Tian Jin and the Xerox Machine

It’s hard not to feel as though you’re getting hoodwinked nearly every time you eat Chinese food in this country. The flavors are washed out, simple, cloying or one-dimensionally hot. There’s no damned way one of the oldest and most magnificently complicated civilizations in the world came up with General Tso’s Chicken or Moo Shu Pork. Pearl Dragon and Imperial Rainbow and Golden Express don’t love you, and they’re not making good food. They’re grinding it out.

A Mandarin/Szechuan Chinese restaurant in Chanhassen called Tian Jin is doing some remarkable things with the food that sheds real light on how it’s meant to taste. A fellow diner (who had actually visited Tianjin, China’s third largest city) said the stuff was the closest thing he’d had to real Chinese food since leaving the country.

If you want the detailed blow-by-blow, read Iggers: as usual, he nails the important stuff and tells a good story.

Here’s the short version: The Chinese food you probably know is a xerox of a xerox. Tian Jin is serving up the original document. Thinly sliced gizzards that are covered in a cooling herbal sauce. Tongue-tingling boiled beef of shocking subtlety. Fried chicken tossed with whole peppercorns. The best dumplings you may ever get to try anywhere, profoundly honest. An entirely new take on the eggroll, based on taro root.

Tian Jin is at 463 W. 79th Street in Chanhassen. The phone number is 952.934.4111. If you care about Chinese food, set your GPS, Google it, or grab your folding map. Then: Hit the road.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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5 Comments

  1. I’ve driven by Tian Jin many times, assuming the strip-mall xerox effect. Based on the recommendations, my wife and I ate lunch there today. Its easy to get to, right off of Hwy 5. Our host, steered us away from the buffet, which was pretty much over by 1 anyway. He didn’t think I would enjoy my first choice, and suggested another beef dish, he was similarly helpful with my wife. It wasn’t busy, and he spent time asking us how we found the place, and when I told him about this blog, he didn’t know about it. Later he brought us a third dish for sampling. While I can’t declare how authentic it is, I can tell what is unique from other chinese places (a number of dishes), and how hard they try (they execute very well). We’ll be back, and you should go.

  2. joe sodd jr02/28/2009Reply

    I went to Tian Jin on Thursday. After mentioning that I had heard the restaurant being favorably compared to Tea House and Lil Sezchuan. Had the Chuang Qing Spicy Chicken. There must have been at least thirty thai peppers in the dish. Wow! The owner (?) comped the Eggplant in garlic sauce which had shrimp in the dish that were wonderful. I thought it was great!

  3. This is a great restaurant. We’ve been there 3 times in 3 weeks. We lay a few ideas down and just put ourselves in the owners hands There are many nice touches – like whole leaf jasmine tea in a beautiful tea set…tonight the spicy sauced gizzards was a revelation….shrimp and english cucumber in garlic sauce was a real eye and mouth opener – lots of tender fat shrimp (wild caught) and melonish thin sliced cukes…chicken and green beans (made spicy by request) was another winner chicken so tender beans so tangy…these people know what they are about and they do it very well…there are lots of nice decorative touches – they’ve obviously not skimped on the place or the food and ingredient quality…they’ve talked us into the lamb & cumin and the sea cucumber next time and maybe eel some day if they can get good ones. With their guidance we’re working our way through the non-americanized side of the menu. Have had 8 dishes and liked them all.

    The owner Ryan mentioned that MLPS-STP Magazine had just been there…The Rake was coming…right now during the week it’s pretty dead – we were the only ones and just a little carryout – although they say they are busy on the week-ends…if they get good reviews it could start to be a problem getting our usual table when all those city sophisticates get their motors running head out on the hiway go looking for adventure racin’ with the wind go make it happen and take Tian Jin and Chanhassen in a love embrace… (:-D)

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