South of the Yangtze River, Exploring the Delicious Steamed Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf, Slow Braised Lion's Head Meatballs, Shanghai Cuisine and More - Jiang Nan Spring [Thoughts + Pics]

While the San Gabriel Valley is home to hundreds of Chinese restaurants, the ones that stand out from the crowd are few and far inbetween at times. But thanks to our veteran Onioners (and former Hounds) like @ipsedixit , we can more easily find these places of excellence. :wink: One such place is Jiang Nan Spring, a relative newcomer, opening before the pandemic hit the States, but thankfully managing to survive since lockdown has been lifted.

And in actuality, Jiang Nan Spring’s ownership and chef have a long history locally. They were the former chef-owners of local favorite Chang’s Garden in Arcadia, but ended up retiring. Then, after a year or two, they were asked by a family member to help them start up a new restaurant (Jiang Nan Spring), and they ended up staying on to help cook and co-run the restaurant.

The interior of Jiang Nan Spring is also noteworthy in that it’s one of the few Chinese restaurants in the SGV that isn’t just a generic drywall with a couple picture frames style of decor. It’s a clean style and has some thought put into the interior design.

We’ve been to Jiang Nan Spring a few times before COVID-19 hit, but then with the lockdown and pandemic, we hadn’t been back in well over a year+. In that time, Jiang Nan Spring has managed to earn a Michelin Plate award in 2020, and a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2021 (both well-deserved). And even before their Michelin recognition, they already captured the interest of local chef celebrities like Chef Michael Cimarusti (of Michelin 2 Starred Providence fame), who’s dined multiple times at Jiang Nan Spring.

I’ll let @ipsedixit chime in on the intricacies of Jiang Nan cuisine, but per the name, it literally means “South of the River” (the Yangtze River in this case), and it encompasses dishes you’d often find at Shanghai restaurants, Zhejiang cuisine, and beyond. On this return visit from lockdown, we started with…

Lamb with Sour Cabbage Soup:

Absolutely delicious: The star of this clay pot soup would have to be the Preserved Cabbage, which provides a sharp piquant base with each sip of the Lamb Soup. It helps to offset the fattiness of the tender slices of Lamb meat, and helps smooth out the gaminess as well. It’s warming, soulful, and just a great dish to open up the taste buds. :blush:

(Special) Sauteed Light Water Spinach with Garlic:

Be sure to ask the servers what Vegetables they have for that day, and when you decide which one you like, have them saute it with Garlic. On this visit, they just happened to have gotten in a “Light Water Spinach” (their English name for it), which is indeed a lighter variant on the traditional dark green Water Spinach more commonly found around here.

This was tasty with good Wok Hei (Breath of the Wok), tasting lighter and more vegetal than the usual version.

Sauteed Eel:

Fantastic! A great saute, tender morsels of Eel meat that had the meatiness of a good Rock Cod, but in thinner slivers. The Green Onions, Cilantro and their Housemade “Braising Sauce” (redolent of Light and Dark Soy Sauce, Black Vinegar and additional seasonings) added a great savoriness to each bite. :slight_smile:

Pork Chop with Pepper Salt:

First, before I get called out by our Chinese cuisine experts (@ipsedixit @A5KOBE @paranoidgarliclover @BradFord @Sgee and others), I know this isn’t a Jiang Nan, nor Shanghai dish. :sweat_smile: There was one visit we made before the pandemic where our group was craving Pork Chops in Pepper Salt, and decided to try it; and shockingly, they make a very good version.

It starts with a good deep frying technique, with the pieces of the Fried Pork Chops having a pleasing battered exterior without tasting excessively greasy or oily like many versions turn out to be. The pieces are also balanced with a good ratio of leaner meat to fat (many of the disappointing versions taste like they are ~50 - 90% Fat), and it’s not overly salty. Just satisfying and delicious. :slight_smile:

Pickled Cabbage with Peas and Bean Sheets:

After one of my best friends (from Taipei) explained to me what the Chinese name for this dish was, I wish more restaurants hire better translators, :wink: as hearing “Snow Cabbage, Soy Beans and a Hundred Leaves” sounds far more poetic. :slight_smile: This is another excellent standout dish, with the Pickled Mustard Greens exuding a deep, green / vegetal flavor, with complexity from the preserved nature of it, the Young Soy Beans (Edamame) adding a nice earthy element, and the Tofu Skin / Bean Curd Sheets giving it a pleasing bite. Jiang Nan Spring’s version is one of the better versions around town. (Oh, and it’s naturally vegan.) :blush:

Rice Ball Soup with Wine and Egg Flower:

We finished things off with a nice Dessert, one of my favorites: Rice Ball Soup with Wine and Egg Flower, which is a lightly sweet finisher of Rice Balls filled with Black Sesame, in a Jiu Niang (Sweet Fermented Rice) cooked with a few freshly cracked Eggs (to develop the “Egg Flower” component). We appreciated the little touch of them adding some Dried Osmanthus Flowers on top (for more fragrance).

Another Visit (6th Visit?):

It was such a warming, homely meal and these flavors were things we didn’t have during 2020, that we made an excuse and had to make a return visit a few weeks later.

Shredded Pork with Baby Bamboo:

There is something special about Jiang Nan Spring’s version of this classic dish. The Shredded Pork and Baby Bamboo seem to coalesce together and create a synergy of taste better than any version I’ve had in recent memory. Tender morsels of thin-sliced Pork sauteed with Baby Bamboo that is quite tender and has absorbed all the flavors of the wok.

Spicy Boiled Fish Fillet:

It seems the juggernaut that is Szechuan cuisine continues to influence menus across the region. We’ve seen numerous Non-Szechuan restaurants serving up Szechuan dishes for the past few years now. This was a case of us still being careful and not wanting to dine out too often, so we were craving the classic “Water Boiled Fish” dish and decided to try it here. :wink:

Thankfully, Jiang Nan Spring’s version is very respectable. There’s a good spicy heat and numbing heat from the various peppers, including Szechuan Peppercorn and Dried Chilies. The Grey Sole Fillets absorbed the fragrant Chili Oil / poaching liquid beautifully and the silken Tofu and Bean Sprouts were a welcome counterbalance. Tasty!

Fish Fillet with Sour Cabbage:

Their Fish Fillet with Sour Cabbage is a lighter variant of their excellent Lamb with Sour Cabbage Soup. Here, light, delicate morsels of Grey Sole are cooked in a Soup with Preserved Napa Cabbage and Silken Tofu. The Preserved Napa Cabbage once again serves as the backbone, instilling a bracing tartness that awakens the senses, and works well with this lighter Seafood Broth.

Handmade Pork Steamed Dumplings (Napa):

Jiang Nan Spring makes their own Dumplings in-house, by hand, so we wanted to give them a try. (Note: The menu states that it’s “Steamed Dumplings”, but they are actually Boiled Dumplings, which is fine by us.) These were pretty good. These are the medium-thick Dumpling skin style, with a balanced filling of Marinated Ground Pork with Napa Cabbage (or you can choose Chinese Chives)).

We’d be glad to order these again if we were craving Dumplings while also enjoying Jiang Nan’s regular dishes.

7th Visit:

Sauteed “A” Vegetable with Garlic:

Another of their options for Sauteed Seasonal Vegetables, their Sauteed “A” Vegetable with Garlic is also quite tasty. Good wok skills, fragrant Garlic.

Seaweed Flavored Fried Fish:

I love ordering this dish at various Shanghai restaurants around town, and Jiang Nan’s version is quite enjoyable. A good fry, with clean oil, their Seaweed Flavored Fried Fish isn’t greasy, has a light crispy batter and tender bites of Grey Sole within. The Seaweed mixed into the batter results in visually interesting green lines coursing along the outside of each piece. It goes great with a bit of Steamed Rice. :blush:

Half Tendon, Half Beef Noodle Soup:

Yes, another risky move, but on this visit, our server mentioned in passing that the Chef-Owner made a good version of the classic Chinese Beef Noodle Soup, influenced by some of his years cooking in Taiwan. And it was surprisingly good.

There were tender chunks of Stewed Beef Shank and Beef Tendon, a decent kick to the Beef Noodle Soup itself, and the Noodles were slippery and about standard. It won’t dethrone Cindy’s Kitchen (our current favorite), but it’s worth an order if you were craving this dish and were in the area. :slight_smile:

Shanghai Xiao Long Bao:

One of the weak links on Jiang Nan’s menu would have to be their Shanghai Xiao Long Bao (XLB), or as seen listed across various English menus as “Soup Dumplings” at times (yes, even though it’s not a Dumpling!). :wink:

The XLB here are thicker skinned, a bit clumpy at the top, with an OK filling and burst of “Soup” within. Even for fans of thicker Xiao Long Bao, the version here at Jiang Nan isn’t worth ordering.

