with even more garlic — awesome.
Shanghailander pan fried buns (5/19/19 & 1/18/20). A fried version of same. So hot they were hard to eat, but oh so tasty.
Shanghai steamed dumplings (XLB) (5/19/19 & 1/18/20). Always one of my favorites. The dough was great, the meat needed a hair more flavor, but I still ate about 6.
Nocciola Espresso Caramello Gelato (5/19/19) — A classic nocciola base made with Pure PGI Piedmont hazelnut paste and then layered with a house-made Espresso Caramel Ganache then topped with fresh roasted hazelnuts — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato –#SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #Valrhona #hazelnut #ganache #dulcy #ChocolateTruffle #nocciola #caramel #caramello
Sicilian Tiramisu Gelato (5/19/19) –attempting to reinvent Tiramisu with Sicilian flavors: Pure DOGC “Bronte” pistachio paste gelato base with lady fingers soaked in house-made orange syrup and layered with house-made “cannoli filling” (sweetened fresh ricotta with cinnamon and mini dark chocolate chips) — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — this one will be a test of concept: too much? –#SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #pistachio #sicily #ricotta #chocolate #orange #ladyfingers #tiramisu
Mud Pie Gelato (1/18/20) — Hot brewed espresso gelato with house-made milk chocolate coffee ganache and crushed Oreos — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — the gluttonous classic made even more gluttonus! — #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #chocolate #valrhona #espresso #coffee #oreo #MudPie
Peppered Lemongrass Ginger Creme Brûlée Gelato (1/18/20) — A blended milk and Thai coconut cream base steeped with lemongrass and ginger and then juiced up with yuzu and black pepper. For sugar, I used coconut palm sugar and even torched the top! — created by me for @sweetmilkgelato –#SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #lemongrass #ginger #CremeBrûlée #BlackPepper #coconut #yuzu
Our 5/19/19 visit to Arcadia was insanely good. Almost every dish was on point and many were unusual. Food was really really good. Service was great too but this was certainly the best Shanghai style food I’ve had outside of China — and this is just a couple months after my most recent visit to Shanghai and incredible means like Shanghai Tang. The private rooms are better here, but we forgot to preorder some dishes, like roast duck, plus they had lots of other interesting things. So next time we will have to really up the ante for a major banquet. They are super nice and I’m sure will knock it out of the park.
Our 1/18/20 visit was just as good — if not better — with a great menu (picked by Bonnie W and I) and a more focused set of wines. Still the best Shanghai place I know of in the US.
The SGV (or San Gabriel Valley) of Los Angeles is not only a Chinese Food mecca (best in America) but lends itself to the peculiar but extremely fun tradition of the “food crawl” or as we sometimes call it the “SGV Parlay.” This involves heading out there and visiting multiple locations in the same day. Everything is so close together and the density is very high.
My oldest friend, Brent, and I have been eating Chinese food together for about 40 years so on this particular Sunday night (January 27, 2019) when he was in town we went out at about 4pm for the crawl.
First stop the Hunan Chili King and late Lucky Noodle King mini mall. This is a classic old school SGV mall, probably from the 70s.
Here’s HCK, the best Hunan joint I’ve been to in the state.
They were decorated for Chinese New Year.
And here’s Brent.
Hunan style cold cucumber salad with marinated cucumber, Cilantro, and chilies (everything has chilies). This was really tasty, and one of the least spicy dishes. The marinate lent it a slight cool quality. Very salty though.
Snails with preserved vegetables. This dish was amazing! Sure it’s an “advanced” dish, and incredibly spicy. Hottest dish we had that night by far. Super deep potent heap. The combo of the chewy snails and the unusual pickled green beans (with their crunch) was stunning.
This might have been our most expensive stop too. Lol.
Next over to King Kho Bo for some dried snacks like dried seasoned mushrooms and whacky New Year’s coconut strips.
Then into this weird low rent mall. Like a cheap mall in China as there are all sorts of “stores” tucked away inside this vast drop ceiling hall. Pretty ugly! And classic SGV charm (actually is fairly charming).
Speaking of charm, this guy in the parking lot drives a manga rice rocket!
Next we moved over to another (newer) minimall on Valley. I’ve eaten here at Mian, Mei Long Village, J &J, and Tasty Dining! This is in the heart of Alahambra and very dense.
Mian, where we decided to get some Szechuan on, gets a serious line. About 30 min at 7pm on Sunday for 2!
This place is much newer (2 years) and popular with the young Chinese couples on cel phones — wait, that’s all young Chinese (and other) couples.
Weird cold tea.
Slightly fermented spicy cabbage adorn the table — like Szechuan kimchee.
The awesome cold smoked plum juice — so good (too much sugar when you guzzle it though).
