Imperial Cuisine of China Arrives in L.A. - Is This Really What Emperors Ate? Bistro Na's (Na Jia Xiao Guan) [Review]


#41

I give an A for effort. Man, lawyers can sling it. :wink:


#42

Update:

Thanks to my big mouth, 2 groups of friends insisted on us trying Bistro Na’s, even with my warnings on the mixed menu. :sweat_smile: They offered to drive, so off we went.

Dragon Well Tea:

As fragrant as last time.

Crispy Shrimp (South American Shrimp, Chili Pepper, Green Onion, Ginger, Garlic):

Thankfully they are as consistent as the last time we ordered it (1st visit). Shatteringly crisp Shrimp Shells with juicy, tender Shrimp within. Eating it like Soft-Shell Shrimp, shell and all, was satisfying and delicious. :slight_smile:

Their presentation on this dish remains stunning with that wooden carved base.

Buddah’s Favorite (Broccoli, Potato, Cauliflower, Eggplant, Green Beans):

This was a solid Veggie dish: Stewed Broccoli, Cauliflower, Potatoes, Eggplant and Green Beans in a Chinese Curry Sauce. The Curry was mild, but fragrant, on the thinner side. It went great with some Steamed Rice.

Na’s Beef Prime Rib:

This was a massive bone-in chunk of Prime Rib, except it’s been slow-cooked (to a well-done?). This looked better on the menu, and we were worried, but with the slow-cooking, we got soft, really tender slices of their Prime Rib, with a good beefy flavor, and a mix of lean and a bit of fat. This was pretty good. :slight_smile:

Green Onion Pancake:

Still as crisp and only lightly oily as before. Their Green Onion Pancakes are worth ordering, some of the better ones we’ve had in the area in a while. :slight_smile:

Stewed Pork Belly (Pork Belly, Green Onions, Ginger, Garlic):

As tender and nicely cooked down as last time. Some tender morsels of Pork Belly. :slight_smile:

Empress’s Jar (Beef Tendon, Mushroom, Fish Maw, Quail Egg, Sea Cucumber, Forest Frog):

The last time we tried the Emperor’s Jar Soup, but this time we opted for their Empress’s Jar, which is even more expensive than the Emperor’s Jar. The Empress’s version is a more delicate, softer mouthfeel soup. It’s a toss up on which one is better. Like before they give you the condiments to add (one at a time to see which you like more):

Like before, we felt Cilantro or just non-Condiments was the way to go. Pretty delicious soup and nice presentation again, but that price point makes it hard to recommend ($21.95 per bowl).

On another visit (yes, a separate group of friends), we started with…

Smoked Pork Rib:

These were excellent. Just as fragrant with a nicely balanced smoky infusion. It would’ve been even better as a hot dish (instead of a chilled appetizer), but it was still delicious as is. :slight_smile:

Na’s Beef Prime Rib:

Ordering this again on this 5th visit, it is sadly overcooked and slightly dry. :frowning: Very unfortunate that they are inconsistent for a pricier main dish like this.

Na’s Steamed Chicken:

They use a Free-Range Chicken, and it’s marinated in an intense Rice Wine. In fact, this tasted very much like the classic “Drunken Chicken” dish we’ve had at Shanghai restaurants before. Regardless, it was pretty solid, with a strong (fragrant) Chinese Wine flavor permeating each piece of the Free-Range Chicken. Not as good as the best ones we’ve had but not bad.

Sauteed Asparagus:

This tasted fine. Nothing special, but solidly sauteed Asparagus slivers.

Dry Cooked Stuffed Mushrooms (Chicken, Green Onion, Ginger, Garlic, Rice Noodles):

These weren’t really “stuffed,” LOL as we saw when the dish came out. It was a nice saute of Mushrooms with chopped up bits of Ground Marinated Chicken, Green Onion, Ginger, Garlic. It was OK, but nothing really noteworthy.

Diced Honey Black Pepper Beef:

Thanks to @chandavkl for the rec, we tried their saute of Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper and Honey. It was delicious! :blush: It thankfully wasn’t a “sweet & sour” type of flavor, but something more nuanced. The Beef Tenderloin was cooked medium (not overcooked), and quite tender.

