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Submitted photo

Szechuan to crow about

So … what were the trendster diners of the North Loop lacking? Oh yeah, Chinese.

Just when you simply cannot make your way to your warehouse condo without a fix of hot-and-sour soup or kung pao chicken, say hello to Jun.

Hipster alert: This is not your granny’s strip-mall experience. No cartoon-y paper placemats. No fortune cookies. No Number 47 with eggroll. (Oh, wait: There are eggrolls, but they’re wrapped in rice paper.)

Instead, a cosmo clubhouse of cheery, backlit cherry-tone wood, mustard-yellow booths lining the windows onto Washington below platoons of canister lamps and the obligatory open-to-view kitchen hemmed by also-mandated exposed bricks. There’s a signature, glassy room divider scrolled with poster-quality Chinese characters. (Certainly T-shirts are on order?)

Jessie (Jun) Wong and her son, Jack, have instilled the inviting space with the garlic- and chili-based flavors of their native Szechuan province but newly-updated from their longtime casual Roseville spot.

Here, the buzz is about the hand-pulled noodles, star of the menu, along with house-made buns and dumplings. And the best lamb I’ve inhaled for months and months.

Let’s start with those dan dan noodles, as our foursome did. The bowl of bouncy-textured udon skeins comes topped with chopped leaflets of green veggies and kernels of well-seasoned minced pork, while in the bottom of the bowl resides a pool of warmly-spiced (a one-chili pepper warning on the menu) sesame-soy sauce.

We also shared a pair of bao bao — plump, springy buns stuffed with pork belly, ready to dip in the kitchen’s house-made sauces, including standout hoisin and chili (small dishes $5–$12).

Yearning for that fabled lamb, we bypassed the soups and small cold plates. Next time: the bacon-y tea-smoked pigs’ ears (don’t laugh; I’ve enjoyed them in China, far more tasty than the turkey feet and beating heart of duck I also gamely ordered) and the couple’s beef: chilled shank and tendon with Szechuan peppercorns, a two-chili number.

But the lamb! This is the dish worth the price of admission (entrees mostly $14–$18, accompanied by rice). Savory, cumin-infused bits come curled onto toothpicks, all set upon little spinach-like leaves that also carry their share of lasting, comforting (but short of tortuous) heat. So did the plus-size shrimp, just barely stir-fried so their native texture still rules. They’re tossed with squares of bell pepper and onion in a “Szechuan sauce” (read: mouth-tingling and rewarding).

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Next, Jun’s spare ribs — meaty, full-flavored and tender pork accompanied by broccoli florets and one chili pepper on the menu, as are half the items. Order the walnut shrimp, cashew chicken or sea bass if you’re Norwegian.

From among the vegetable entrees ($12–$13), I was set to choose the asparagus and/or green beans, stir-fried with garlic, but was guided by the staff to try the “broccoli,” which wasn’t; it was bok choy, and neither unique nor enticing.

Three desserts are on hand for the curious: chocolate wontons, sticky rice with brown-sugar syrup and sweet potato pancakes, our selection. A quartet of cupcake-diameter patties arrived, boasting a springy, chewy texture, mild in taste — interesting but not in the save-room-for category.

Drinks are. Lots of unique cocktail creations (with or without alcohol), including tea and baiju infusions, plus plenty of hearty local beers. And wine if you must, with a list favoring Asian-flavors-friendly grapes like Riesling, vinho verde, etc.

It’s the Year of the Rooster, and Jun makes a fine place to crow about it.

 

730 N. Washington Ave.

208-0706 (no reservations taken)

junnorthloop.com