Ian Pike 6 p.m., Oct. 20
Downtown "Asian modern eatery" is attractive, at least.
I wanted to check out J Wok (744 Market Street, Downtown, 619-231-1088) because I’d heard it was a triumph of interior design, replete with a huge tree made entirely of chopsticks. That much at least is true. The chopstick tree exists. So too do the stone tables, lofty ceilings, impressive doorways, and good accent lighting. It looks for all the world like the “Asian modern eatery” it calls itself.
In spite of that, J Wok has more in common with casual, Thai takeout joints than upscale, Asian-fusion restaurants. The menu is filled with noodle, rice, and curry dishes that could have been plucked from the menus at half a dozen like-minded spots around town.
Why there are separate menus for “little plates” and “starters” is a bit curious since there didn’t seem to be much difference in portion size and price between my order of kimchi ($3.75) from the starters menu and the seafood dumplings ($4.25) from the “little plates.” Because it was very funky and spicy, I asked if the kimchi was made there, in the J Wok kitchens. Despite his general lack of interest in my party, the server assured me it was. Good job, guys. Nice kimchi! The dumplings were similarly tasty, although the flavor was more generalized seafood than any particular fish or mollusc. I suspect shrimp, but it’s really just an educated guess.
The J Wok spicy noodles ($10.75) had everything and anything inside. Chicken, shrimp, beef, veggies; if it was in the kitchen, it went into this dish. The noodles themselves were on the gummy side, but there was plenty of them. For a dish with “spicy” right in the name, it was timid. There was plenty of it and the noodles had been broken into short lengths, which made them easy to eat even if visually unappealing.
A plate of red curry ($10.25) tasted more of coconut milk than anything else. Although the strong flavor of bell peppers made itself known. Like the noodles, the portion was ample, but its merits ended there.
J Wok charges 30% more than a hole-in-the-wall takeout spot for virtually identical food, but that overage isn’t justified by the classy decor alone. Looking at the building, or reading the menu copy, would have most people believing the restaurant offers something it doesn’t. The food’s good, but not special, so why should a plate of curry cost $3 too much?