Cheese Milk:

The most ridiculous menu item name “Cheese Milk” turns out to be a Milk Pudding carved into the shape of a Fish. What does Cheese Milk have to do with Fish? I have no idea. :stuck_out_tongue:

The dish itself was unique in that the Milk Pudding-shaped Fish was super wobbly and smooth: Like Silken Tofu, except tasting of Powdered Milk. This isn’t anything we’d order again.

Fried Rice Cake:

The simply-named Fried Rice Cake turned out to be Sticky Rice, infused with Osmanthus Flowers and Sugar, pan-seared to form a slightly crisped crust. By itself it had an intriguing textural draw (it’s hot, slightly crisped, fragrant), but rather tasteless. Dipping it lightly in the Sweetened Condensed Milk served on the side, it adds a needed Sugar component, and makes this a pretty enjoyable Dessert. :slight_smile:

Rose Pastrise:

This turned out to be a filling of Ground Red Dates, lightly sweetened. While served cold, one of our friends recommended it heated (and asked the server to heat it up). It was nice heated up, but the Ground Red Date filling was slightly chalky, but sweet.

In the end, after trying these Desserts, we still think the offerings from Hong Kong, Shanghai and other regions are so much better. These are just not that interesting.

It looks like a few more winners were found, but also more misses. If you can navigate the minefield that is their menu, and stick with stuff like their good Loose Leaf Teas, Crispy Shrimp, Emperor’s Jar, Green Onion Pancake, Preserved Garlic with Intestine, Diced Honey Black Pepper Beef, and a few other items, you can make a good meal out of your visit. Order other items, and it might result in a pretty bad experience.

Bistro Na’s
9055 Las Tunas Drive, Suite 105
Temple City, CA 91780
Tel: (626) 286-1999


#43

Went by Nomad today. The wide hand made noodles are wheat, not Chow fun, and disappointingly not chewy. Fairly decent place with a surprising location. Tofu roll is like a beef roll, substituting crispy tofu and quite good. Chicken potstickers are a good version of a rare dish.


#44

I have to eat the Cheese Milk. It is so beautiful.


#45

So I need to ask specifically about that honey and black pepper beef. It looks remarkably similar to the honey-garlic beef I had at a much more downmarket place in vancouver. I wrote it up here:

I just wonder if one is a variation or outgrowth of another? I’m sure mine was made with a much more economical cut of meat, but that pitch black honey-soy glaze looks nearly identical.

And I also wanna try the cheese fish. cuz, cheese fish.


#46

Hi @lectroid,

Nice writeup. :slight_smile:

I haven’t tried the one in Vancouver, but to add some thoughts on the dish we tried…

The Honey Black Pepper Beef was cubed, high-quality tasting Steak. The outside had a great sear, and the inside was about medium to medium-well in doneness, which was just fine for that type of dish we felt. Tender, juicy, but it didn’t have a lot of sauce (which your writeup mentions you’d like to pour over rice? ;)).

Overall it was pretty great.


#47

It wasn’t so much sauce as just drippings and such. But it was enough to scrape into my rice and dab at with the little buns.

I just got a similar vibe from the pictures.

Since I’m now smack in the middle of SO much Chinese food now I should probably get more knowledgeable about the various regions and such.

This place is like SGV north. (Or maybe SGV is Vancouver south?) an utter embarrassment of culinary riches.


#48

There was an active poster on Chowhound with the user name “grayelf” or “greyelf” - they were from the Vancouver, BC area and had great insights into the restaurants.

Sadly, they have not appeared here or on Hungryonion.org; I have no idea if they’re still posting on CH - maybe someone here has a way of contacting them?


#49

Greyelf is on Twitter and on the successor board to Chowhound in Vancouver. Not sure if it’s Food Talk Central or Hungry Onion.


#50

I guess I should go check HO then…


#51

My take on the history of Vancouver vs. LA Chinese food


#52

I remember reading this a while back, and when I found out I was moving to YVR, I went hunting for it. Thanks!

