Joyce Chinese Cuisine, which is related to the similarly named and no doubt thoroughly mediocre Americanized-Chinese restaurant Joyce Chinese Restaurant in Fort Lee, opened in River Edge a few weeks ago. We stopped in for lunch a while back, only to find they hadn't started up their lunch service. We then ended up at Lotus Cafe in Hackensack for the worst meal I can recall. This won't happen again.
We made up for that bad meal at Lotus Cafe several times over with our recent dinner at Joyce.
Things were off to a good start when the server brought to the table an amuse that wasn't fried wontons. A small dish of peanuts along with some pickled vegetable in chili oil. I could have made a meal from that vegetable, but there was more to explore.
The menu at Joyce certainly leans toward authentic Sichuan cooking. They do have a small section in the back for those who enjoy a proper "beef and broccoli." I appreciate the way they completely separate the good stuff from the not-good-stuff.
All of the usual suspects make an appearance here: tongue and tripe, spicy wontons, boiled fish, Chinese streaky pork, Mapo tofu, et al. Very similar in depth and breadth as most other Sichuan restaurants. Which means making a decision on a few dishes can be a challenge.
We managed to whittle down to a few choices, to get a feel for the place. First up, AH-bviously, was Tongue and Tripe.
It hit the table and visually was hitting all the marks. I liked that it wasn't floating in oil. Within 2 seconds I was knuckle deep. And my first thought? Wow. Just, wow. This might be better than any version I've ever had. There was something unique here. Some aromatics maybe? I dunno. It was a really pleasant rendition of this dish.
Sichuan spicy dumplings (Pork Wonton in Red Chili Oil) were less successful. Lots of garlic flavor, but the scant oil was sort of bland. The missus thought it tasted more of tabasco than the flavors we're used to. I'm not a fan of these dumplings anywhere to begin with, so I can't really make much of a judgement call. I think people should stop ordering these and stop talking about them so others don't think that they are notable. They rarely are.
Rather than get deep into spicy oils, I wanted to go with something simple. Something that would showcase the kitchen's ability to work with nuance and balance, rather than balls-in-your-face flavors. I wanted the pork belly with Fern Bracken, but they were out of Fern Bracken, whatever that is, so we went with the smoked pork belly and leek dish (Sauteed Chinese Bacon w/ Leeks).
This dish has such clean, simple, pure flavors. The flavor profile is essentially pork, smoke, salt, leek, maybe some garlic. There's no chili, no soy sauce, no fermented pastes. A very simple dish (although I have no idea how it's made). This version lived up to my expectations. A dish like this might even appeal to your friends who insist on beef and broccoli.
Another dish that we often order, and often make, is pickled chinese long bean with minced pork (Sauteed Cowpeas w/ Minced Pork). This is another relatively simple dish, with bright flavors and great texture. This version seemed to be served with a tad bit of "sauce," although the dish is generally a dry one. Not much sauce, but maybe just enough to add a slight sheen. Not a bad thing. The flavors were there, especially the acidic bite. I said to the missus I said, "this tastes like a Burger King hamburger." It took me a little while to figure out why I was thinking this, but it occurred to me that the acid and slight smokiness from the wok were reminiscent of those pickles and that flame-broiled goodness.
I hope I didn't just ruin this dish for you. It's really quite good.
What wasn't really quite good was the shrimp dish (Sauteed Spicy & Aromatic Shrimp). This dish wasn't to our liking.
It was, perhaps, a very good version of breaded and fried shrimp, but it simply wasn't very interesting. The bit of Chinese celery and the flavors stuck to that celery were quite good and powerful, but the shrimp was sort of on its own, without much in the way of flavor. I'd skip this one.
The place is nicely designed, with enough room between tables to park your SUV. Staff was somewhat eager, if not a bit green. I appreciate that they had music on, but didn't appreciate that more horrible music I've never heard.
I'll forgive their questionable taste in music and certainly return for more Sichuan food.
Update: I returned for more Sichuan food (click me).
Joyce Chinese Cuisine : 478 Kinderkamack Rd : River Edge, NJ : 201.261.8858 : BYO
See Edwin's comment below regarding parking, which I cannot confirm nor deny.