Dedicated followers of Szechuan cooking will always treasure their local haunts.
Szechuan Spice in Uptown has had its glimmering moments (though we've found the quality to be inconsistent).
The Tea House on University has loyal followers willing to bypass the many other regional cooking styles on the menu and head straight for the Szechuan. (The longtime institution is very popular with the Chinese student population, and they bring in chefs from all over China for special menus, so keep an eye out for that.)
And though Little Szechuan on University has gone the way of the hotpot-only menu, they have a sister restaurant in Stadium Village.
But no matter how loyal they are to their respective favorites, those fans of the fiery cooking with the mouth-numbing peppercorns must be at least a little bit excited for Jun. The stylish new North Loop restaurant is promising to elevate the overall Szechuan experience in Minneapolis.
A few things to know:
1. They’re hand-making their own noodles.
This is no small thing, because we’ve been dying for hand-made Chinese noodles around here the way we were dying for fresh Italian noodles before everyone was doing it. While there are lots and lots (and lots!) of fantastic dry noodle permutations in Asian cooking, arguably even more than in Italian, the difference is the same. There’s a chew, a light disintegration on the tongue, a springiness, a crave-ability that you just can’t get from dry.
No, every noodle at Jun is not fresh, but they’ll be adding more as time goes on. And, this is really worth holding your breath for: There will be hand-pulled noodles, those flat, wide internet sensations that simply haven't been easy to find around here (if they exist at all). One of the owners has been studying the art in Lanzhou China. Ask for them by name.
2. The room, formerly Shag, then briefly Rojo, got a light makeover.
The minimalist design will keep the focus where it belongs, on the plate. Aside from the dramatic open kitchen taking up the far back wall, look for the corrugated metal room partition etched with Chinese characters, the chartreuse booth cushions, and minimalist steely gray fixtures that emphasize the warehouse-like space.
3. There is a craft cocktail list.
This is always cool to find at a Chinese spot, and keep an eye peeled for Baiju, a powerful sorghum liquor (colloquially called "wine," but at 40 to 60 percent alcohol, that's no wine). We've rarely seen this stuff around here. The rest of the cocktail list has been designed around the cooking, with lychee, lemongrass, and tamarind popping up in drinks. There is also a nice list of loose-leaf tea.
4. Owners are mother-and-son team Jessie and Jack Wong.
The pair also have owned and operated Szechuan Restaurant in Roseville (did you know this place was hiding there for almost a decade?) since 2009. Jessie was born and raised in Shandong, China, and she tells me that when her friends and family come to the Twin Cities, they are dismayed that they cannot get “real” Chinese food downtown, especially handmade noodles and dumplings. Jessie says she’s going to fix that problem. For her friends, for her family, and for the rest of us.
5. If you must have them, Cantonese classics can also be found on this menu.
Even walnut shrimp, that mainstay of the Chinese American canon that some of us cannot release from our death grip. Also, sesame chicken, sweet and sour pork ribs, and the like. But since most of that menu repertoire can be found at countless Chinese restaurants around town, boldly check out the couples beef, a cold, Szechuan peppercorn-laced shank and tendon dish, excellent dan dan noodles, the variety of hand-made dumplings, and the mapo tofu.
As a dining public, wouldn't it be amazing to convince the Wongs and their friends and family that downtown is ready for the kind of "real" Chinese food they like to eat?
Now open, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., with lunch and late night menus coming soon.
730 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis