Cedar Park borders Austin so much it can still nearly be considered part of our beautiful city, although popular opinion can sometimes run contrary to that claim. Even so, FM 620 near Lakeline Mall in Cedar Park has become a bastion, even an outpost if you will, of some highly praised local favorite restaurants — and Jenna’s Asian Kitchen is right up there atop the list.
While driving down the winding road packed to the gills with strip centers, gas stations, and car washes, Jenna’s Asian Kitchen looks like an unassuming, off-white building with careful detail to the storefront that you cannot really see from the street. We liked that, particularly because it struck us as a nice metaphor for this restaurant in general.
We were greeted by friendly staff, who invited us graciously into the wide open, modern, arty space. We had menus in hand and orders in after about five minutes, which was nice. Several items on offer that evening caught our eyes, so we dove in head first.
Before we knew it, deviled eggs with crispy pork belly landed on our table. Since we were in a tad bit early on a Saturday, we were still well within Jenna’s brunch hours. These deviled eggs seem to be a cornerstone of that brunch menu (and if not, they should be). The best way to take these on is to eat them in one bit. Their flavors and textures catch the tongue very well.
As we dug deeper into the appetizers, we came across salt and pepper baby octopus with fried jalapeños. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had an appetizer this creative. The octopus was certainly chewier than I was used to, but paired with the jalapeños and spicy aioli, you’d be hard pressed to find a starter this dynamic anywhere else.
Then we were hit with the appetizer bug pretty heavy, so we pulled for the red curry mussels and crab rangoon. We also tried out Jenna’s signature sake bloody Mary, another selection off of the brunch menu. The bloody Mary are usually not my thing; I usually find them too heavy. I’m not sure if it was the sake or something else, but this bloody garnered my seal of approval. It was garnished with the traditional leafy celery stick and lemon, and the upped the ante with a fried baby octopus, which was a nice touch.
The red curry mussels were a little less fishy than I expected, and quite good at that. The dish was very complex, featuring a delicate balance of grilled baguette, coconut milk, cilantro, and grilled lemon. You could have nearly eaten the red curry without the mussels and still have been satisfied.
This brings us to the crab rangoon. We were advised that they were made with real lump crab and Philadelphia cream cheese. You would think that’s somewhat common for this otherwise ubiquitous Chinese dish, but it is not. Most rangoon is made with imitation crab and a very low-grade cream cheese. The attention to detail in these make them a no brainer for first-time guests at Jenna’s.
Eggplant pork and honey walnut shrimp soon graced our table, to much fanfare. The E]eggplant pork also offered bell peppers and scallions, all fried in a fantastic garlic sauce. I’ve always loved eggplant and I’ve rarely seen it in this context. This dish was certainly a home run.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, they hit us with the honey walnut shrimp. The flavors in this dish were absolutely divine. I usually worry that the sauce could be overpoweringly rich in dishes like this, but that wasn’t the case at Jenna’s. The honey-lemon mayo coating the shrimp was similarly muted, but pronounced enough to be indelibly effective.
There was a time in which the “south Dallas” moniker south Austinites toss around to describe the northern part of ATX, but things are clearly changing. We’re starting to come into a post-suburbia period in places like Cedar Park and Round Rock, at least for dining options, and Jenna’s represents some of the best out there.
So, fear not, north Austin. Your go-to spot for crazy-good Asian soul food has arrived. Don’t miss it.