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Johnny Chan 2—for when hunger has you

BY MICHAEL SAWAN, Assistant Editor
The American Israelite

Mushroom Beef in brown sauce, more fried rice, Chinese Doughnuts, Lo Mein and Moo Goo Gai Pan. (Credit: Michael Sawan)

No one will argue with a happy accident. I went in to Johnny Chan 2 unaware of the lunch buffet that was soon to greet me, and the feeling of accidental perfection, the release that accompanies a stroke of good luck, was something I would pay money for.

The only thing better is when this very same feeling is planed. When an individual (or group) has the foresight to put the right pieces into place, to craft the scenario necessary to make for the emotions of a happy accident with the planning of an operation. Johnny Chan 2 is in possession of this most excellent strategic skill.

It is a restaurant that, from the ambiance up, knows how to craft the right experience one item at a time. The setting is casual but nice, with a pleasing color scheme and exceptionally friendly staff. The menu is all that you would expect from a traditional Americanized-Chinese restaurant, but prepared fresh to order: nothing freeze dried, no microwave entrees, no ill-cooked food. Everything is prepared by hand according to the methods that Johnny Chan 2’s kitchen has cultivated since 1998.

This is all encapsulated in Johnny Chan 2’s take on that most basic of chinese restaurant dishes, Fried Rice. The rice was smooth, reminiscent of the evenness of cream, and had the ability to mesh seamlessly with any other item at the buffet. Was it a happy accident that the egg roll and fried rice have a terrific texture together? Or maybe it was all apart of Johnny Chan 2’s master plan, to put compatible tastes all in a neat, convenient row.

The Sweet and Sour Chicken used pure white meat as its base, generous chunks fried until a delicately crispy shell encapsulated the still juicy chicken. This served as a jumping off point for the sweet and sour sauce, which added an extra layer of juiciness to the pot. When combined with the fried rice things very nearly got out of hand, the textures and flavors all melding into a tight package of savory sweetness.

I turned my attention to the Egg Roll, which was unique in that it was strictly vegetarian. This meant that the veggies, by necessity, took center stage. The cabbage led the way, giving a slight bite that guided the warm, giving texture of the other veggies well. This combined with the crispy outer shell meant a double whammy of texture, and yet again begged the question: Happy accident? It is safe to assume this one was not. Additionally, lest we forget, sweet and sour sauce plus an egg roll is always a good idea.

The Teriyaki Chicken strip was my first surprising encounter of the afternoon. If I had to guess, I would say it was either cooked over an open fire or smoked. It had a solid, full bodied taste dense with warm earthy tones. The teriyaki accompanied this taste terrifically, creating a mature, pointed taste that allowed the chicken to supplement the flavors. Things really shone once I began combining yet again, with the texture of the chicken being a new voice in the buffet style conversation.

My second plate of food presented various other hallmarks of the Americanized Chinese restaurant, all with the same flair that Johnny Chan 2 was starting to establish in my taste buds. I tried the Moo Goo Gai Pan, a savory dish of all white meat chicken, carrots, zucchini, and baby corn. One can judge a Chinese restaurant by the quality of their baby corn: too hard and you know the restaurant lacks confidence, or the time to cook the veggie properly. Too soft and the restaurant comes across as careless, unperturbed by gooey vegetables. Johnny Chan 2 is neither of these, instead occupying the perfect comfort zone of baby corn: crisp in the center, tender on the outside, a slightly limp string of vegetable that is emblematic of Chinese food. The rest of the dish followed suit, particularly the chicken. It had just the right texture, tender but with a slight amount of give.

The Mushroom Beef was similarly good, but in this case it was the sauce that stood out. It shared the smokey characteristic of the Teriyaki Chicken, that savory, mature flavor that begs to be eaten. This flavor combined terrifically with the crispiness of the veggies. As you might imagine, it all mixed to even greater effect with a little bit of fried rice, the whole combination having a smooth, smokey, savory eat-ability that could have easily stood in as my main entree of the night.

The restaurant’s Lo Mein was the sort of dish that made me wonder, “why don’t I eat more of this?” Because it’s true! Every time I go to a Chinese restaurant I automatically order fried rice, if I’m feeling saucy I get General Tso’s. But Lo Mein has its own power, a dish that has all of the appeal of fried rice, but with a little extra soy, a touch more umami, making it sparkle in the right situations. As it happens, one of these is when combined with Mushroom Beef and Moo Goo Gai Pan.

Dessert time proved to be a great success, with the stand out being the slice of Vanilla Cake. It reminded me of the birthday cakes I would enjoy in my childhood years, a no nonsense confection with a focus on vanilla, sugar and butter, all to great effect. Only a birthday candle could have made it more perfect. The Dessert Tray Honorable Mention goes to the Almond Cookie, a surprise sweet that combined vanilla wafer, sugar cookie and fortune cookie all into one deliciously crispy package. It’s combinations like this, the familiar with the unexpected, that makes Johnny Chan 2 a stand out. Their hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.