Jan 11 - 17, 2007 

Restaurant Review

Jinja Bar & Bistro

Prefab Pacific whim

Courtesy of Jinja Bar & Bistro

If you’ve ever asked a true Beatles fan what he or she thinks about The Monkees, you may get a series of disparaging comments inundated by eye-rolling and perhaps a polite expletive or two. This is because even folks who aren’t big on music still know enough to determine that The Monkees were a prefabricated, Hollywood-hyped version of the Fab Four. Not to say that the Monkees didn’t have redeeming qualities--hell, I’ve hummed “Last Train to Clarksville” in the tub a few times. But when comparing “Daydream Believer” to “I Am the Walrus,” one will undoubtedly come up short.

This was how I felt eating lunch at Jinja Bar & Bistro. I went in hoping for Abbey Road and instead I got Headquarters.

Courtesy of Jinja Bar & Bistro

The theme behind Jinja Bar & Bistro is definitely intriguing. They boast a ’30s- and ’40s-era Pacific Rim itinerary, with inspiration from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. In theory, this kind of fusion is innovative for offering diners such a big bite out of the Orient. However, as I sat looking at the menu, I realized that meant an awful lot of different tastes and cooking styles to marry. And since there are so many variations from region to region, I wondered how practical their approach could really be.

The appetizers and entrées have generalized influences from each country the restaurant touts. Some tofu dishes and a miso soup stand in for Japan, chicken satay is popular in Singapore and Malaysia, spring rolls and shaking beef come from Vietnam, and pad Thai is from … duh. There are dishes like Hong Kong chicken and chow fun chili noodles with some decidedly Chinese names and ingredients. A few items on the menu are Asian by default, like crab cakes and rotisserie chicken with wasabi and teriyaki sauce added to make them conform. The menu draws the bulk of its weight from Western versions of the most generally well-known Asian dishes. In other words, there are no surprises, and the authenticity's spread pretty thin.

I ordered the Malay coconut soup ($3.75 cup or $5.75 bowl) for starters and got a pleasantly larger-than-expected portion. Unfortunately, it did not come with a spoon. I eventually flagged down my well-meaning but spacey server and received my utensil. Service here as a whole was tolerable but rather absent-minded. As I watched several employees wander around yakking on their cell phones, I was reminded that the place has only been open since September, and so they might not have a seasoned waitstaff yet.

My soup looked and smelled good and came with a side of fried wonton strips. But after a couple of bites I realized that much like the affected Asian TGI Friday’s-like surroundings, it was all show and no go. It was loaded with huge carrot slices and soggy udon noodles, and I found exactly one overcooked shrimp in the overkilled-with-lime broth. I was glad for the protection against a scurvy outbreak, but ready to hope the entrée I chose would be better. It wasn’t.

My jungle green curry ($10.50) had so many carrots in it, the orphaned four slivers of eggplant in my bowl seemed even smaller. The shrimp tally this time was eight (and they were 60/80s; an industry term that means it takes 60 to 80 shrimp to make up a pound, so they were relatively small), and the boatload of accompanying bell peppers and rice could have fed a small village. But the real kicker was that the green curry sauce had no discernible flavor of curry at all. In fact, it tasted remarkably like my soup.

Meh. I asked for a dessert menu, but I just didn't have the heart to bother. Piña colada cheesecake sounded a little too fern bar retro-trendy and I was ready to cut my losses and split.

Since knowing is half the battle, Jinja Bar & Bistro is to Asian cuisine what Chili’s is to Mexican food—a lesser version of the real thing. If you want to go out on a weekend night and toss back cocktails with little umbrellas in them and feel cosmopolitan because there's grilled pineapple in your rice, then this is your lucky restaurant. If you want a really good meal of Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese food, then go somewhere else. Yes, The Monkees had plenty of albums with songs that charted. But they will never, ever be The Beatles.

View Jinja Bar & Bistro in Alibi Chowtown calendar

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Jinja Bar & Bistro, 8900 Holly NE, Ste. B, 856-1413. Hours: Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri and Sat 11 a.m-midnight. Price range: moderate. No smoking, credit cards accepted, lots of booze.

Public Comments (14)
  • Have you ever seen the Monkees' movie Head?  [ Thu Jan 11 2007 1:44 AM ]

    It pwns on Yellow Submarine.

