Friday, March 20, 2009

A&J Restaurant - Northern Dim Sum to Comfort and Satisfy

For most dim sum weekends, my family and I find ourselves at New Fortune in Gaithersburg. New Fortune serves "Cantonese" dim sum, which is what people often think of when they think of dim sum. But, on some weekends, especially during the cold days of winter, we venture in a different direction and seek out "Northern" dim sum. Our favorite place for Northern dim sum (at least for the past several years) is A&J Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland.

A&J has been a fixture of Washingtonian magazine's recommended "Cheap Eats" for years and with good reason. Think of piping hot dumplings, steaming bowls of soup noodles, and flaky "pastries" filled with all sorts of savory concoctions. A heavier variety of dim sum than the often steamed options of Cantonese dim sum (although, perhaps that's just a reflection of what we order at A&J!), it was always comforting and always satisfying.

Ever since I was little, I have loved scallion "pancakes"... but my favorite was not the scallion pancakes, but instead, the deliciously flaky scallion pastries that are somehow both light and dense at the same time. The flaky crust wraps around the scallion filling and is often sealed with a layer of sesame seeds. For years though we had been unable to find these scallion pastries at dim sum; instead, many restaurants started moving towards the ever popular scallion pancakes. Don't get me wrong, these pancakes are fantastic as well (especially heated up as leftovers the next day!), but they were never quite what I remembered from my childhood. And then, perhaps a year ago, we found that A&J had mini scallion pastries on their smaller "breakfast" menu (the small menu that accompanies their main menu) -- so now, everytime we go, we get TWO orders. One order to eat there and one order to take home. Yum.

My dad's favorite thing to order at A&J are the xiao long bao, or steamed dumplings. Although these xiao long bao often are not as juicy as xiao long bao from our favorite Crystal Jade Restaurant, my dad still cannot resist them when we are there. He often wants to order FOUR orders (=16 xiao long bao!) for four of us on top of everything else we love there... we can usually talk him down to three orders though :)

Perhaps one of the main reasons why we love A&J are the wide variety of noodles available. For every noodle dish, you can get thick or thin noodles, both appealing for their own reasons! I believe these noodles are handmade on site, and the texture of the noodles show it. Our current favorite noodle options are: (1) za jiang mien -- noodles with salty ground pork, shredded cucumbers, and bean sprouts (a favorite of mine since I was little!) (above), (2) the spicy beef soup noodles (below), and (3) soup noodles accompanied by deep fried pork or chicken (I prefer the skinny noodles with this!).

Finally, there are... "sandwiches" available. Ok, perhaps sandwiches isn't the right way to describe these treats, but imagine instead of "bread" you have a thousand layer flat pastry that folds at the center and inside is shredded pork...or beef... I love these for leftovers as well for days after.

And then the "hamburger" (beef xien bing). An exceedingly juicy beef "patty" (I recommend lots of napkins, a bowl to catch excess juice, and caution to be used because the steam that escapes is VERY HOT!) encased in potsticker dough, panfried so the two sides are crispy. These are best fresh and straight off the pan, so eat these at the restaurant! (Mr. J eating one of these below)

If you couldn't tell, I love Northern dim sum...and its many leftovers. We often order much too much for four people, justtt to be able to take some home to enjoy during the week to come! And, if you can't make it to Rockville, A&J also has a location in Annandale, Virginia. I recommend arriving on the earlier (or later) side because around 11:30 to 12:30, the small restaurant is packed.

A&J Restaurant
1319-C Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
(301) 251-7878


5 Star Foodie said...

Yum! I used to live in Rockville for a long time before moving to NoVa. Time to go back for a visit :)

The Duo Dishes said...

Give us sum dim sum!!! The scallion pancakes, dumplings and pork buns have always been faves.

Tangled Noodle said...

Oh, I wish I could try both South and North dim sum! You mention that the difference may be that the latter is 'heavier' than Cantonese - are there variances in flavor as well? It all looks so good - I will keep these names in mind when we have an opportunity to visit the DC area (my brother-in-law and his family live in Baltimore and my family lived in Fairfax County for several years).

Frank said...

We also love A&J! Hadn't tried the scallion pastries, though, so thanks for the tip!