Bitter Melon with Salted Egg Yolk:

Growing up in the U.S., I still marvel at how I’ve come to enjoy Chinese Bitter Melon, which, per the name, is a very bitter vegetable dish. It’s usually balanced out by the use of other potent seasonings, such as Black Bean Sauce, or here, with Salted Duck Egg Yolks. This adds the salinity, but also a deep, savory creaminess from the Duck Egg Yolks sauteed into the Bitter Melon and balancing out the bitterness.

Sauteed Eel:

We dined with a friend on this visit, and they were craving the Sauteed Eel dish, so we obliged. Just as good as the previous visits. :slight_smile:

Pork Meat Balls with Brown Sauce (or, Braised Lion’s Head):

Yet another simply translated English menu name that we were bummed was so neutered after my Taiwanese friend told me what it actually said in Chinese (“Braised Lion’s Head”). :laughing: That sounds way cooler, but I’d imagine us English-only speakers who didn’t know about this dish would be shocked and think it was actual Lion’s Head in this dish. :sweat_smile:

These are huge Marinated Pork Meatballs, but so light, tender, and not dense at all, stewed in a Housemade Brown Sauce (which is usually Light and Dark Soy Sauce, Green Onions, Ginger and each Chef’s personal recipe) slowly cooked down to create this delicious Brown Sauce. The Napa Cabbage soaks up the tasty Brown Sauce quite well and it all goes great with Steamed Rice.

Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf:

One of the most unique dishes offered at Jiang Nan Spring (originating from the Chef’s previous restaurant, Chang’s Garden) are the Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf. These are Spare Ribs wrapped with Sticky Rice and a satisfying, intensely appetizing seasoning, then wrapped in Lotus Leaves and steamed. The result is fall-off-the bone, tender bites of Steamed Spare Ribs infused with the savory, gently spicy mixture and stew-like Sticky Rice. Must order! :heart:

Chicken in Wine Sauce:

We enjoy a good “Drunken Chicken” (or listed here as “Chicken in Wine Sauce”), so we try to order it whenever we see it on a menu. Jiang Nan Spring’s version is good, but not great. The Chicken itself is tender and tastes fresh. The infusion of Shaoxing Wine is there, but not as potent and popping as some versions around town (e.g., Shanghailander’s version). Still, it’s tasty and still a good version to try if you’ve never had it before. The Chicken is cooked through and there’s a good salinity, but also a gentle sweetness, usually a hint of Goji Berries and the Shaoxing Wine infusion (so it tastes slightly boozy, but delicious).

Smoked & Fresh Pork Warm Soup:

Their Smoked & Fresh Pork Warm Soup is an addictive Pork Bone Soup amplified by the addition of Smoked Pork, which really adds a gentle smoky, porkiness in every sip. I love the Tofu Knots which are sheets of Tofu Skin twisted into playful knots, as they totally soak up the Pork flavors.

Chicken with Sesame Oil and Basil:

Also known as “3 Cup Chicken”, Jiang Nan’s Chicken with Sesame Oil and Basil is an excellent version that we’ve had locally. It starts with the extremely fragrant Sesame Oil pervading every bite, the floral Basil is gorgeous and elevates each bite even higher, and the tender, stewed morsels of Chicken. It’s garlicky, fragrant, deliciously mouth-watering from the slow cooked Soy Sauce-based Sauce, and lightly sweet as well. :blush:

Fish Fillet with Hot Bean Sauce:

Another enjoyable version of a commonly seen dish around town, the slivers of Grey Sole are cooked down with a Hot Bean Sauce that tastes evenly balanced, not overly salty and not too spicy. It’s got a little gentle heat, but nothing overwhelming, even though it looks pretty fiery.

Beef Rolled in Chinese Pancake:

Jiang Nan Spring also makes their own version of the popular Chinese “Beef Roll” as locals have come to know this dish as, ever since 101 Noodle Express. We actually like Jiang Nan’s Beef Rolled in Chinese Pancake more than 101 Noodle Express’ version. It starts with the Beef itself: The Stewed Beef Shank (cooled down and sliced) tastes of a higher quality, and the balance of flavors is more apparent here. The Chinese Pancake on the outside is also good, although, once in a while it’s a bit too dry (we’ve ordered this 4 times here, 3 of the 4 times it was spot on). Add in the cooling Cucumber slivers, Green Onions and Cilantro with a touch of Hoisin Sauce and you have deliciousness. :blush: (@strongoxman)

8th Visit:

Shredded Pork with Baby Bamboo:

Even better than the previous times we ordered it. :slight_smile:

(Special) (White) Bitter Melon with Salted Egg Yolk:

On this visit, they got in White Bitter Melon, and it was sauteed with Salted Duck Egg Yolk. This tasted less intensely bitter, a bit more delicate and more Squash like, but still delicious.