  • The Dolphin Song  [ Thu Jan 11 2007 12:59 PM ]

    From "Head" is a great bit of psychedelic pop. And that includes the remakes by Bongwater and Nobody.

  • Monkees v. Beatles  [ Thu Jan 11 2007 1:22 PM ]

    I have a philosopher friend (i.e. PhD in philosophy, concentration in aesthetics) who argues that the Monkees were better than the Beatles. I think his point is that the Monkees more perfectly encapsulated an idealized vision of the psychedelic era. Future historians, for example, might get a better picture of the time by examining what people wanted it to be rather than muddling through what it actually was.

    That's no excuse for too many carrots, though.

  • Hey Hey We're the Monkees  [ Thu Jan 11 2007 10:33 PM ]

    My Mom adored the Monkees. My Dad was a Beatles fan. I think that may have contributed to their divorce. Head--didn't Nicholson direct that?

  • Nicholson  [ Thu Jan 11 2007 11:08 PM ]

    co-wrote. Zappa was in it with a cow on a leash.


    Stones vs Beatles is the big feud, I've heard.

  • Mike Nesmith  [ Fri Jan 12 2007 8:47 AM ]

    was hot! Not Jesus hot, but still pretty hot.

  • Nesmith?  [ Fri Jan 12 2007 9:11 AM ]

    He sure got the jump on that year-round beanie cap thing. Still, people usually prefer Tork.

  • Mike Nesmith all the way  [ Fri Jan 12 2007 11:15 AM ]

    He was clearly smarter than those other goons. And he put up money to make Repo Man! A farsighted fellow.

  • Nesmith WAS the smart one  [ Fri Jan 12 2007 11:35 AM ]

    I saw an interview a few years ago where Kathy Griffin asked Mike Nesmith whether or not the band used to smoke grass on the show set. He stared at her in disbelief for a couple of minutes, which I thought meant he was shocked that she would ask him that. Nope. He said, "Of course we did." He was just surprised that anyone would ask him something that stupid and obvious.

  • Stones vs Beatles  [ Fri Jan 12 2007 11:37 AM ]

    The problem with getting into this is that the Beatles have a legacy thing--the Stones haven't stopped performing yet.

  • I would argue that the Stones  [ Fri Jan 12 2007 11:46 AM ]

    stopped performing music almost thirty years ago.

  • High Fidelity  [ Tue Jan 16 2007 7:42 PM ]

    I hate to go "High Fidelity" (John Cusack--a must see) but you have a legit point in that their earlier work may be marred forever by the fact that they just can't get their geriatric asses off the stage. I was at a stones concert back in the 90s, and I was the youngest one there (I'm 30). People seemed to be there for the essence of what they used to be. I respect that, but true grace is when you exit the party when it's time.

  • that's still no excuse  [ Tue Jan 16 2007 10:02 PM ]

    for too many carrots.

  • Aye Caramba  [ Wed Jan 17 2007 1:59 PM ]

    perhaps this comment belongs in the next issues' restaurant review section, but in the alibi Recommends: section, it was recommended to go to taco bell instead and get a coupla chalupas with an order of pintos and cheese and an order of cinnamon twists with a large Mountain Dew instead.

    First y'all disse'd the Ay Caramba for good reason, but it seems that you reverse disse'd taco bell. And why would you do that. Hey, I go to Taco Bell sometimes and I'm a native New Mexican. And I get the cheap stuff, too. like the tostada, bean burrito, soft taco. less'n 3 bucks for dinner or e.t.c.

    And you know what, I ain't been to Taco Bell since the "peojos" in the posole, or whatever the problem was, but someday I will go back and get my ususal. And the reason I will do that willingly is that I KNOW what I will get, how much it costs, and what it is like.

    Look, we all know that you need no culinary arts degree to be a "food-product assembler" at taco bell, but we all believe that the magic chile fairy flies the ingredients in fresh every day and alls they gotta do is stuff the tortillas or what ever with the usual goop.

    And it is going to be the same every time we go.

    except when they miss the tortilla completly and you get a wax napkin full a Taco Bell Goop!

    Yeaaaahhhh!!! for Taco Bell!!!

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