CJ Chan astonishes with culture and cusine

Photo: CJ Chan’s Triple Delight

By Warwick Kensington

When I learned I was reviewing CJ Chan, I immediately summoned Paula, DCP’s very own epicurean empress, to share the good news. Unfortunately, she was out of town and couldn’t accompany me on this assignment, so I called one of my favorite foodie friends with whom I have dined here many times before and asked him to go. His response was an enthusiastic “You’re doing CJ Chan’s for the paper?  Cool! When do we go?!”

CJ Chan opened their Wilmington Pike location in November of 2010, and is located in a small strip mall behind Subway next to Hospice of Dayton. If you didn’t know it was there, you would drive on by…and you really don’t want to because the food is good! Featuring Chinese and Japanese cuisine, CJ Chan is a small, comfortable restaurant, accommodating up to about 40 diners at simple wood tables. The dining area is usually rampant with dine-in guests, patrons picking up carry-out orders, and swarming servers. The service is quick and courteous and my glass never goes dry. Having enjoyed many CJ Chan entrees over the years, I decided to order outside of my usual carry-out orders of General Tso’s Chicken ($9.95)—its tender, juicy chunks of battered, deep fried chicken glazed in a thick, sweet sesame, ginger, garlic, soy sauce sprinkled with hot peppers, with broccoli, and white or fried rice. Oh, and their Wonton Soup ($3.50)—with its generously stuffed pork wontons, floating playfully with cabbage and scallions in a clear, rich chicken broth, which stays freakishly hot for an inordinate amount of time, inciting me to implore the broth to cool down so I can eat it faster. And the Kung Pao Chicken ($8.95)—typically a spicy stir fry of chicken, peanuts, veggies, and Sichuan peppercorns in a garlic, citrus, ginger marinade. Or Mongolian Beef ($9.95)—Thinly sliced beef, stir fried with onions and green peppers in a savory brown sauce…. Wow, I got rather lost in that! All of those are beautifully prepared by CJ Chan, but let’s get to today’s dinner selections.

We started with a couple glasses of wine and some eel sushi ($4.95). The tasty freshwater eel is cooked and bound atop a sticky, white rice medallion with a thin slice of seaweed. It is served with a dipping sauce and is slightly sweet. If you are looking for good sushi, give Chan’s a try.  The sushi was, and has historically been, quite delicious. Served next was an iceberg salad with a ginger dressing, and spring rolls. When the salad arrived, I was put off by the presentation of iceberg lettuce, a few shreds of carrot, and a rather thick and chunky dressing. Resigned to my duties as a restaurant and food analyst, we cautiously delved into what we were certain was going to be “the bowl of shame”, only to gradually be surprised by the tastiness. Normally, I find iceberg lettuce useless, but in this isolated case, the snappy ginger salad dressing was the perfect fit to bring life to sheer boredom. It was difficult to stop eating and I found myself going back for bites throughout the meal. The Spring rolls were greaselessly fried, and served with their house-made sweet chile sauce…Yum!

The entrees arrived with presentations that yielded absolute precision, each begging to be tasted first…as not to disappoint… we sampled each without preference…but that soon changed.

The entrees for the evening: Mixed vegetable Egg Foo Young ($8.95)—This is a classic American-Chinese dish akin to a vegetable omelet or frittata. It is fried so it’s a dish you can get tactile with, and the way I see it, adding an additional sense to a meal is a good thing. Mild and uncomplicated, the entrée is served with a deep sweet and sour brown sauce which puts it in the comfort food category when dredged. We tried it with and without the sauce and agreed the sauce made a world of difference for the positive, adding useful depth to the somewhat bland discs of egg and vegetables. Shrimp Tempura ($11.55)—This Japanese dish of very lightly battered shrimp was prepared perfectly. The shrimp was tender and delicious in their robes of crispy tempura batter. None of the tempura made it into a to-go box. Yep! Despite 4 entrees and 2 appetizers, we ate ‘em all! Hibachi Beef ($11.25)—Thinly sliced and deliciously seasoned with a garlic, ginger and soy roux, and grilled with mushrooms and onions. The flavor was diverse and amazing. Our server made this recommendation and I am very glad she did! It will most certainly be a new addition to my “usual” carry-out orders. Ichiban! Triple Delight ($10.95)—Chicken, beef, shrimp, and vegetables in a savory brown sauce. This was a very mild dish. All the ingredients were prepared well and the flavor was a mild “Chinese flavor”. This was the most basic example of Chinese cuisine of the four entrees we tried. Good indeed, but not the shining star among some of the other entrees on the menu. CJ Chan is a consistently good restaurant, with great service and reasonable prices. I enjoy the Chinese/Japanese options and have yet to try something I did not like. The flavors vary from mild to spicy, simple to complex, but all are discernably unique and delicious in their own way.

CJ Chan is located at 536 Wilmington Ave in Dayton. For more information, please call 937.259.9866 or visit MyCJChan.com

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