Great service can remedy many a restaurant flaw. Well, I’m happy to report that, although the service I’ve experienced at the newly opened J. Wong’s Asian Bistro has been nothing short of awesome, the flaws are very few and far between. I wrote recently in Food Matters that I was less than nuts about the Philly cheese-stuffed wontons which were a component of J. Wong’s lunch specials, but they’ve since been replaced on the lunch menu with a crisp Buddha spring roll (although you can still order the cheese-filled wontons as an appetizer). Aside from that, I found the egg-drop soup to be a bit unusual and untraditional: filled with peas, carrots, corn, noodles and even beans. Not that it didn’t taste good; it’s just that it wasn’t what I think of normally when I think of egg-drop soup, which usually consists of not much more than broth, egg, soy and a hint of vinegar.
Otherwise, my experiences at J. Wong’s have been just peachy—virtually flawless. The restaurant itself is beautiful. The tables are highly lacquered works of art; expensive, ornate but contemporary wooden lamps hang from the ceiling, providing just enough light to read the menu; rust-colored walls contribute to the soothing feel of the place, while Buddha Bar-style music adds a lively, hip vibe. There’s an attractive bar with half a dozen seats to gather at while waiting for a table or just to dine a tad more informally. In short, the design of J. Wong’s really rocks. It very much deserves to be called a bistro.
The menu is a blend of Thai and Chinese dishes. The Wong family is originally from China but emigrated to Thailand and then to Utah. That’s lucky for us, as this is some of the best Asian cuisine you’ll encounter here. Brothers Jesse, Josh, Jordan and Jason (who does the cooking) run the restaurant along with their mother, Kwan Wong, who makes appearances when she’s not working at her Bountiful eatery, China Platter. “We’ve had that restaurant for 22 years,” said Jordan. “And there are certain dishes we can’t change.” So the new J. Wong’s Asian Bistro is, in part, a chance for the Wongs to experiment with more contemporary flavors, in a setting where ham fried rice isn’t by default the most popular item on the menu.
To take the temperature of the place, one of the first dishes I ordered at J. Wong’s was a baseline dish of Kung Pao shrimp ($13)—and it was sensational. The dish is fairly routine at Chinese restaurants here, but at J. Wong’s, it reached the high notes I remember from eating it in New York City’s Chinatown restaurants. Crisp but tender sautéed shrimp (loads of them) mingle with scallions and dried red chili pods in a spicy soy-based sauce. The dish is then topped with a generous amount of crunchy fried peanuts, making the texture as appealing as the bold flavors.
Another shrimp dish—walnut shrimp—was simply sublime ($8.50 at lunchtime). J. Wong’s offers a value-laden $8.50 lunch special which includes a choice of main dish from an extensive selection (21 options), plus egg-drop or hot-and-sour soup, a spring roll and a choice of white, brown or ham-fried rice. The portions are extremely generous. My velvet-shrimp dish included eight very large shrimp coated in a glistening, lacquer-like glaze with just a hint of citrus. As with the Kung Pao, these shrimp were tender inside, crunchy and almost brittle outside, and served on a bed of light, crisp rice noodles, then topped off with subtly sweet candied walnuts. Incredible.
J. Wong’s Asian Bistro is a lesson in quality control, and I’ve been duly impressed so far by the service. Particularly outstanding is a server named Chad—soft-spoken but well informed, with a professional tableside manner that is far too rare. So I guess I wasn’t so surprised to learn that he’d moved here from New York City, where he worked at Mario Batali’s Esca restaurant, among others. Chad’s finesse helped to turn a very good dining experience into an extraordinary one.
On the Thai side of the menu, I highly recommend the Panang salmon ($18) which is two large, crisp deep-fried salmon filets infused with lovely coconut and peanut flavors. The dish was way more than two of us could finish at dinner and, unfortunately, doesn’t reheat too well (the fish gets soggy), so order accordingly. Another dish—one that made for great leftovers—was the Thai basil beef ($12): impossibly tender slices of lean beef cooked in a classic, fragrant Thai basil sauce. Both of these Thai offerings were splendid, the only sour note being that rice doesn’t automatically come with J. Wong’s dinner entrees. Inexplicably, it’s extra. Perhaps that has to do with the skyrocketing price of rice in the past year.
One of the more eye-popping and tastebud-pleasing desserts I’ve enjoyed in a long time was chef Jason Wong’s deep-fried wonton “purses,” one filled with banana and the other with cheesecake, drizzled with dark chocolate and served with coconut ice cream. All in all, there’s just not much that is wrong at Wong’s.
J. WONG'S ASIAN BISTRO
163 W. 200 South