The panoply of Chinese regional cuisines in the San Gabriel Valley recently increased by one with the opening of Wang Xing Ji, a San Gabriel outpost of a noted Wuxi restaurant operating since 1913. Located in San Gabriel Square, the large shopping plaza known as “The Great Mall of China,” the restaurant sits in an upstairs space formerly occupied by Sichuan standout Shu Feng Yuan and most recently by a place that served a few Wuhan style items.
Those familiar with Shanghainese dishes will recognize some items on a menu small by SGV standards: xiao long bao, rice ball in wine sauce soup, smoked fish. Well, you won't see xiao long bao by that name at WXJ, as they appear in the Steamed Dumpling section as Juicy Dumplings. Undoubtedly, this will revive the “soup dumpling” nomenclature debate, but we'll let message board posters sort that out.
The Wuxi-specific items begin with a couple of appetizers, listed on the menu under Cold Dishes. House spareribs are typical riblets, albeit soyed and sweetened, and the Wuxi Smoked Fish is much like that found at Shanghai-style places, save for that one key difference: The fish has the expected smokiness, but it too has a sweetness. Per the usual Chinese approach, the Smoked Fish is full of bones, many of them quite small. Some are somewhat edible, others not so much. Either item can be ordered in a noodle soup as well.
The xiao long bao (or XLB) also point out this difference. The Juicy Pork Dumplings feature a filling combining some sweetness along with the savory. The waitstaff will be glad to point out that this is the way it's done in Wuxi; it's just how they roll.
Then there are menu items unlike anything else found in the SGV, like the Juicy Fish Dumplings. That's right, for all seeking xiao long bao but not wanting pork, WXJ has one filled with chopped sole and vegetables. On our visits, these seemed more like regular sole-and-veg dumplings in an XLB skin, but true soupiness has been reported by others.
About that skin: No discussion of XLB is complete without describing it. The skin at WXJ is thick and chewy, falling closer to J&J than Mei Long Village. Those of you who are more thin-skinned types should stick with Din Tai Fung.
Another unique item comes straight from the Shanghai episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations — the Juicy Pork & Crab Bun — a bao that resembles a giant XLB, complete with a boba straw stuck in the top to slurp the soup. Wang Xing Ji is the only place you'll find this item in Greater Los Angeles.
Prices for pork XLB are on a par with nearby XLB exponents and cheaper than other notables, while the fish are more expensive at $8.95 for 10. Then there's the restaurant itself, which has been remodeled to feature décor closer to Din Tai Fung than that of the smaller, sticky-tabled XLB specialists. A glass partitioned area where dumplings are prepared is the centerpiece, giving the best show in the SGV since Bamboodles. With the décor and a chef from Wuxi, Wang Xing Ji continues the growing SGV trend of well-appointed restaurants.
Follow Jim Thurman on Twitter @JThur01.