Egg custard with ground pork. One of those delicate fluffy egg custards covered in savory ground pork. Yum! I really enjoy the texture (and taste) of this kind of custard and with the pork was fabulous.
Beef in chili sauce. Quite spicy, dry, and nice.
Szechuan Cold Noodles.
You mix up the above cold noodles and eat. These were superlative. Nice noodle texture, good weight, and this scrumptious tangy chili sauce. Loved them. I adore when the acid balance is right and these really had it down. A bit of nuttiness, but not nearly as nutty or heavy as a dan dan — different, but great.
Then we went across the mini mall to the Foot Soak for a 1 hour Foot Massage ($20!).
This particular FM “spa” is one of my favorites because the guys on staff are strong and do a good job. There is NO GLAMOUR here. In fact, it has the oddest (not for the SGV but to the uninitiated) ambiance. The chairs are packed together almost touching and period Chinese dramas (in Chinese, of course) play on the TV. Plus, quite a number of people just hang out or sleep. The massage is good though and the price right ($20 is for a full 60 min).
Now on to our third minimall, well actually welcome to the Maxi-Mall. The California Mini-Mall’s GIANT SGV cousin.
You could spend all day in this mall, there are so many restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, and massage places. But since we’d done two spicy spots, we figured we’d finish up with some awesome carbs. Juicy Dumpling is upstairs.
They have a glassed in dumpling workshop!
Brent pounds the hard stuff — tea!
XLB (xao lao bao) “sweet”. Also known as Juicy Pork Dumpling. Really nice version of the classic. Soft skin. Juicy. Good filling. Maybe not as good as a Din Tai Fun, but great still. They have two types here — savory and sweet. We ordered the sweet because it’s more unusual. I kinda like it, although maybe not as much as the savory.
Pork and Shrimp Dumpling. Great version of the pork and shrimp, with delicate but pronounced flavors. Like the savory pork only version but with a shrimp inside!
Giant Crabmeat Juicy Dumpling. You eat this with a straw! People said this was a gimmick, but the slurry of crab and pork inside this thing was to die for. And after you burn your tongue slurping it out you can cut it up and eat the shell like pasta.
Here with the straw — so good, just watch you don’t burn your tongue.
As our final (7th!) stop we wanted some boba tea. There were options to choose from, like Boba Ave but we went instead to:
Typical young clientele.
Slick modern (industrial) decor.
They double as internet cafe and offer unusual savory treats. Brent joked that “real men” would polish off the evening with an egg and prosciutto waffle — couldn’t manage it.
Instead just got a milk boba tea (small for me).
Overall, a total blast of a night. It’s really hard to convey how fun these crawls are — which is the purpose of this post. It feels kinda like teleporting to a section of a some slightly (American) Chinese city for an evening. Everything is so close together and if you like Chinese food the density of places is off the chart. We walked by a good 15-20 other places that looked delicious, some of which I have been to, many not.
This whole adventure was probably about $120 for the both of us too, including the Foot Massage and tip. Food was probably $80. With 4 people it would be even cheaper (each) and one could try more dishes. Hard to crawl with more than about 4-6.sharethis_button(); ?>
Restaurant: Chang’s Garden
Location: 627 W Duarte Rd. Arcadia, CA 91007. (626) 445-0707
Date: December 8, 2017
Cuisine: Shanghai Chinese
Rating: Solid place
Takeout counter. And look, they even have wine!
Lotus wrapped pork spareribs.
This was a nice place and all the dishes except for the lomein were great (noodles were just fine). I think this place is actually Zhejiang Cuisine (i.e. the Hangzhou lake district south of Shanghai).
Restaurant: J&J Restaurant
Location: 301 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Date: August 9, 2017
Cuisine: Shanghai Chinese
Rating: Great crab XLB, but rest was just so-so
As part 3 of our mini lunch SGV parley we move onto mini-mall classic J&J.
The typical pictorial menu.
Crab XLB. This is why you come here. These were the best crab XLB I’ve had. Nice delicate wrappers and lots of solid crab flavor. This should not be confused with a categorical statement that they were better than the best PORK XLB I’ve had — just different beasts. I should have ordered the regular pork ones as the shells were great and so those might also be excellent — but we didn’t.
Crab Rice Cake. Crab in a sort of lightly curried sauce with the chewy Shanghai rice cakes. I liked the cakes and the sauce, but there was almost no accessible crab meat — unless you are a seal or some other animal natural equipped with shell crushing teeth.
Sweet and Sour Pork Chop. Not a bad version of this dish. Sticky soy-sugar sauce, little bits of bone, but very soft accessible meat.
Since this was just a couple dishes as part of a multi-restaurant crawl we only had a few things. The Crab XLB were great, the other two dishes just fine. They used MSG (I could feel it after). The atmosphere wasn’t exactly lively or updated. Service was pleasant.