When I first visited Bistro Na's in late 2016, as I wrote in Menuism and L.A. Weekly it was more about the significance of the restaurant's opening itself, as the first conspicuously upscale Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley, the first restaurant to offer Imperial Court style Chinese cuisine in the United States, and the first U.S. branch of a widely known Mainland Chinese restaurant chain. Now a year and a half later, I returned to Bistro Na's, this time reporting on the wonderful menu and ambiance they have created.
Back in 2016, Bistro Na's was as much about its quirkiness and doubts about their concept as the food itself. Walking into an empty restaurant on a weekday afternoon, we were told by a waiter that we could not be seated because because we did not have a reservation, though we were eventually seated by another hostess. Similar tales were reported on the internet, but with rejected diners saying they merely went back to their car, phoned in a reservation, and were then seated. Meanwhile, though the food was excellent and the decor was outstanding, the overshadowing elements were the emptiness of the restaurants, and the fact that what small crowd was in fact in the restaurant was comprised mostly of female diners, which led me to speculate that the restaurant was a meeting place for the Rich Housewives of the San Gabriel Valley. But the lack of clientele was particularly troubling since the typical pattern for newly opened San Gabriel Valley restaurants was for the restaurant to be packed by looky-loos in its opening days, with the true test being how many of the grand opening diners would ever come back. (The best example of this was Singapore Leaf in Alhambra which was packed with overflow crowds when they opened, but out of business within three months.) So if Bistro Na's couldn't even get looky-loo's in the door when they opened, what chances would they have for long term success?
Indeed, Bistro Na's has survived, and on this follow up visit to Bistra Na's, I'm pleased to be able to focus on the food, and I'm equally pleased to report that this is truly a gem of a restaurant. The restaurant was packed, albeit we did go on Father's Day, with people waiting to get in. Everything that we ordered was a winner. The most highly decorated dish on the menu was the crispy shrimp and did not disappoint. Light, crispy and delicious, shell and all.
Sometimes it pays to go with a staff recommendation even though it may sound improbable at the time. The lotus stuffed with sticky rice was a complete surprise, both in appearance in flavor. Not a bland vegetarian dish, but instead a tasty combination highlighted with a sweet cane sugar sauce.
Another surprisingly delicious dish was the fried tofu with vegetable, with the vegetable comprising one edge of the fried tofu stick.
The staff also recommended the bean curd skin salad. While variations of this dish are commonplace in non-Cantonese cold table displays and restaurant menus, the taste of cumin sets this version off from the others.
Having been put off by too many gamey tasting Western lamb dishes, it was with trepidation we ordered Bistro Na's crispy lamb dish. Wow! If this wasn't the best dish of the meal, it was certainly close.
We needed a dish to round out our order, but a couple of other choices were unavailable, so we "settled" for the ordinary looking cold steamed chicken. Good thing we did because this was as good as this dish gets.
If the crispy lamb wasn't the best dish, then the prime rib was. I typically don't take prime rib over a good steak, but if every prime rib were like this I certainly would.
While we didn't order anything off of the official dessert section, the fried rice cakes with condensed milk certainly served the purpose. And condensed milk certainly makes anything taste better.
By Chinese food standards, Bistro Na's is pricey. But compared to Western restaurant serving similar or analogous items, around $150 for these items were a bargain. Nobody outside of the Chinese community seems to know about Bistro Na's, and a lot of people in the community don't know about it either. But if it's hidden, it's certainly a hidden treasure.