Taste Test: J. Zhou Oriental Cuisine

If you could only hear the Beethoven.
If you could only hear the Beethoven.
Edwin Goei

The following represents just a few initial impressions of J. Zhou Oriental Cuisine. This is not a full review.

First, the room is palatial--tall as a school gymnasium, decorated as though it were for royalty, with at least three kinds of dangling chandeliers and light fixtures. Also, no single wall looks the same. Look around and you notice each vertical surface has its own unique pattern or textured motif or marble that isn't repeated anywhere else in the room. And the seats: Plush. The music: Classical Beethoven.

Right now, during this honeymoon period, the service is over-the-top obsequious. Water is refilled, empty tea cups poured, finished plates whisked away. At this point, while the place is only slowly being discovered, the impeccably dressed waiters have nothing to do but coddle the few customers who've come to size up the new restaurant in town.

Clockwise from top left: The soy-sauce noodles; The scallops with vegetables; The menu; The deep-fried dried smelt
Clockwise from top left: The soy-sauce noodles; The scallops with vegetables; The menu; The deep-fried dried smelt
Edwin Goei

J. Zhou Oriental Cuisine, despite a name that might imply it's something like P.F. Chang's, is as far from it in every way. This is not the Americanized Chinese restaurant that the person at Happy Harbor said they were planning when I called them a few years ago to ask about the development. The menu has dishes you'd think would play better in San Gabriel Valley, not a plaza where Pei Wei is the only other Chinese joint in the parking lot. But perhaps they saw the success of Diamond Jamboree and Capital Seafood (which is less than a block away) as proof that this area is ready for another unapologetically authentic Cantonese restaurant.

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Among their specials: a bird's nest chicken soup, deep fried squab, sea cucumber with goose web, and a "Double Dragon" Abalone dish that you have to order one week in advance. Prices hover between $15-$20 per dish on average. Live seafood will cost significantly more.

I took a simple wok-tossed soy-sauce chow mein that was good and smoky; a scallop stir-fried with sugar snap peas that seemed overpriced for its portion size and blandness; and a fried tangle of dried smelt, which I couldn't stop eating. Our dinner for two that consisted of these three dishes with no drinks (they do not currently have a liquor license) totaled nearly $50.

It's most likely that most of J. Zhou's early customers will come for the dim sum, which is served daily until 3 p.m. It will be the true litmus test of whether this place will break the curse that Pablo's Cantina and Bistro West couldn't shake.

2437 Park Ave., Tustin, CA 92782

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