by Alice Levitt
135 E. Allen St., Winooski, 861-3338
Usually, one Chinese take-out spot is just like another. And greasy fried tidbits with gummy sauces aren't among my favorite cuisine types. But authentic Chinese flavors are one of my many culinary obsessions, so whenever I'm presented with the menu of a new Americanized Chinese eatery, I look for hints of the foods I love.
That was what brought me to Jin Chinese Restaurant in Winooski this week. The place is just a month old, and the menu is indeed more diverse than General Tso and lo mein, though the chefs do prepare both.
Some of the team worked previously at Zen Gardens in South Burlington, my go-to spot for more authentic Chinese choices in Vermont. Some trademark dishes are also available at Jin, including "Chicken Amazing" and stir-fries in Szechuan mala sauce.
I started more simply, with the pair of egg rolls that comes with any order of $10 or more.
With a thicker-than-usual wrapper, the chewy dough reminded me more of a meat pie than an egg roll. And there was more meat than I'd expect in a freebie. Finely chopped, red cha siu pork made the whole thing sweet, a nice departure from soy sauce and cabbage. I would have preferred a little less sugar, especially since it was served with a side of duck sauce. And as CKY's rappers have told us, "Only Americans eat duck sauce."
The Szechuan dumplings were a nice antidote. With tons of moist, noodly wrapper and not much pork, they ran the risk of blandness. However, peanut sauce flavored with a liberal slick of chile oil made them an addictive treat. Sure, there was no mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorn, but these dumplings were perfectly pleasant without an assault of spice.
Jin's most expensive dishes are all made with lamb. I chose the $14.95 lamb with spicy tea sauce. Surprisingly, the first flavor that filled my mouth was bright, fiery ginger. Next came a subtle chile burn and finally a sweet, herbaceous wave of tea. This proved that Jin is miles away from the numerous Chinese places that throw the same brown sauce on everything.
The tea sauce is available on other dishes, too, from tofu to pork. Next time, I'll probably save four or five dollars and get it with something other than the sometimes-chewy lamb. The wide range of vegetables, from baby corn and snow peas to carrots and mushrooms, was cooked to perfection.
I was especially excited to try the rice cakes, one of my favorite dishes on the traditional menu at Zen Gardens. I believe Jin may be only the second restaurant in Vermont to serve the chewy, noodle-like slices of rice cake. Unfortunately, they were overcooked and lacked the appealing bite that the cakes have at their best.
The beef therein was gorgeously tender and celery, bean sprouts and carrots were appealingly crunchy. This iteration could use more sauce, though. The flavor was subtle, but still tasty enough to handily finish the dish.
Jin isn't the Hong Kong-style diner — full of hanging, roasted whole animals — that I dream will open locally one day. But it is several cuts above your average Chinese joint, and that's enough to keep me coming back.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.