Evening dinner review
It seems like forever since we last ate Chinese food. And then all of a sudden in the space of a week we try two new places. J. Wong’s Asian Bistro downtown, and New Flavor located in Sugarhouse. The former for a sit down meal and the latter for delivery meal on a lazy evening.
J. Wong’s Asian Bistro had been covered by most of the local press, and I was eager to give the place a try after reading several glowing reviews. When we headed out that Saturday night, we thought we would have little or no chance of getting into the hot new eatery. While we searched for some form of sustenance, we managed to end up right next to the Energy Solutions arena, just as the stadium was filling up for a Jazz game. As we laughed at our predicament and tried to work our way away from the throngs, we noticed the valet outside of J. Wong’s and immediately decided to take our chances and pulled in. The valet cost $4, and with downtown what it is, even on non Jazz game nights, that’s fine by me. The valet was the first hint of what J. Wong’s is offering, namely an elegant and sophisticated take on Asian favourites (the menu is a mix of Chinese and Thai).
With parking swiftly dealt with, we ventured inside. Luckily there were several empty tables and we were seated right away. The restaurant itself is a sleek, contemporary affair. Comfy booths line the center, with tables to the rear. From the elaborate table tops to the chic lighting, everything is finished with an understated sophistication. Service started and ended in the same manner, professional, friendly and eager to please. We placed our drink and appetizer orders, which were quick to arrive. J. Wong’s has a full menu of beer, wine, and speciality cocktails.
The hot and sour soup we ordered ($3.00) was exactly that. An enjoyably forehead-moistening hit of black pepper enhanced this excellent and rich rendition of the famous soup. Plenty of tasty fungus lurked in the delicious broth. We forgot (!) to take a picture of it, but the soup came served in a quite unusually large curved bowl (The spur of the moment nature of the meal meant relying on my cellphone for pictures, hence the poorer quality snaps). In fact the whole meal was plated in a much more modern fashion than would be the case at a more traditional Chinese restaurant. This sat nicely with the upscale feel of the place, but at times threatened to become contrived. Case in point, the Charsil I ordered ($6.00):
Plating quirks aside, this was a great appetizer too. Indeed, at $6 it was a surprisingly generous portion. The cuts of roast bbq pork were also served with a sweet sauce, and Chinese mustard. We mostly avoided the sauces, instead chowing down eagerly on the meat in its basic form. I wish I had a plate of this on hand at all times to snack on.
Next up, were the entrees, Wendi’s choice was the Tangerine Chicken ($12.00):
This battered and fried chicken dish was served atop a pile of crunchy wontons. When asked by our server, Wendi indicated she would like the dish spicy. Neither of us detected much heat at all in the dish so for you spice lovers, you may want to request a side order of chili sauce as J. Wong’s seems to error on the milder side. Apart from the lack of heat, Wendi described the dish as “sweet, delicious, and addictive”. An instant hit. I’m not normally a fan of the battered/fried chinese proteins, but even I enjoyed the bite I tried.
I went with the Mongolian Beef ($13.00):
Again, my dish was noted as spicy on the menu, but proved to be anything but. I wasn’t too bothered however, as the dish itself was fantastic. The thin-sliced beef was perfectly tender. The sauce took me back to my University days, studying alongside Manchester’s Chinatown, where I enjoyed some of the my most memorable and authentic Chinese meals. Echoing Wendi’s sentiments, I also found my dish very addictive.
White rice is provided at an additional $1.00. After the heaping of Charsil, huge bowl of soup, and two big entrees, we both struggled to make any kind of headway into the rice. In the future, for just two of us, we might skip the rice, or share just the one entree with rice. With plenty of leftovers to take home, the staff happily boxed the remnants of the meal up for us table side. A nice touch, as if left to my own devices, I generally end up with more food on me than in the box.
We are eager to return to J. Wong’s Asian Bistro again. The menu listed a whole Peking Duck at $40 or so, with the added caveat that you need to order 24 hours in advance. Next time we get a hankering for Chinese, that will certainly be at the top of our list.
J Wong’s Asian Bistro
163 W 200 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
At the polar opposite end of the scale to J. Wong’s is the classic neighborhood Chinese take out/delivery joint. Cheap, tasty, and fast is the generally the mantra of such establishments, and that’s exactly what we wanted when we decided to give the recently opened New Flavor a whirl. Their menu appeared in our mailbox recently and caught our interest. The menu seemed to be aiming for the more health conscious. In addition to the usual “No MSG”, the menu proudly expounded on their use of low sodium soy sauce, no cholestrol canola oil, and fresh veggies and fish. More over, the menu went as far as to list fat and calorie counts on some of the items.
Feeling particularly lazy, we couldn’t even decided on what we wanted. Throwing caution to the wind, we randomly selected one of the combination meals. The set “B” menu for two seemed to offer a veritable bounty. For $22.75 we could have Soup, Golden Fried Shrimp, Ham Fried Rice, Kung Pao Chicken and Sesame Chicken. After placing our order, it was delivered in almost no time at all. Probably less than 15 minutes, a great start.
The order of Hot and sour soup was plenty for two (single portion pictured):
Whilst not up to the heights and complexities of J. Wong’s soup (and not that we expected it to be), New Flavor’s example was ok. Less heat for sure, and somewhat saltier than I would normally expect. But it was certainly better than a lot of take out/delivery versions I have sampled. Next up were the Golden Fried Shrimp:
I must admit I wasn’t expecting much, what with the cheap and cheerful nature of the meal. The shrimp, though small, were actually quite enjoyable. Obviously just out of the fryer, crisp exterior and juicy inside. A surprise hit and gobbled up in no time.
A large portion of Ham Fried Rice accompanied the two entrees:
This was the biggest dissapointment of the meal. The rice had certainly not been wok fried at any time recently. It was soft and lifeless with nary a hint of smokiness. It was also rather lacking in the ham department. A big letdown for me, a self confessed fried rice afficionado. We both tried a couple spoonfuls of the rice and gave up with equal boredom.
The Kung Pao Chicken however more than made up for the rice’s failure:
The dish had a pleasing sauce, and had the required spice kick of heat that we both hoped for. The chicken was of good quality and plentifiul, as where the veggies. Plenty of dried chillis and peanuts were included too. A dish either of us would happily order again. The Sesame Chicken was less inspiring though:
Actually I think the first words out of my mouth after a bite was “meh”. That’s about as descriptive as I could be. Wendi largely agreed noting that the sauce was somewhat bland and generic and the breading on the chicken was extremely thick. We picked and poked but not much was eaten.
A mixed bag for sure, but better than a number of other delivery places we have tried over the years. We saw enough potential in the Kung Pao to cause us both to remark we would order from the place again. I have my eyes set on the Chicken Curry and the Garlic Chicken and Wendi is looking forward to trying the Egg Foo Young. We will keep you posted.
1295 E. Miller Avenue, Salt Lake City, UT, 84116
(801) 467 1198
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.