Ten things (plus one) learned at the Chowhound Chowdown
- Vital Information
1) I'm dopiest enough to post first
2) Zim likes a good tendon
3) Erik spells his name with a K
4) Seth has more weight at Piece than at Lao Sze Chuan
5) Good notes ensure good fish
6) Bruce knows all about chinese food in the north country
7) Zim and Seth keep Rene G's 26th street directory in their palm pilots, but Rene keeps a better pocket database
8) Cliff is much happier on a full stomach
9) Big bottles of wine are more fun to drink
10) If you do not speak cantonese, the chef does not show up at your table
bonus - Vital Information's true identity is Monica Eng
to all not there, we ended up in two tables. those not mentioned in this post generally sat in another table, VI
Oh yes, the food was terrific! Seth did a great job of picking a good variety of dishes.
The chef spoke Mandarin ;) And he explained that we were about 5 minutes late, that another big group came right before us, and the staff thought that group was us and gave our tables to them.
We at the other table (Thomas, Michael, Matthew, Erik, Mark, Mehir (sp wrong I am sure), Lee and Jess) talked about cooking and markets (Mark loves Marcy st. market in Sam's, Matthew shared finding wonderful wines at his local wine shop, we like Saveur mag. and are not at all sure about Gourmet any more).
The chef told us exactly which menu items we had, so I'll scan in the menus tomorrow (Tues) and post them. Also I'll post my pictures (including the mpeg of the chef on his TV show, which he played for us).
I must say that the best dish was the fish, and neither rabbit dish moved me - perhaps not boding well for any trip to El Conejo...
I agree with all that the food was terrific; but I am not going to let the staff off that easily about our reservations not being honored. I, for one, was there punctually at 7:00 or before. I asked the only staff person who would finally pay me any attention if anyone else in our group was there; he initially didn't seem to have a clue--confusion seemed to be the order of the day--although he finally consulted a writing tablet and confirmed for me that the chowhound group did indeed have reservations for 7:00. By this time, another 1 or 2 in our group had arrived (cliff or zim or both?), but the staff failed to take any action to have us seated or even offer any explanation as to what they were doing or what we could expect. We were essentially ignored. As you know, this continued for an extended period of time, even as the restaurant staff accomodated persons/groups who were showing up after us.
That said, again, the food was as good as any I've had in Chicago or New York or the North Woods (except perhaps what I cook).
First, i'd like to thanks Seth for the idea of the chowdown, putting it all together and dealing with the hassle when the restaurant screwed up our tables. Thanks seth.
VI, good summary of our table a few more notes:
1) Hyde Park is overrepresented in Chowhound's history (something for the U of C to advertise?)
2) Bruce knows how to use an epithet
3) never depend on LA Sze chuan to seat a large group when you have arranged for them to do so (unless POSSIBLY you speak the native tongue)
Also Lee, please don't post our pictures unless we all want the "Seth Zurer Piece experience"
Food notes in order of my take on general consensus of dish quality (descending order)
whole fish with tofu
Thanks Seth for reminding the staff that we had this coming. Whole tilapia and chunks of soft tofu cooked in a sauce with hot bean paste, fermented black beans, sichuan pepper, and leeks. Outstanding.
Tea-Smoked Duck. While a little dry and without the accompanying buns, the depth of flavor on this duck was really very, very good. Alone without the plethora of other dishes I would be very happy with just this dish.
Lamb with pure cumin. Is there "impure cumin?" stir fry of sliced lamb and scallions with plenty of cumin. Reminded Rene G and I of Indian flavors, but cooked more simply and freshly, also very nice.
Sliced Beef Tendon in hot chile oil. Remember this is my take. after a while I could have sat happily with this dish in front of me nibbling away. Nice (for me) mouthfeel, fairly tender with some resistance, good shots of chile and sesame flavors
Sauteed fresh pea shoots with Garlic. simple, fresh, tasty, not overspiced. very tasty.
Sichuan dumplings in hot chile oil. Oil was flavorful, dumplings were plump and tasty (though IMO could have been a little more assertive)
Dry Chili Rabbit. I was very excited when I saw this dish at other tables. It looked beautiful with its (no exaggeration) 40-50 whole red chiles. However it was not very spicy at all, rabbit was flavorful but a little dry served in bone-in little chunks, a little disappointing (I wanted hotter, I wanted to sweat, need water etc.)
smoked rabbit dish. Tasted very similar to sichuan smoked ham- good but not something that made anyone go wow
pretty tasty but not something that was head and shoulders over what you get and countless other chinese restaurants
The only dish I wouldn't be happy eating again was the soup-I thought this was pretty bland. I looked over their menu again yesterday and think there is so much there that we could probably do an entirely different menu and have another great meal.
I too would like to thank Seth for planning a wonderful dinner. Thanks to lee, as well, for bringing the camera.
It was great to finally meet all of you.
I hope that we can make these dinners happen on a regular basis.
Zim, your ordering of dishes according to preference (with accompanying notes) was right on. However, you failed to mention the Crab Rangoon. That's remissible, I guess. LOL!!
You're all very welcome. Thanks for all the ordering accolades. It was an excellent time, and I was delighted to meet everybody. I concur with all the previous comments on the food: I loved the tendon, thought the fish was superb, (although I wonder if it was actually Tilapia--isn't tilapia usually smaller and bonier?) and wished I had taken a more active role in discouraging the crab rangoon and wheat paste soup.
Kerensa, my girlfriend, who doesn't post on this board, and perhaps doesn't spend quite as much time thinking about food as I do, has been telling all of her friends about the good time she had with the group of twenty food-obsessed hounds: "I've never talked about food in that kind of explicit detail for such a long time before."
I hope that we'll do it again soon.
re: Seth Zurer
When the crab rangoon appeared (it was the first thing on our table) I asked the table "Is that crab rangoon?" Someone replied, "No- it can't be." But it was. Someone's being clever I thought. I'll still never crave crab rangoon, but it was quite good for that sort of thing as was most everything else we ate.
I've now eaten tendon and it was great. The tripe was good too. I still maintain the dumplings were fantastic even though the Trib panned them and a few folks at the table filed them in same category and class as crab rangoon.
I was really excited about the rabbit dishes which were unfortunately a low point of the night. The little bunny bones were too much for me and this is coming from someone who was disappointed the fish wasn't served with the the meat on the bone and the head intact so we could fight over who got to eat the eyes and cheeks.
Yes- the fish dish was superb! Not even on the merits of the fish itself, but because fish was the vehicle for that amazing chili oil, black bean and Szechuan peppercorn sauce. I too want to check out more seafood offerings. I'm a huge squid, octopus, and cuttlefish fan. Has anyone tried them there and what do you think? How do they pair with that fantastic sauce?
P.S. My fortune cookie said "You will inherit a large sum of money." If and when that happens, the octopus with spicy house special sauce is on me.