The new and exciting restaurants that have opened in the last several weeks can only hope to achieve the longevity of one of the classics, Mon Jin Lau. Established by Mon Chin in 1969 — she added her husband’s name and the word Lau (structure) to the title — it is still family run.
And it has much more than longevity to its credit. There’s also relevance. Mon Jin Lau is contemporary because it has kept up with the times, adding fusion dishes and sushi and continuing to refresh and broaden the menu while staying true to its Cantonese roots.
The Chin family coined the phrase “Nu-Asian,” years ago to describe their global approach, and that extends from the menu to a staff that has a truly international array of ethnic backgrounds. Some of the staffers have been there almost as long as Marshall Chin, who joined his mother full time at the restaurant right out of Wayne State University in 1972 and has been the face of Mon Jin Lau ever since.
The front dining room still boasts the original bronze, green and gold murals that resemble giant Chinese screens and are the perfect backdrop for the colorful cuisine. The second dining room, approached through the cocktail lounge and sushi bar, is known as the garden room for its tropical plants and big French door-style windows. It opens onto the larger of the two terraces. Fresh white glossy paper covers the well-spaced tables and cutlery comes wrapped in big white linen napkins. There are chopsticks for those who want them.
One of the outstanding dishes has been there since the beginning, the Cantonese classic shrimp with lobster sauce, delicious in any decade, joined by spicier dishes including kimchee crab cakes, chili pepper squid and ginger garlic eggplant, the latter one of several vegetarian choices on the menu. The hot-and-sour soup is one of the best versions I’ve ever had.
There also are the increasingly popular noodle dishes that range from pad Thai (rice noodles with shrimp and chicken) to pan-fried udon noodles with a spicy Sichuan sauce. The well-prepared fare from noticeably fresh ingredients is in the hands of two top chefs, one Korean and one Chinese, and their big international staff. Kaido Kwasny handles the creative sushi and sashimi offerings.
What the Chins have created over the years is a restaurant that is its own breed, erasing national boundaries in both menu and ambiance. It’s lively and convivial and the quality of the food measures up year after year.
On Wednesdays, party nights known as Shanghai Wednesday begin when music starts at 10 p.m. The concept was initiated by Bryan and Brandon Chin, the sons of Marshall and May Sue Chin, and is, yet, another way Mon Jin Lau stays fresh.
One more asset: Diners can depend on the doors being open 363 days every year. The only days Mon Jin Lau is closed are Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Mon Jin Lau
1515 E. Maple, Troy
Call: (248) 689-2332
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Tues. and Thurs., 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Wed., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri., 4 p.m.-midnight Sat., 4-10 p.m.-Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $2.25-$9.95, lunch entrees $12.95-$13.95, dinner entrees $12.95-$43, desserts $8.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and a notable wine list.
Noise level: Moderate to high
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers