Lost in Translation

Two meals at Jun Dynasty offer two different experiences

Word on the street is that Jun Dynasty, in a midtown strip mall that has been home to numerous restaurants over the years (most recently a very popular Italian spot) serves "authentic" Chinese food. That may be so.

We found the place relatively empty for a midweek dinner but were happy to see that the majority of the other customers were Asian. I think that speaks to the authenticity. Another authentic touch is that the menu is in Chinese, with English translation written underneath. And some of the items listed are not those found on your mother's Chinese restaurant menu: for instance, sweet and sour seaweed ($4.95) and spice pig ear ($7.95) in the appetizer section; spicy frog in casserole ($14.95) and sizzling wok intestine ($12.95) as entrées.

Not feeling very adventurous, we stuck mostly with the more "traditional" plates. Call me out on it if you will, but that's the way it goes. At dinner we tried the pot stickers ($5.95), egg rolls ($2.50), Peking-style moo shoo pork ($10.95) and crispy walnut shrimp ($14.95).

The pot stickers were some of the best I've tried for a couple of reasons, one being that they were cooked perfectly; soft, but with a crispy crust from a quick turn on a hot pan. The other reason was the filling. Rather than a jumble of veggies and some undefinable meat, they had plenty of finely shredded pork. All that was needed was a swirl through the dark sauce on the side.

We always order egg rolls and it is amazing how bad some of them can be. But not here. They came to the table sizzling hot. One bite revealed a crackling outside and finely shredded vegetable mix inside. There was a flavor I couldn't quite put my finger on but it brightened up the rolls and made them unique.

The moo shoo pork was done Peking-style, which means no pancakes. And it's not drowned in a thick, sweet sauce. No indeed, the thin strips of tender pork were fried to a neat brown. Green onions and savory mushrooms were also part of the dish. What a treat!

The crispy walnut shrimp was also a pleasant version of one of my go-to Chinese restaurant dishes. The shrimp, plump and tender, were tossed in that creamy mayo-based sauce that adds such a sweet tang. Crunch was added by the big walnuts. Again, a great take on a Chinese-American staple.

Décor is a bit of a mishmash. Chinese lanterns are strung throughout the two rooms. On a far wall, two Leonardo da Vinci prints hang incongruously. Beer taps are behind the bar, but there is no beer. I think they're still feeling their way as far as the décor is concerned.

Service was pleasant and efficient. And, all in all, dinner was a success.

Returning for lunch about a week later, we had a totally different experience.

There is an abbreviated lunch menu that has about 20 items from the dinner menu at lower prices. You also get your choice of soup (egg drop or hot and sour) and an egg roll.

I arrived before my friend and had barely sat down when the server asked me what kind of soup I wanted. He had a very thick accent, and with my bad hearing it was hard communicating. He finally figured out that I wanted to wait before ordering. But when my friend arrived he was back at the table immediately asking about the soup. Again we asked for a little time.

Thinking back, we might've been better off ordering the soup right away because even though we ended up trying one of each kind, both arrived at the table lukewarm. They were both tasty but would've been much better hot.

We ordered the yu xiang shrimp ($7.25 lunch; $12.95 dinner) and Kung Pao beef ($6.25 lunch; $10.95 dinner).

We asked if we could order off the dinner menu so we could try some of the dim sum items. No problem. We picked the dan-dan noodles ($4.95). And because my dining companion was jonesin' for some dumplings ($5.95), we ordered them as well.

Yes, they are basically the same as pot stickers. But oddly, when we had them as plain dumplings, they were served in a chili oil (since Jun does mainly Szechuan cooking, there is a lot of hot stuff on the menu).

The dan-dan noodles were the best dish of the day. The spicy minced pork and a fold of dark greens (my money was on spinach) on top of the noodles had been perfectly cooked. Lots of garlic, lots of chili oil, full-on flavor. This dish rocked.

When we asked what was in the yu xiang shrimp, the server told us, "Seaweed, bamboo shoots and brown sauce." This is not what we got. Instead there were large mushrooms, green onions, a bit of cabbage and not a hint of anything seaweed. The tender shrimp were cooked nicely, but we were disappointed in the dish overall. The mushrooms were slimy and tough. When we asked another server about the missing seaweed, she told us that it wasn't a part of the dish.

The Kung Pao beef was a hefty portion of this iconic dish; tender beef, bits of veggies and a mess of dried chiles. There was heat and spice and savory. It worked well with the fried rice that came with the plate.

During our visits, the servers hovered over us—trying to clear the table, asking if we needed anything, checking to see if we were OK. It was disconcerting. The owners must push them to make sure everything is OK all the time at every table.

Jun Dynasty was in a word, "interesting." I'd return, but not for lunch. Doing the dim sum menu might be fun with a whole bunch of people.