A Chinese Bistro?

Chinese, Cuisine, New Jersey, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

A & J Bistro, East Hanover, New Jersey


The Contenders

Hong Shao Niu Ro Mian vs. Dan Dan Mian

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup vs. Noodles in Hot Spicy Sesame Sauce

Tender, tender beef. Handmade wide noodles. Flavorful spicy broth. Bok choy. Fairy dust.

Legs:

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.


Homemade wide noodles with sesame sauce and a stylish bok choy beret.

Snax:

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.

 

November wins:

Legs: 1 – Snax: 1

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