Sunday, March 29, 2009

Restaurant: Je'Bon

Je'Bon is located on what used to be the mecca of the east village, St. Marks, but has now transformed into Little Japan. For some this is brings out a distinct sadness remembering the glory (or not so glory) days of a neighborhood that was full of punk rock, Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish immigrants and their culture's cuisines. Je'Bon is just one of many Japanese and Asian centric restaurants to open within a few blocks of each other. What Je'Bon does, like many others in the area, is offer many different Asian cuisines on a single menu. This includes Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and a few others. It shouldn't be a destination restaurant for you, but I have been a few times and have found it an inexpensive, fun and eclectic setting for a week night dinner.

If you are interested in sushi there are all your standards to choose from, as well as a few specialty rolls, but honestly, you can do better on the menu. The yakitori served is very good, especially my favorite new snack, grilled mackerel skewers. Mackerel is a very strong and fatty white fish that turns a lot of people off because it isn't as mild as many other fish. This actually works perfectly for the yakitori grilling. The dish comes served with a little salt, crispy skin, and sizzling moist and meaty fish on a skewer. The inherent fattiness of the fish makes it incredibly moist and flavorful, and the grilled flavor takes away a lot of the strong fish taste. I usually can eat 2 or 3 of these just to start the meal, but always give one away so that other people can enjoy the luxury.

Another fun appetizer that comes from the Chinese spectrum is what they call a "Smiley Bun". In reality this is really a pork bun but a little bit fancier. The steamed bun is soft and melts in your mouth with just a little bit of chewy texture. The pork, while a little fatty, is very moist and balanced with green onions. The plum dipping sauce it comes with tends to be a little too sweet and can overpower the dish, so make sure you use it sparingly. Either way, an order of these can be a nice way to start your tour around the Far East.

Main dishes have quite a range from the aforementioned sushi, to pad thai, fried rice, teriyaki, noodle soups, and more vegetarian fare.

The three main courses I've had thus far are Coconut Seafood Soup, Nasi Goreng, and the Lotus Wrap. The seafood soup is just what it sounds like, but extremely satisfying, huge, and warming on a cold winter night. You can choose different noodles, but I recommend the spinach noodle for extra flavor. The coconut broth is sweet and savory and takes on the flavor of the various seafood that includes fishcake, shrimp, mussels, crab stick, and scallops. You also get a lot of vegetables including carrots, bamboo and mushrooms. The dish could probably serve two people if you aren't too hungry, but this is me, and I would probably get some grilled mackerel to go with it. Other than my inability to eat fishcake (I can't handle the texture), it is such a satisfying meal that just makes you feel warm and satisfied deep down and reminds you of the power of food to create happiness. Either that, or I just really like coconut broth.

Nasi Goreng is a fancy way of saying Indonesian fried rice. On paper it should be a really interesting dish, but after eating a few servings, it gets a bit boring, and very dry. If it was just a little bit moister it would be a go to dish for me. The plate is your standard fried rice with chicken, shrimp, pork, onion, scallion, and egg, but then the fun starts. Crushed peanuts, dried shallots, raisins, and broccoli stems are all added, and the whole dish is topped with fried anchovies. The peanuts, shallots, and raisins give great texture, and a needed sweet zing. The fried anchovies are what really save the dish, however, from pure mediocrity. The crunchy salty, and barely seafood flavored anchovies make it feel very different to the average palate. If you aren't turned off by the anchovies, they are really there more for the salt and they add some great balance to the dish.

Perhaps the best dish you can order at Je'Bon, at least that is out of the ordinary, is the Lotus Wrap. It is quite simple in theory, but is incredibly filling and tasty because it combines some of my favorite thing all together into one. The lotus wrap consists of a lotus leaf stuffed with Thai sticky rice, roast pork cubes, chicken, pork sausage, black mushrooms and dried baby shrimp. Read over those ingredients one more time. That's right, two types of pork AND sticky rice. The whole thing is steamed until a gelatinous, gooey amazingly delicious dish emerges. Sticky rice is very underrated, and most people are used to it being served on the side with Thai food, but combining it with all these types of meat and flavors makes it the unheralded star of the dish. The other part of the dish that intrigues and surprises is the use of the dried baby shrimp. A relatively common ingredient in some parts of Asia, it adds a different texture, and a strong shrimp flavor that permeates the rice along with the pork flavor. If you go, I highly recommend this dish.

I can't really speak to the desserts, although I'd probably just skip it entirely. You can do much better in the area than a dish of green tea ice cream or something doughy. Perhaps stick with just some tea instead.

All in all, I enjoy my meals at Je'Bon, but it's not always a go to place for me. It is a nice change of pace for dinner, and is especially helpful if you can't decide what type of food you want, but know it has to have some Asian flare.

Je'Bon - A Tour Through Asia


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