WHERE TO START? An array at Jade Cricket.
There are two seemingly contradictory facts about Chinese cuisine and this country. One, everybody likes it. And two, so many Chinese restaurants are mediocre. The first is because there is something for everyone, from bok choy-enamored vege-heads to Szechuan-beef-drooling carnivores. The second, because, in a feedback loop, so many Chinese restaurants are mediocre.
So it’s especially delightful to come across an exceptional Chinese restaurant, one that is to so-so what Peking duck is to chop suey. As much as my credibility is enhanced by maintaining a restrained hauteur, I gotta admit I’m in love with Jade Cricket. There was something at least a little eyebrow-lifting with everything we had.
It’s not a large place, and the upscale decor is tasteful, with greenery and warm woods floor to ceiling, including carved decorations. Nevertheless, the prices, in accordance with what we have been spoiled to expect, are moderate.
Let me start with some of the things we didn’t have but I wish we had. With slow-roasted BBQ, you have your choice of roasted duck, steamed salted chicken, roasted pork tenderloin, or crispy pork belly, with a combination of any three for only $18. Unusually, the hot pot for two ($30-$39), in which you dip your meats, seafood, or vegetables in burbling broth, can be had as a side order ($8-$16), presumably pre-dipped for you. There are some appealing choices for a “Sizzling Platter” ($14-$19) set before you, from gentle ginger and scallion chicken chunks to spicy hot scallops in black pepper.
If you like to sit down to a big bowl of soup for a meal, pho style, there are five noodle soups ($12-$13), from roasted duck to beef stew. I like that there are also a half-dozen individual portion soups ($5 and $6). The Hong Kong-style wonton sounded interesting, with both pork and shrimp dumplings, but I almost invariably check out the hot and sour soup when I’m new to a Chinese restaurant. You can tell how generous they are with extra ingredients and other items by how chock-full of goodies it is. Jade Cricket’s is very good in that regard, dense with plenty of tofu and mushrooms and such. Sporting only one chili on the menu, it was hot rather than medium, so be forewarned (our server noted that anything can be prepared milder).
Johnnie had the chicken and spinach dumpling soup, with the green leaves floating amid the large dumplings packed with white meat. We also started with the “Traditional Chive Pot Stickers” ($7), choosing fried instead of steamed, and the five treats were more minced chicken than vegetable, which in this case I wished were the other way around.
We both love any kind of moo shi, since slathering on hoisin sauce could make even Styrofoam peanuts tasty. She chose chicken ($13) rather than pork, and going easy on the sauce, was pleased with the individual tastes of the vegetables and minced chicken coming through, which impressed her with everything we had, even the hotness of Szechuan eggplant ($11) and the Szechuan hot and spicy chicken ($13). The delicate snow peas in the latter weren’t wasted on her. She noted that everything was “so light and fresh.”