H & J Bistro
Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome.
Being from Hong Kong, I grew up eating Cantonese food with my family. While I love Cantonese food, (Dim Sum, Chinese BBQ or Steamed Fish, anyone?) I do have a soft spot for the bold flavours, noodles and dumplings of other Chinese cuisines. Everyone knows my favourite restaurant in Calgary is Szechuan Restaurant, and I also like Han’s, except they never seem to be open whenever I’m downtown. I was eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation not too long ago when I heard about Helen’s Café.
On Friday night, B. and I drove out to Helen’s Café just off 32 Ave, only to find that it was closed! A sign in English indicated that they were only open for weekday lunch… a sign in Chinese pointed us toward H & J Bistro on 16 Ave, across from Peter’s Drive-In, where they serve their authentic Northeastern Chinese and Sichuan menu.
Inside, H & J Bistro is your stereotypical hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, with glaring fluorescent lighting, sparsely decorated walls and cheap furniture. The people sitting at the table closest to the door each had a plate of dumplings instead of rice in front of them. Perfect.
B. and I were tempted to order our favourite Sichuan dishes, like Ma Po Tofu, Sichuan Spicy Eggplant, Dan Dan Noodles and Dry-Fried Green Beans, but we decided to try to order some of the dishes we were less familiar with.
We started with the Northern Style Potato Jelly Curd ($8), which I’d read about in Miss Foodie’s blog post.
The wide noodles, made with potato flour, were on top of a neatly arranged bed of julienned carrot, cucumber, wood ear fungus and bean curd. As she brought it to the table, the waitress dumped on a bowl of a sesame dressing that seemed to hit all the flavours – sweet, savoury, tart and just a little bit spicy. The noodles were soft, with just a bit of chewiness, and the vegetables added a nice crisp bite to the dish. Definitely a great dish to whet the appetite.
Of course we had to get the signature handmade dumplings (20 for $10) – we chose the ones with the pork, cabbage and carrot filling. Pork with shrimp and chive, pork with pickled cabbage (“Chinese sauerkraut”) and beef with celery were also available. The dumplings were served simply with Chinese black vinegar and chili oil on the side for dipping.
The skin on the dumplings were a little thicker and doughier than I would’ve liked, but of course we couldn’t help popping these in our mouths! I loved the colour and the crunch that the carrot added to the filling.
Last but not least, we tried the Fried Eggplant with Garlic, Chili and Black Bean ($10.95)
The name that they used to describe it in Chinese (“Bi feng tang” or typhoon shelter), means that the dish is more Cantonese, but my eyes just can’t seem to stop gravitating towards eggplant on menus! This dish did not disappoint – the batter on the eggplant was light and crispy and the eggplant itself was soft and tender, without being greasy. B. and I loved the flavour from the fried garlic chips, peppers and fermented black beans scattered around the plate, but would’ve preferred just a bit more spice.
We probably ended up taking home just less than half of the food because we were so full and the bill only ended up coming to $35… including tip! I’m so happy to find yet another non-Cantonese Chinese restaurant close to my house and am contemplating a side-by-side comparison of their dishes versus Szechuan Restaurant!
H & J Bistro
11 – 222 16 Ave NE
Calgary AB T2E 1J8
Open Tues-Thu 11 AM-2:30 PM, 4:30-10 PM; Fri-Sun 11 AM-11 PM. Closed Mondays. Free parking available in front of building and underground.