Jumbo JunBo

If you love dumplings, consider yourself delighted

It seemed risky to me, until I talked to Kee Lo, JunBo's manager, and son of owners Mr. and Mrs. Lo. It turns out that the Lo family has been operating, in Kee Lo's words, "chop-suey style" restaurants in Minnesota for some 30 years, including St. Paul's large South China Island Inn. After all these years of taking the pulse of our local Asian restaurant scene, the Los decided the city was ready for an authentic Chinese dim sum palace.

"Dim sum isn't just for Chinese people," Kee Lo told me. "It's a part of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Lao life, too." Aha! And here I thought that southeast Asian restaurants were the main foodie benefit to southeast Asian immigration to Minnesota. On weekends, about one-fourth of diners are non-Asians or Minnesota natives. But I knew that already, because I had seen some, often with a beer in one hand and a toddler in the other, enjoying the bounty of the new.

If you've never done dim sum, here's how it works. You enter the restaurant, you're seated at a table, and your server will ask you if you want something to drink: a beer, a scotch, pop, your choice of a pot of tea for the table, including jasmine, chrysanthemum, subtle white tea, medicinal fermented pu erh tea, and more. Then various stainless steel carts will push up to the table, and either you can all jump up and stare at the piles of little dishes as the server uncovers them to reveal what is inside, or you can designate one of your party to do it for you. Unlike most dim sum restaurants, almost every server I dealt with at JunBo had a good grasp of English and was able to explain, at least in broad strokes, the ingredients on the little covered plates.

Meals on wheels: JunBo serves up splendid, authentic dim sum
Jana Freiband
Meals on wheels: JunBo serves up splendid, authentic dim sum

Most of the individual dim sum dishes are $3.25 or $3.95, and they tack on a 15 percent gratuity to your check. I was able to eat generously at $12 a person, and the one time I went so absolutely hog-wild bananas that the servers were cautioning us to stop we still came in at $20 a head. (The shu mai, those little shrimp dumplings, were fresh; I had to.) The restaurant also offers two long à la carte menus of non-dim sum dishes, an American chop suey-style menu offering shrimp with lobster sauce and all the golden oldies, and a Chinese menu with a little red mark coloring in the o in JunBo.

Even after a number of visits, I never felt I got a complete sense of the non-dim sum capabilities of the kitchen here, though I did try some very good sweet crispy Peking pork chops ($12.95), and some excellent chow fun (both "dry," from $8.95, sautéed so that the noodles soak up the seasonings, and "with sauce," in a soupy style). Really though, it's hard to focus on the written menu when those dim sum carts come rolling by. And why would you? The cilantro shrimp dumplings in their translucent rice wrappers were as ethereal as blossoms. And if you still can't get over the idea of chicken feet, just know that they're really a compliment, rolling your way.

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