If you’re like me and have been wondering why Helen’s Cafe never seems to open, it’s because they have moved and are now H&J Bistro. I’m not sure if this is advertised b/c I swear I’ve drove up to their closed restaurant on three separate occasions and never saw anything posted on their door. However, a bright blue sign at the new location says they were formerly Helen’s Cafe. Although I’m not a fan of Chinese food in Calgary, I do like specialty cuisines and H&J here serves Northern Chinese cuisine.
Here’s what we ordered tonight:
Appetizer Combination (L) – 16.95
This platter consists of sliced marinated beef shank (牛腱), pork skin jelly (肉皮凍), sliced marinated pork hock (燻蹄), pickled pig’s ear (豬耳) and marinated jellyfish (海蜇). It was served with a very strong garlic dipping sauce! I thought every item was made and tasted very well, but the one surprise was definitely the pork skin jelly. I’ve never had it before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s almost like eating a firm jello with pork skin bits. That may not sound appealing to some, but for me – I liked them! The jellyfish was also different b/c there was several types, and they all gave different textures with each bite. The beef shank was coated in a sweet marinade, while the pig’s ear was a bit sweet and sour since it was pickled. I would’ve preferred to eat the sliced pork hock with the usual vinegar dipping sauce, but the garlic sauce was good too!
Stir Fried Lamb Slices with Cumin – $14.95
Originally I had just wanted the plain stir fried lamb slices, but our server Jenny recommended for us to try it with cumin and we’re glad we listened to her. Lamb is one of those meats that pairs extremely well with cumin b/c lamb can sometimes be “gamey” and this strong spice can help cut that. Well, the lamb here is not gamey and the cumin is not spicy. They used just the right amount of cumin to add that extra dash of taste and to fragrant up the entire dish, but more importantly it didn’t mask the taste of the meat. I would’ve preferred the lamb slices to be a bit thicker though. You get a large portion of meat in this dish and it will go well with a nice bowl of rice.
Seafood Chow Mein – $12.95
My brother picked this and it was another solid dish. My mom especially liked the noodle part b/c it’s like 雙面黃, meaning that both sides of the noodle nest are crispy and it should retain crispy for a short while after you pour the sauce and toppings over it. Indeed, the noodles stayed quite crispy and only the part that got the most sauce on it became a bit soft, but not soggy. The sauce was light, almost brothy. The toppings were shrimp, scallop and squid plus an assortment of vegetables. This was gobbled up in no time.
Stir Fried Potato, Eggplant and Green Peppers (地三鮮) – $9.95
I saw this on miss foodie’s post and vowed to try it. I love eggplant and my brother loves potato, so this was a natural choice for us anyway. The vegetables retained their crispness and not a single piece was overcooked. The sauce seems to be something of a garlic and oyster sauce and it was very tasty. This is a great vegetarian dish and I would definitely order it again next time.
House Made Dumplings (手工水餃); Filling: Shrimp, Pork, Chives – $10 for 20 pcs
I thought this was the only disappointing dish tonight. You have choice of several fillings and we chose the very standard shrimp, pork and chives combination. I thought they were boiled for a bit too long and the dumpling skin was too thick and soggy for us. They were also lacking in taste and the dipping sauce really didn’t add much to it. They are a generous portion though.
I liked most of the dishes we ordered tonight and was glad we tried something rather than the usual Chinese food. I thought prices were reasonable and the restaurant have special dishes on their whiteboard periodically, but note that it’s written in Chinese… although I’m sure Jenny would be more than happy to explain what they are to you if you can’t read it! She gave really good service and I’m almost suspecting the J in the restaurant name represents her anyway.