There’s just a ridiculous, nay, re-DONK-U-LISS amount of information to keep in ones head to try and be at least kind of informed.


#53

Three of us went last Saturday evening at 6pm. The restaurant was empty. We were asked if we had reservations. We didn’t and was told the restaurant was fully booked and we were turned away. Since the place was empty, we called the restaurant from across the street to try to make a reservation for 6:30p. We were told they only take reservations for party of 6 or more and while they have space but cannot offer them to a party of only 3 guests. Imperial indeed!


#54

We should start the death clock. I give it 6 months.


#55

Hi @fallingleaves,

Yeesh! Yah, I had heard from a friend about that strange policy ahead of our first visit, so we made sure to call and make a reservation. We were able to make reservations for parties of 3, 4 and 6 (separate visits). That just sounds lame what happened to you.

If they keep this up I agree with @Ns1.


#56

I’ve made several visits up to Richmond, BC since moving up to Portland, and I have trawled No. 3 Road pretty heavily looking for Chinese deliciousness. I tend to agree with you David. In comparison to a city like Portland, Richmond is a haven for Chinese cooking, but the San Gabriel Valley is just so much larger geographically, and exponentially more diverse in its offerings, that there’s really no comparison. Having said that, the quality and creativity of the dim sum we ate in Richmond far surpassed anything I’d eaten in Los Angeles. This is because of a trend of rich Hong Kong chefs retiring in Vancouver. They quickly become bored, and open new restaurants in Canada. It’s quite an interesting phenomenon.

Mr Taster


#57

Being new to BC, I’d be interested in any and all recs you might have. I’ve been busy enough in the last year that I haven’t been through richmond or much of any of the neighborhoods outside downtown and my local 'hood on Fraser.


#58

For dim sum, we had a marvelous selection of interesting dishes at Chef Tony. Tony is the same chef who opened Sea Harbour in San Gabriel. He used to own the one in Richmond as well, but lost it in a divorce settlement. Although you can get standard dimsum like har gao, he has a list of special dishes that you should order from. One of our favorites was this intensely crispy youtiao stuffed with shrimp paste and diced into thick coins, with spicy mustard for dipping. Great stuff.

Mr Taster


#59

Update 2:

bistro_011l

Over Christmas break we managed to stop by the SGV again, and yet another group of friends had heard us talking about how the decor and ambiance at Bistro Na’s was stunning. And with the potential to try Beijing Imperial Cuisine, they really wanted to go, even with our warnings about the spotty menu. :sweat_smile:

The decor is still as beautiful as before; it is probably the nicest, traditional Chinese restaurant we’ve seen in L.A. The traditional Chinese instruments adorning the upper walls are a nice touch.

Jasmine Green Tea:

Crispy Shrimp (South American Shrimp, Chili Pepper, Green Onion, Ginger, Garlic):

This is one of Bistro Na’s signature dishes. It is still as fantastic as before (and one of the safe dishes to order). Crispy Shrimp bursting with Garlic and delicious. :slight_smile:

Stewed Pork Belly:

Quite good, tender morsels of Stewed Pork Belly in a rich Soy Sauce-base reduction. It doesn’t top the fantastic version we had at Shanghailander, but it tastes fresh, long stewed and great with some of their Multigrain Rice. :slight_smile:

Sauteed Asparagus:

Another safe dish, lightly sauteed with Garlic. No complaints.

Scallion Pancakes:

During our first 2 visits, Bistro Na’s Scallion Pancakes were very, very good. Crispy, fragrant, and not too oily. We couldn’t wait to try it again.

Sadly, they are not as good as before. :frowning: They had a slight crisp, but they lack the brightness and lightness from before. They taste OK, but nothing worth celebrating.

