Bona Fide CHINESE, if you Please

Baymeadows may wear the crown when it comes to Indian specialties, but the same neighborhood is also home to one of the few high-quality places to get Chinese food in Jax: Chef Chan Asian Cuisine.

“We’ll start off with the dumplings” is one of my favorite catch phrases, and the perfect time to use it is when you’re ordering the Chicken Dumpling appetizer ($6.50) at Chef Chan. The little pockets of joy come steamed or fried with a lovely sauce replete with scallions. With six dumplings to a serving, the appetizer is perfect for sharing … or not!

From a friend’s recommendation, I knew that Chef Chan does a great whole fish; the offerings didn’t disappoint. Your waiter will take you through the options for the day and recommend whether to prepare it fried or steamed. The fish is dressed with your choice of sauce: Thai sweet and sour, ginger scallion curry, or black bean. We went with the Striped Bass (seasonal pricing), which has a nice firm flake, steamed, with black bean sauce.

I thought preparing a whole fish would take forever and a day, but it was on our table right on the heels of our dumplings. Black bean sauce is a popular choice with Asian-style fish, and admittedly one of my favorites, so we were delighted that the bass was swimming in it. The extra-salty black beans lend nice little explosions of flavor in every bite. The fish is also accompanied by copious amounts of tender, perfectly steamed peppers and onions, with a generous smattering of scallions. Choosing steamed over fried provided us with a light, but filling, meal, and while you definitely have to watch out for small bones, it wasn’t much of a concern overall. So release your inner scavenger and hunt through the fish, looking for the choicest morsels.

I’m a big fan of a good clean dish, and while ordering a plate of fried chicken with a lot of sauce may not quite fall under the category of clean eating, Chef Chan’s Sesame Chicken ($12.95) still manages to make you feel quite good about your life decisions. You’ll get a mound of fresh, crisp, and delightfully thin pieces of chicken, lightly fried, atop of a dish of sweet and savory sesame sauce sprinkled with a smattering of white sesame seeds.

Plating and presentation are often underrated, or just purely decorative, but here the set-up matters. The chicken isn’t drenched in sauce, allowing you to experience the crispy chicken with your ideal ratio of sauce to chicken, instead of a soggy mess.

The restaurant is closed on Mondays, but the rest of the week, the cozy spot has lovely waiters who are happy to walk you through the menu and answer any questions. The staff manages to strike a good balance between keeping your glass at max capacity without hovering. This is a big plus if you’re looking forward to enjoying good conversation and the savory and salty black bean sauce!