If you were ordering Chinese to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dog, you wouldn’t be barking up the wrong tree (sorry, couldn’t resist) if you picked Jean’s Chinese.
This eatery makes its home in the former Pita Boys on the Robie end of Spring Garden, in an unassuming dining room decorated in a spare style that belies the complex flavours on the menu.
The long narrow room, done in neutrals with a few simple Chinese accessories perched on glass shelves high up on the walls, has few of the usual colourful accoutrements that we associate with Chinese eateries—the only splash of good fortune red is in a wall calendar and on the pop cooler near the take-out counter.
But don’t let the simplicity of the room fool you, because you won’t find generic Chinese Canadian food here. Owners and restaurant namesakes the Jean brothers tout their accomplishments on the front of the take-out menu (preparing food for the Japanese prime minister in 1988 is one).
There aren’t any dishes that jump off the page at us as being house specialties, “must-tries” or particularly unique, so we decide to sample dishes from both the Cantonese and the Szechuan sections of the menu, based on our server’s recommendations.
We start with an egg roll and a vegetarian spring roll ($1.39 each). The egg roll is filled with shredded cabbage and seasoned meat, plump and delicious. However, as tasty as it is, it pales next to the glory of the spring roll. I have never before seen such a fat, perfectly formed spring roll—it’s a thing of beauty, and I am loathe to pierce the crispy outer shell lest the inside not live up to the promise of the outside. Inside, shredded vegetables, vermicelli noodles and cilantro come together to form what is surely the finest spring roll in all the land.
Moving on to the Szechuan Hot and Sour Soup ($3.29), the emphasis is on the hot. All of the Szechuan dishes are marked on the menu with a chile to indicate heat. Generally, restaurants use a one-to-three chile rating to indicate levels of heat, but not here—hot means hot, with no in-between. I have a moderately high heat threshold, but this Hot and Sour soup is too much for me—after a couple of spoonfuls, the bold taste becomes painful, but the brief taste I did get says that those with braver taste buds will surely enjoy it.
Also from the Szechuan side of the menu, we try the Mongolian Chicken ($9.99) and the Ginger Beef ($9.99). These are also quite hot, though not as fiery as the soup. The strips of tender chicken are tossed with plenty of stir-fried peppers, carrots, onions and celery in a spicy sauce. Beef, deep-fried and served in “our famous ginger sauce,” is a little tough, but the flavour is incredible. A bed of fluffy white rice helps dissipate some of the heat. Less heat doesn’t mean less flavour, though, when we venture to the Cantonese side of the menu for Teriyaki Chicken ($9.99), chunks of chicken and vegetables in a very light teriyaki sauce.
Even though I couldn’t finish my hot and sour soup, I liked it and I liked the fact they serve it as it should be. There are plenty of not-hot options for diners who aren’t keen on the heat, and with fresh ingredients and full flavours, and that fabulous spring roll, Jean’s is a winner. Kung Hai Fat Choy!
Jean’s Chinese 5972 Spring Garden Road 444-7776 Daily 11am-10pm
Like it hot and spicy? Find Liz Feltham online at: www.foodcritic.ca.