After living abroad for awhile, you tend to grasp at any piece of Americana you can find. An American chef named Ryan Jette opened an American restaurant, Communal, in Singapore, that became my go-to when needing a taste of home. I'd walk in and suddenly be wearing a Budweiser shirt and waving an American flag as I shoveled fried chicken and bourbon down my gullet. I'd finish my meal, content and no longer homesick, then waddle back home. Sometimes a reminder of home does the opposite - like seeing three massively overweight Americans dressed like they just robbed a Tommy Bahamas store (while shoveling fried chicken and bourbon down their gullets) speaking in their loudest voice to a Singaporean metro worker like he was a mentally challenged dog.
"WHERE. DO. YOU. GET. THE. TICKETS?" they said.
"Uhm, right here in this machine that says tickets, sir" said the Singaporean, patiently.
Similarly, there are things I'll find or make here in the U.S. that remind me of things in Singapore. Most recently, that was a restaurant discovery off Olive, across from Lulu's: Jia Xiang / Hometown Restaurant. It specializes in Shanghaiese cuisine and features a sign and menu that are not in English. The food that we've had there has been excellent - which reminds me of the good side of Singapore - while the the service was less than friendly - the bad side of Singapore.
The menu is pretty large and reasonably priced, with few things going above $10.99. Unfortunately, I don't read or speak Chinese. I quickly texted photos of the menu to a few coworkers and friends hoping for a recommendation or full translation of the entire menu, but they were all useless. Everyone should be at my beck and call, especially when I'm hungry.
We started with a small cold appetizer made up of thin strips of celery and tofu. It didn't have the typical celery flavor (which I hate), thanks to some kind of light dressing that probably had a bit of sesame oil in it. Even so, it was just celery and tofu, so you can imagine that it wasn't packing much of a punch in the flavor department.
Girls at another table near us had this Kung Pao Chicken looking dish, so I just pointed and said I wanted it too. Hunks of fried chicken, served alongside red chili peppers, green chilies, potatoes and celery, were tossed lightly in a spicyish sauce. The flavors were fantastic, and most importantly, the chicken was good. The outside was crispy and crunchy and the inside was hot and juicy. None of that dried out crap you find at so many other restaurants.
If you order this, remember that the hunks have bone, cartilage and all that other good stuff still attached, so don't just go biting into it all willynilly. I've hurt myself doing that.
Every single table was eating duck which is about as good of a recommendation as you can get. You could hear duck after duck being violently chopped in the back. My feelings on duck ping pong back and forth, but I thought this one had a nice flavor. It wasn't overcooked at all, so it didn't have that gamey taste I hate. It was just tender duck meat in a flavorful soy-based sauce.
I'm pickier with eggplant dishes than I am about duck and I inhaled this. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the eggplant and bell pepper in this dish were cooked in a fiery hot wok until they got a bit of a char on them, then were tossed in a little garlic-soy sauce just before being served.
When the waiter recommended and described fish to us, it sounded like it would be a whole fish - I assumed steamed or deep fried - yet what we received was an enormous bowl of sliced fish in a somewhat spicy broth. I'm not sure if we misunderstood or what, but we didn't complain. It almost tasted like a chicken noodle soup with its rich broth, but instead of thick noodles and chicken, you get thin glass noodles and mild white fish slices.
What Jia Xiang lacks in service and air conditioning, it makes up for in its food. I plan on going back immediately with a larger group (and at least one person who speaks or reads Chinese) and diving deeper into the menu. The next post I put up on this place will probably contain intestines. Don't let the lack of English deter you; bring your phone and just show him these photos, or point at what the people next to you are eating.
When I was leaving, I told the waiter the food was very good. His response?
"Yeah, that's why there are people eating here."
8235 Olive Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63132