Sauteed Water Spinach with Garlic:

Good Wok Hei, the Water Spinach sauteed with slivers of Garlic is always an enjoyable accompaniment.

Spicy Dry Pot Chicken:

Yes, another dish that we probably took a risk ordering (it’s not Jiang Nan / Shanghai cuisine), but we wanted to try something different, this was brutally spicy! :open_mouth: It is a Szechuan dish so it’s not surprising, but the Chef-Owner of Jiang Nan did it justice, delivering a fiercely spicy Dry Pot Chicken dish. You would think the lack of the crimson inferno pool of Chili liquid (found in other Szechuan dishes like Water Boiled Fish) would make this dish less spicy, but somehow, the dryness just intensifies the burning heat. :sweat:

The Cauliflower, Lotus Root and other veggies absorbed this Chili heat as well, so every bite in this dish just built upon itself. :slight_smile: It was quite fragrant and flavorful, the Chicken chunks were infused with a good chili-savory quality. Lots of Rice was needed to quell this fire. But anyone enjoying spicy food should give this a try. :slight_smile:

Jiang Nan Spring is a great neighborhood eatery specializing in Jiang Nan / Shanghai cuisine, and most dishes are executed very well. It’s comforting, so interesting in the pantheon of flavors present here, and it’s a place I wish I had in my neighborhood. Its earning of a Michelin Plate and Michelin Bib Gourmand Award are deserving and feels fitting in this case; Jiang Nan Spring is a restaurant we find enjoyable, it’s not too expensive and you just have a tasty meal each time you go.

They have a variety of standout dishes, from the Shredded Pork with Baby Bamboo (their Shredded Pork with Dried Bean Curd is also quite good), the satisfying Chicken with Sesame Oil and Basil, to the tender, lush Pork Meat Balls in Brown Sauce (Stewed “Lion’s Head”). Their Sauteed Eel, Sauteed Vegetables with Garlic (ask what veggies are in that day), Pickled Cabbage with Peas and Bean Sheets round things out.

Don’t miss out on their steamed Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf for a standout item, Lamb with Sour Cabbage Soup, and their Rice Ball Soup with Wine & Egg Flower can finish off a meal nicely. Just a satisfying, good meal exploring a bit of the Jiang Nan region and beyond.

Jiang Nan Spring
910 E Main St.
Alhambra, CA 91801
Tel: (626) 766-1688

9 Likes

Great review and now I’m ready for lunch!

I’ve never tried any chinese eel dish that looks interesting in a good way. Hard to tell tho, are the bones taken out or are they little eels and you just eat the whole thing? The ribs are also different than I’ve ever tried and i’m intrigued! I’m a fan of those veggie dishes too. Also never tried any pork with baby bamboo that looks right up my alley. I had a really nice baby bamboo dish at luv2eat thai recently maybe it’s the season?

Bravo!

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Hi @chienrouge ,

Thanks! :slight_smile: In the Sauteed Eel dish are it looks like they are using young / baby eel (like smaller than Sardines fillets). So there are no bone issues (or else it’d bug me, too!). :slight_smile:

If you find yourself east of Downtown, give Jiang Nan Spring a try (they also have some Lunch Specials), or just explore a few spots around the SGV that day. :wink:

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I would argue that the shaoxing / huadiao wine in the absolute best version of drunken chicken should not be potent, popping or overpowering, but rather blend in with the chicken. Just like the wine itself shouldn’t be overpowering either. Usually the newer wine, 5 years or less, taste harsh and not ‘smooth’. We eat this dish at home often, and it makes a difference to use 8/ 10 year wine versus 5 year and under. Above 10 years the ROI starts to diminish since its harder to pick up the nuance of the wine with other flavors mixing in.

Not to sound overly poetic, but the wine should be mellow (to me), and gently caress the chicken like a mom gently rocking and singing a lullaby to a baby.

I still remember a drunken shrimp ha gao I ate in Hong Kong years ago, with the shrimp marinated in a very good huadiao. The flavor was like a gentle poetry.

No bamboo? Is this the Yan du xian soup? We found a shipment of bamboo (fresh ones), so we’ll be making this during the weekend. How’s the smoked pork? The good ones should use Jinhua ham, but I don’t know what the export regulations are for that. Good alternative would be jamon iberico. Though its obviously not cheap.

Hard to get Jiangnan dishes right in America as many ingredients native to the region cannot be closely grown here or shipped here. We know someone from Shanghai, and she is dismissive of all Shanghai/ Jiangnan restaurants in the Bay Area. My assessment isn’t quite as dire as hers but I can see her POV. They are serviceable just aren’t great-great compared to the real deal. I don’t know how the Jiangnan restaurants are in LA. Hopefully they are better than what we get in the Bay Area.

5 Likes

Hi @sck ,

Thanks for the great insight on different types of Shaoxing Wine! Wow, I’ve never seen aged versions (like 8 / 10 years) or even 5 years at the local 99 Ranch Markets when we visit the SGV. :sweat_smile: That’s awesome that you’ve made versions at home with that and can taste the difference (you need to start a Pop-Up and share!). :wink:

Oh, to be clear, I wasn’t asking for Drunken Chicken to be totally alcoholic, but the Shaoxing Wine notes felt like they were too muted for Jiang Nan Spring compared to Shanghailander’s version. But it’s a great point that it should seep into the chicken, be a good accompaniment and not dominate.

I don’t know what the Chinese name for that soup was, sorry, I forgot to ask my friend. There should’ve been bamboo in there I think? (That visit was from last year - we’ve had multiple visits and I took too long to write this report up!) :sweat_smile:

The smoked pork was fragrant and tasted better than just “ham” for sure. I don’t know what type they use, but I’ll try asking them next time we visit. That would be amazing to try that soup with Jamon Iberico! :open_mouth:

I loved enjoying all these.dishes vicariously. Thanks for the photos and descriptions!

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I was just thinking about revisiting my old favorite Chang’s last week but ended up at Sichuan Impression instead. Thanks for the info that OG chef is now at Jiang Nan.

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Thanks! :slight_smile: Hope you get to try Jiang Nan Spring if you end up visiting L.A.

Hi @Sgee,

Thanks, and glad I was able to pass along helpful info. :slight_smile: Definitely give Jiang Nan a try if you were craving Chang’s Garden. Hope you enjoy the visit!

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When it comes to huadiao/ shaoxing, 99 Ranch’s selection is pretty weak for cooking, let alone drinking. The difference is really just similar to drinking two buck chuck versus better wine. Because the chicken is marinated in the huadiao for a day or two, you can’t really hide if the wine is subpar.

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Thanks @sck! :slight_smile: Thinking about it, where would one go to find 5 - 10 Year Old Shaoxing Wine in So Cal? Where do you buy it in SF? Thanks.

this sounds really good! never had anything like it, can it be found in the SF Bay Area?

Thanks for the write-up (and the thoughtful shoutout!) – this place came on my radar about a week prior, and I bookmarked it to try sooner rather than later, so thank you so much for the thorough (and timely) review!

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I buy mine from a local grocery chain. This store is interesting to say the least when it comes to alcohol. Not only do they carry decent huadiao/ shaoxing. They also have $1000 bottle maotai right on the shelf by the entrance. And often times the staff isn’t present. I don’t know if they have the real bottles inside the box but the box sure felt heavy and I picked it up.

I am sure you will find some good ones at local grocery stores.

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Hi @strongoxman ,

Thanks! Let me know if you end up trying out Jiang Nan and their Beef Rolls (and many other dishes). :wink: Hope it helps.

Thanks @sck ! Wow, it’s only ~$13.99 - $15.99 for a 10 Year Shaoxing Wine? :open_mouth: That seems reasonable as you said it makes a big difference / you notice it. I think regular Shaoxing at the local 99 Ranch markets around So Cal cost us like ~$4 - 5? Seems like a bargain then. :slight_smile:

Whatever you get, make sure the Shaoxing wine is Hua Diao Wine (花雕酒), a supreme version of Shaoxing wine.

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I have no personal knowledge, but I remember being told once that those baby eels are a very expensive ingredient…

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Try https://winghopfung.com/ on Garvey or Uncle Fossil

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Thanks @ipsedixit ! :slight_smile: If I wanted to try other recipes that require Shaoxing Wine, should I always use this Hua Diao Wine version for better results, or is that mainly for Drunken Chicken? Thanks.

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