A & J Bistro, East Hanover, New Jersey
Hong Shao Niu Ro Mian vs. Dan Dan Mian
Spicy Beef Noodle Soup vs. Noodles in Hot Spicy Sesame Sauce
A & J Bistro. What a place. Although the name would lead you to believe it’s French, actually they specialize in some of the best, most honest Chinese food I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, I love lo mein, but General Tso never darkens the doorstep of A&J. At a place where the Chinese guests outnumber everyone else by at least 20 to 1, you know you’ve hit gold.
Except for our century egg, I’ve never had anything here I didn’t like. If ordering a noodle dish, they’ll ask you if you want wide or thin noodles. The answer is wide. Always. Their wide noodles are handmade, misshapen and absolutely mouthwatering. The thin? From a machine (can you blame them?)
Their beef is so tender. Like, cut-in-half-with-your-chopsticks tender. It also acts as a wonderful vessel for the lovely sauce it’s been simmering in. Packed full of flavor, this bovine knows what’s what.
But back to the sauce, which is more of a spicy vinegar oil than anything else. Maybe that sounds weird, but trust me, it works. It’s a thin sauce that’s a beautiful dark reddish brown and carries all the depth of flavor that hue would inspire. Just the right amount of acid, a subtle hint of sweet and a punch of umami all come together with a spicy finish. Of course, I went ahead and added more of my own rice vinegar, soy sauce and spoonfuls of A & J’s amazing chili oil, because you can never go wrong with (much) more chili.
The bok choy was an add-on and totally worth it. Gotta have my green. Steamed to a lovely shade and refreshingly crisp, I honestly believe it completes the dish.
Final note: A & J is so cheap. Like, every time I get the bill I’m astounded by how little the wide array of food has cost (you have to get some of their small plates to share – amazing). They are cash only, though, so come prepared.
Prior to meeting Legs I had never had authentic Chinese cuisine. The furthest I got was General Tso’s, pork fried rice, and eggrolls. As I am a functioning human being, eggrolls still hold a place in my heart, but the rest went by the wayside a long time ago. Now with a newfound sense of self-preservation and a love for A & J Bistro I never have to call Ming-Feng ever again.
My first steps into life after Tso lead me straight to dan dan mian. A & J’s handmade wide noodles left me with a sense of wonder as I entered the new frontier speeding passed towers of takeaway containers overflowing with lo mein. These noodles are nice and soft, devoid of grease, and gently carry a flavor rather than inducing the headaches I was so accustomed to when in range of its fast food cousin. Toto, we’re not in Grand Sichuan anymore.
I have never felt greater empathy for the seed/nut allergic masses than when slurping down noodle after sesame sauce covered noodle at A & J. Get your EpiPens out boys and girls. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. This lovely sesame sauce topped with peanuts delivers a creamy, rounded out nuttiness that delights with every bite. Never overwhelming in thickness and always exits the palette and just the right time, this sauce is a true professional. Adding chili oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar gives the sesame a little more complexity, but it’s not essential to its resounding success.
Some protein would be nice and a lot more bok choy, which doesn’t come standard, but this modest little meal is the perfect introduction to the ill-informed. More Chinese please!
And the winner is… Legs!
✓Protein ✓Sauce ✗Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation
Snax didn’t even have protein. Chump. His sauce though… wow. He actually ordered what I wanted to get, but out of benevolence I allowed him to dine upon my (formerly) favorite dish. Looks like it pays to be kind.
Legs: 1 – Snax: 1