Bistro Na's - A Year And A Half Later

When I first visited Bistro Na’s in late 2016, as I wrote in Menuism and L.A. Weekly it was more about the significance of the restaurant’s opening itself, as the first conspicuously upscale Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley, the first restaurant to offer Imperial Court style Chinese cuisine in the United States, and the first U.S. branch of a widely known Mainland Chinese restaurant chain. Now a year and a half later, I returned to Bistro Na’s, this time reporting on the wonderful menu and ambiance they have created with a full restaurant.

Back in 2016, Bistro Na’s was as much about its quirkiness and doubts about their concept as the food itself. Walking into an empty restaurant on a weekday afternoon, we were told by a waiter that we could not be seated because because we did not have a reservation, though we were eventually seated by another hostess. Similar tales were reported, but with rejected diners saying they merely went back to their car, phoned in a reservation, and were then seated. Meanwhile, though the food was excellent and the decor was outstanding, the overshadowing elements were the emptiness of the restaurant, and the fact that what small crowd was in fact in the restaurant was comprised mostly of female diners, which led me to speculate that the restaurant was a meeting place for the Rich Housewives of the San Gabriel Valley. But the lack of clientele was particularly troubling since the typical pattern for newly opened San Gabriel Valley restaurants was for the restaurant to be packed by looky-loos in its opening days, with the true test being how many of the grand opening diners would ever come back. (The best example of this was Singapore Leaf in Alhambra which was packed with overflow crowds when they opened, but out of business within three months.) So if Bistro Na’s couldn’t even get looky-loo’s in the door when they opened, what chances would they have for long term success?

Indeed, Bistro Na’s has survived, and on this follow up visit to Bistra Na’s, I’m pleased to be able to focus on the food, and I’m equally pleased to report that this is truly a gem of a restaurant. The restaurant was packed, albeit we did go on Father’s Day, with people waiting to get in. Everything that we ordered was a winner. The most highly decorated dish on the menu was the crispy shrimp and did not disappoint. Light, crispy and delicious, shell and all.

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Sometimes it pays to go with a staff recommendation even though it may sound improbable at the time. The lotus stuffed with sticky rice was a complete surprise, both in appearance in flavor. Not a bland vegetarian dish, but instead a tasty combination highlighted with a sweet cane sugar sauce.

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Another surprisingly delicious dish was the fried tofu with vegetable, with the vegetable comprising one edge of the fried tofu stick.

The staff also recommended the bean curd skin salad. While variations of this dish are commonplace in non-Cantonese cold table displays and restaurant menus, the taste of cumin sets this version off from the others.

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Having been put off by too many gamey tasting Western lamb dishes, it was with trepidation we ordered Bistro Na’s crispy lamb dish. Wow! If this wasn’t the best dish of the meal, it was certainly close.

We needed a dish to round out our order, but a couple of other choices were unavailable, so we “settled” for the ordinary looking cold steamed chicken. Good thing we did because this was as good as this dish gets.

If the crispy lamb wasn’t the best dish, then the prime rib was. I typically don’t take prime rib over a good steak, but if every prime rib were like this I certainly would.

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While we didn’t order anything off of the official dessert section, the fried rice cakes with condensed milk certainly served the purpose. And condensed milk certainly makes anything taste better.

By Chinese food standards, Bistro Na’s is pricey. But compared to Western restaurant serving similar or analogous items, around $150 for these items were a bargain. Nobody outside of the Chinese community seems to know about Bistro Na’s, and a lot of people in the community don’t know about it either. But if it’s hidden, it’s certainly a hidden treasure.

(Note: Not sure why some pictures came through and some didn’t. If I can’t figure it out you’ll just have to click through.)

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Wow. $150 for 7 dishes + dessert is a real bargain. Though that prime rib looks very very… cooked. I’m not surprised, my family typically puts my pink prime rib in the microwave so I imagine they’re just catering to the clientele’s tastes. But, it wasn’t dry?

I’m going to drag my parents here and not let them see the bill.

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If you plan to go there, you should make a reservation. We were there last Sunday night. It was packed. When we left at around 8:00, there were 25-30 people waiting.:persevere:

Yes, prime rib was well done but not dry. Best I’ve had. But you might also want to try the honey pepper beef instead.

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Our honey pepper beef was excellent. Much better than Newport Seafood.

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Is this the first time you’ve included pics in your review???

Thanks for the update.

I’m surprised this place doesn’t get more chatter. Was put off by early reviews but saw that later reviews were more positive, so had it on the backburner, and a friend invited me to go w/him & his wife this weekend. We ordered:

Empress’s Jar
Smoked Pork Ribs
Crispy Shrimp
Crispy Lamb Brisket
Sweet & Sour Fish Fillet
Sautéed Intestine with Laba Garlic
4-pc Pan Fried Beef Buns
Mini Assorted Eight
Milky Cheese

Empress’s Jar was one of the most interesting dishes I’ve eaten recently. Nice hit of saffron but not overwhelming the other flavors. Really good.

Smoked Pork Ribs were on point - perfect texture, great sauce on top (and not too much of it either).

Crispy Shrimp was very well prepared but more interesting visually than taste-wise. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great dish and well-executed, but with so many other interesting options available it feels like it isn’t worth reordering - stomach space is better used elsewhere. If you really like shrimp you should definitely get it, though.

Crispy Lamb Brisket was great. Really nothing to say here, the breading was light and crispy without being oily, lamb was perfectly cooked through without being tough, stringy, or gamey, the dry pepper condiment on the side was fantastic. Even the crispy beans sprinkled throughout were good!

Sweet & Sour Fish Fillet was… not my idea :stuck_out_tongue: Still, I can’t even say it was bad, on the contrary, it was really well done, with a lighter and more complex sweet & sour sauce than you’d get pretty much anywhere else, a hint of spice to keep things interesting, and of course the cooking was immaculate. This is what Panda Express would’ve been in a better life. Good option to keep in your back pocket if you somehow end up here with a conservative palate tagging along.

Intestine was excellent. Great saucing, great cuts, super tender, relatively low on the funk-o-meter but unmistakably intestine. Mushrooms were good too.

Pan Fried Beef Buns (according to one of my dining companions, who’s natively proficient, these were, transliterated, “Mending Roubing”) - tasty, and like everything else the execution was clearly top-notch, but this felt a bit pricy at $14 for 4 relatively small buns (when compared to the pricing on the rest of the menu, nevermind when compared to other similar but not identical dishes served elsewhere), and not super interesting compared to the rest of the menu. My totally uninformed guess is that this dish is a lot more compelling to those who grew up eating it and have both the nostalgia and cultural context necessary to properly appreciate it. (For my taste I’d take the SJB @ Kang Kang over these, even ignoring the hilarious price difference.)

Mini Assorted Eight was 2 pieces each of eight different miniature desserts. I’m not a huge fan of azuki, which was present in a few of these, but there were some really interesting bites in here and you could fairly easily split each piece in half, so a party of 4 wouldn’t have any trouble trying everything.

Milky Cheese was shaped like a fish (cute!) and didn’t taste super cheesy, but almost more like panna cotta (though I only had a small bite, since I forgot my lactaid). Despite the 'gram factor I actually think this is a great dessert and wouldn’t hesitate to get it again, though ideally with a larger party.

Also had some Dragon Well tea, which was so good that I’m trying to figure out how to get my hands on some of the same.

It’s honestly been a while since I’ve eaten somewhere (excluding good sushi restaurants) with such a high hit rate for interesting and successful dishes. Given how large the menu is, the fact that there wasn’t a single miss in terms of execution is nothing short of astonishing. I didn’t get a look at the bill but the pricing on the menu is extremely reasonable; we overordered by a lot (and knew that going in); ended up taking about half the food home with us in leftovers on top of being completely stuffed. Running through the menu again, I think it probably came out to just under $200 (before tip & tax). If you avoid gratuitously overordering to the degree that we did (or come with enough people to handle it) you can easily walk out of here for under $40/head.

Looking forward to going back and trying some other things…

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I like that place quite a bit and especially their braised pork belly. Their menu had been a hit and miss for me though.

Time for another visit!

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