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

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

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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

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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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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?

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

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I guess I should go check HO then…

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

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.

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!

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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The menu seems to be a landmine-laden field.

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Hi @J_L,

Yah, that’s what makes this place hard to recommend; it’s very strange. I’d say the decor, some of the unique dishes (that are done very well) make it appealing to try, but it’s like we have to crowd-source some FTC recommendations from everyone (like how I found out about the Honey Black Pepper Beef from @chandavkl) to find the safe / great dishes to try.

At that point, it might be worth a visit. :slight_smile: