When the wind blows just right, kissing the exhaust vents on top of Charlie Huang’s new restaurant, Jing, all the oxygen on the street seems to be replaced, for just the space of a single breath, with the greasy, earthy, candied scent of garlic roasting, garlic frying, garlic oil gleaming on the blade of a knife. It’s like a foodie come-on, and to those of a certain curious and ever-hungry disposition, it is undeniable. True, I’d come here specifically to eat at Huang’s new multimillion-dollar, fancy-pants nouvelle Chinese restaurant, but had I been headed to Landmark for any other reason, I would have been hard-pressed to resist the siren scent of mother garlic moving down off the roof.
By all rights, Jing is far too young a restaurant to be reviewed. By the time you are reading this, it’ll be all of a month and a half old, and during my visits the staff was still newborn clumsy, the dessert menu not yet written, the bar in a state of near perpetual confusion. But then, I’ve never been one for following any rules too closely and don’t really give more than half a damn for anything beyond the food anyhow, so here we are.
My theory now is that Huang’s restaurants, more than anything, suffer for their age and popularity—get blander and more pedestrian the more times his cooks are forced to bang out the same sweet-and-sour chicken for the same suburban swells who never demand of them anything more than just good enough. This is a function of the whole art-versus-commerce thing that commands the lives of all cooks and all restaurant owners, but in Huang’s case (and in my opinion), he has always managed to come out long on the commerce side, short on art.
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Thus, my conundrum. Review the place now while I know it is still good—and occasionally bordering on excellent? Or wait and, in accordance with the Official Restaurant Critic’s Handbook, give the place its arbitrary three month minimum before having my say?
I think it’s obvious which side of that particular ethical crisis I came down on, and I made my choice based on one thing only: the food. Right now, the food is great. It’s original and delicious, tasting of passion and exactitude and all the best of the Chinese-American canon. And I don’t want anyone who’s interested to miss out on the place while it’s great just to keep to some kind of rulebook that I never agreed to follow in the first place. If history is any guide here, Jing may fall off its game in the coming months as time and trade start building up and the rigor of banging out hundreds of lo meins every weekend starts to wear on the staff. Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe the place will stay as good as it is right now, and I truly hope that it will. But me? I’m a betting man, and if I was going to lay a wager, I would go with the odds on this one and gamble on a dinner tonight rather than a dinner six months from now.
Anyway, Jing aside, I’ve also got some more tasty tidbits for all you crazy gastro-cats and culinary kittens this week. Like what? Well, like more than you ever wanted to know about the current state of the sandwich maker’s art in the city of Denver with mini-reviews of both Under the Umbrella in Congress Park and the new Erbert & Gerbert’s franchise down in Greenwood Village. I’ve got more news from Patrick Dupays about what’s going to happen to Z Cuisine, word about the former Milagro Taco Bar space at 17th and Vine and a new contender in the ongoing Fastest Restaurant Closure in Denver contest: Marni’s, which went into the dirt about forty-five minutes after opening.
All in all? Another big week in Denver. And you can read all about it right here. -- Jason Sheehan