It’s not often that a single dish so clearly embodies all of what a restaurant does right. But that’s exactly what the Hunan lamb accomplishes at Jane G’s, the dimly lit, sexy new spot at 19th and Chestnut. It arrives in a glistening mound, trailing contrails of aromatic spice. The meat itself is cooked perfectly, tender and delicate, and the levels of gaminess and tingling heat are exactly on par with one another. Sweet slices of red pepper and onion frame and provide respite from the more full-throated flavors. It’s a balletic rendition of a dish that’s often more of a mosh pit, and a fine indication of what this kitchen, under the leadership of Chef Michael Chan, can accomplish.
At its best, Jane G’s raises the bar of pan-Asian cuisine in this part of the city. With a few exceptions, each and every one of the flavors seems to have been seriously considered in terms of the role it will play on the plate. The result of this is a procession of dishes that, in general, are familiar, yes, but somehow more interesting, more memorable.
Beef rendang was lifted up by its spice paste of remarkable complexity, the more perfumed aromatics tempered by the darker, deeper notes that developed over hours of cooking the rich cubes of meat in coconut milk and ultimately caramelizing it all. The flavors are both familiar and exotic, and it’s difficult to stop picking up additional pieces even after you’re full—the range here practically demands more attention, more bites. My only issue was with the soy-tossed ramen that accompanied it: Pleasant flavor was undermined by noodles that arrived clumped together, making it more difficult to eat than it should have been.
That, however, was a rare instance of a technical mishap. And even the preparations here that didn’t quite charm me were still buttressed by unimpeachable technique. Popcorn rock shrimp, a signature dish of sorts—our excellent waiter told us that it finds its way to most tables—was among the most well-fried I’ve had in some time. The shrimp themselves, their diminutive size belying their bigger flavor, had been cooked to just the perfect side of doneness in a crispy carapace. (Though the plating fell a bit short for me: That fried crust was pleasantly bitter on its own, and didn’t need the drizzle of wasabi aioli to amplify it. After popping a few bites, I found myself wanting something sweeter to drag them through.) Dumplings, meanwhile, came impeccably crisped up in the pan, their sides an appealingly rich tone of caramel. Their fillings—a familiar chicken and a somewhat more interesting duck—called out for some hit of brightness to allow their focal flavors to come through; a teriyaki reduction came to the rescue.
Overall, the food here is rather successful, and, when it fully hits its intended target, it’s remarkably good. The sesame soy Brussels sprouts were a beautiful demonstration of how a well-considered concept married to impeccable technique results in a dish that vastly outperforms expectations. These little demi-orbs, browned on their outsides, managed to soak up and seemingly distill all that nutty, savory flavor. The result was a bowlful of densely flavored, perfectly autumn-evocative sprouts that achieved a level of richness that most need a quick stint with bacon fat to achieve. Washed down with a beer, they’re perfect. And roti canai, all delicately layered and addictive with a quick trip through the glistening curry sauce, will be on my rotation moving forward. Crispy Peking duck salad intelligently brought together fried pieces of duck shreds with fresh greens and a vinaigrette whose ginger-lemongrass brightness served as a lovely foil.
Jane G’s is acquitting itself well right now, and has plenty of potential to continue improving. Note that the dessert situation is a concern right now: The pastry chef is no longer with them, and a recent evening’s dessert offering was a strawberry cheesecake, brought in from elsewhere—a perplexing choice, given the flavors that would have preceded it. I decided to take a pass and save what little remained of my appetite, the better to have room to pick through that wonderful lamb I had boxed up to bring home.
Cuisine type: Mostly pan-Asian.
Hours: Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11am–3pm; Sat., 11am–2pm.
Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5–11pm; Fri.–Sat., 5pm–midnight; Sun., 5–10pm.
Price range: $5–$28. (most dishes are under $20)
Atmosphere: Clean-lined and appealing.
Food: Solid technique and smart use of flavor.
Service: Professional and well-informed.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014