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J.R. Bistro brings a taste of the San Gabriel Valley to Chinatown

January 13, 2010 | 10:00 am

"This broth is surprisingly good," admitted my friend the fastidious Sinophile, swishing an abalone mushroom through the roiling, scarlet liquid in our hot pot at J.R. Bistro in Chinatown. At around 10 p.m. nearly every surface of our table was covered with plates and platters of raw ingredients: glistening shrimp and rosy beef slices, a tangle of emerald-green pea tendrils, Chinese greens and the combination plate of wild and fresh mushrooms -- half a dozen varieties arranged like a bouquet, each ready to soak up the simmering liquid in the pot.

Earlier, there had been a heated discussion about where to go for the hot-pot dinner we were craving. "Chinatown?" he wailed. He had long ago joined the legions who'd written off the neighborhood for the splendors of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley -- the crowd for whom no drive is ever too long, no traffic too snarled, no decor too spartan, if a taste of the best Taiwanese stinky fermented tofu or the most perfect Shanghainese river moss-enrobed fish in America were on offer.

But after he'd polished off nearly half a plate of crackly fried calamari with spicy garlic salt and a glass of Chardonnay, he settled in to the cozy dining room, tossed a chunk of pork kidney into the simmering pot and murmured something about the restaurant "not serving chop suey, at least."

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: Stefano Paltera / For The Times