Sauteed Pea Tips:

Nicely wok sauteed, tender and fragrant. :slight_smile:

Steamed Erythema Fish:

I know, I know. We took a chance on ordering Live Seafood at a Beijing restaurant, but one of our friends suddenly had the urge to have Chinese-style Steamed Fish (I love that dish, too!). So we took a gamble. Thankfully the Steamed Red Grouper Fish was nicely cooked, still tender and delicate. The crave-worthy, can’t-stop-eating-it special “Fish Soy Sauce” that Hong Kong seafood restaurants cook this in, like Sea Harbour’s fantastic version, is missing, unfortunately. :cry: It’s still quite tasty, but it lacks that depth of crave-worthy, mouth-watering flavor that we love at Sea Harbour (and Elite dinner). :slight_smile:

Na’s Prime Beef Rib:

This slow roasted giant Prime Beef Rib was excellent! Slow-cooked to a nice tender, but meaty consistency, there’s a nice beefiness pervading every bite. :blush:

On another visit - Yes, I can’t believe we got dragged to go back to Bistro Na’s twice in a month(!), at least we didn’t have to drive…

We started with their…

Dried Shrimp with Cabbage:

I’m not sure this is really “Imperial Cuisine,” but this was fine. Nicely wok-sauteed to a toothsome texture and consistency, the Dried Shrimp added a little burst of brininess.

Scallion Pancakes:

We were hoping the last visit was a fluke, so we gave their Scallion Pancakes one more try. Sadly, it’s the same as last time, which meant an average, slightly oily Scallion Pancake. :frowning: It’s nowhere near as good as the one we tried during their opening.

Sea Cucumber with Meatballs:

This was mainly Meatballs with very few chunks of Sea Cucumber (the more expensive of the ingredients). The flavor was fine, tasting like a long, slow-cooked Soy Sauce-based stew flavor, with tender Pork Meatballs. The Sea Cucumber pieces (that we could find) were fine. We’d skip this dish if we went back.

Brown Rice / Multigrain Rice:

Their Multigrain Rice was a nice touch. We definitely appreciate the healthier option that’s missing at most Chinese restaurants.

Steamed Pork Rib:

The (mis)named Steamed Pork Rib was the surprise dish of the meal: It turns out this is a massive bowl of Pork Bone Soup, with the Pork Bones (probably Pork Shoulder and Pork Leg) containing nice chunks of Pork Meat clinging to the Bone. And it was delicious! :heart:

It’s a bit unwieldy and feels like we’re back in the stone age eating, but the flavors were there: Just long cooked-down Pork Soup, with a flavor that tastes like it’s been cooking for hours. :slight_smile:

After these visits, our impression of Bistro Na’s is about the same: Bistro Na’s offers the most beautiful looking Chinese restaurant in L.A., featuring some interesting dishes that they call out to be Imperial Cuisine. However, the last 2 visits were the result of a lot of trial-and-error. We brought along 2 of our Chinese friends who’ve dined at Bistro Na’s themselves as well.

With the numerous misses we discovered on our first couple visits, we were able to skip all the duds, and order the dishes that Bistro Na’s actually excels at.

In the end, if a restaurant has the majority of its menu with bad-to-mediocre dishes, is it worth a visit? Normally not.

But the dishes that Bistro Na’s does do well are worth trying, especially if you want to dine in a beautiful setting (I’d imagine their Banquet Rooms (seating 10+ people) must be nice for a special occasion.

I think that’s why our friends wrangled us to go with them (their first visit), because they knew we could save them from the bad dishes. :sweat_smile: :stuck_out_tongue:

Ordering winners like the Crispy Shrimp, Emperor’s Jar, Na’s Prime Beef Rib, Perserved Garlic with Intestine, @chandavkl’s great rec of the Diced Honey Black Pepper Beef, some of the vegetable dishes, the Stewed Pork Belly, and the new surprise, the Steamed Pork Rib (really a Stewed Pork Bone Soup) results in a nice dinner in a gorgeous ancient Chinese setting. But venture beyond that and most of the other dishes were pretty mediocre.

(Note: Reservations recommended for dinner.)

Bistro Na’s
9055 Las Tunas Drive, Suite 105
Temple City, CA 91780
Tel: (626) 286-1999


#60

The menu seems to be a landmine-laden field.