In business in Metairie for more than 30 years, Jung's Golden Dragon was a place where successive generations of locals learned about Chinese food, or at least its familiar American iterations. Relocated Uptown and significantly reimagined, this restaurant is still dishing out Chinese cuisine lessons, but now more of them concern flavors and traditions a great deal closer to the source material.
The new Jung's Golden Dragon is a place where tender, house-made, pork-filled dumplings arrive molded into a circular disk, ready to be broken with chopsticks into individual bulbs that squirt juice at the first bite. It's a place for seafood stews with thin but salty, ferociously spicy broths laden with boiled snapper or speckled trout. And it's a place for chilled beef tongue, sliced thin, topped with curling tripe and seasoned with a special pepper that causes a tingly, fleetingly numbing sensation on your tongue.
These dishes are among the offerings on what owner Jung Tan calls her "Chinese menu." It's occasionally slipped into the regular Chinese-American menu, though sometimes you have to request it. Most of the dishes come from the Szechuan tradition, a particularly robust, famously spicy branch of China's vast and multifarious cuisine. Tan says many items are based on family recipes her mother brought here when she immigrated in the 1970s.
With its new approach, Jung's joins a growing roster of local restaurants where diners can experience Chinese food more in line with how it's actually prepared and eaten in China (see www.blogofneworleans.com for more). Tan tested these waters a few years back at the old Golden Dragon in Metairie, where she served a traditional "Chinese breakfast" on weekends. It didn't catch on with customers, but when she moved to Magazine Street in 2010, she instituted today's two-menu system full time.
Sturdy, predictable dishes like lemon chicken, egg rolls and beef with broccoli are there for those playing it safe, though not everything on the Chinese menu is as peculiar as the tongue-numbing tongue dish. It's easy enough to wade in with sizzling beef, which looks — and sounds — like Chinese fajitas, or the memorably named but mildly flavored "ants climbing a tree," for which rice noodles (the "tree") are smothered with ginger and sesame sauce with bits of ground pork (the "ants"). Cool sesame noodles woven with shredded cucumber make a light and refreshing first course in hot summer weather. Once you've found your sea legs here, try the "fish in squirrel shape" for a fillet deeply and elaborately scored, fried to the texture of a blooming onion, coated with thick, tangy sauce and arranged more or less in the shape of its namesake.
This restaurant space, encased in sleek lacquered paneling, is small but comfortable. The way to make a night of it here is to bring a group, secure one of the larger round tables and order dishes to share. That's the familiar format at Chinese restaurants anywhere, but with Jung's new menu there is a lot more to talk about as the dishes go around the table.