South Bay Chow Tour - stop 1 (long)
Stop number 1 on today's South Bay Chow Tour (wonderfully organized by Lambert and Melanie) was House of Yu Rong in San Jose. (I guess that's not counting the tamale detour, with Lambert or the quick & light breakfast at Boulange de Cole right before we took the train down.)
I ended up with the menu and was going nuts trying to decide what not to get. Lots of great stuff on the first page that is only in Chinese. I wanted to try everything. Good thing Melanie was on hand to provide guidance based on her recent experience (see link below).
On the whole, the flavors at Yu Rong were wonderful, the cooking very finessed but the heat level was very mild -- I regretted forgetting to request extra heat. But very enjoyable nevertheless and I'd strongly recommend this place. Overall, I'd rank this better than Little Sichuan -- more delicate dishes and a vaster menu.
We focused on the small eats since we had a heavy chowing afternoon before us and wanted to pace ourselves but still sample a variety of dishes.
Here's a tour of the spicy flavors we tasted (as well as some lighter non-spicy ones for contrast):
numbing and spicy rabbit cubes ("tastes like chicken") -- a dark red spiciness, littered with sesame fragrance and textures of peanuts and wilted scallions. Bone fragments made things a bit difficult, but I tohught it worth the trouble.
fragrant oil spring bamboo shoots with a light sharp snap
red oil dumplings - good stuff! heat from the red chilli oil is sweetened with a soy-based fermented sweet sauce. Lovely complexity of flavors backed up by well crafted dumplings. Probably the majority favorite this afternoon.
red oil clam slices - the red chilli oil here is light and lovely, dressing the crisp thinly sliced giant clams in an equally thin aura of spiciness
sichuan cold noodles - the heat adds to the slight sweetness of the aromatic peanut/sesame coat on the good chewy noodles. Much better than the one I had at little sichuan last week. Still, I'd hand a slight edge to the version at Sunset Star in the Sunset for the addition of bean sprouts to give a slightly fresh raw crunch for contrast.
garlic "mud" pork slices - spiciness here takes a garlicky turn with the deeper complexity of soy sauce. Added soft crunches from slices of chinese zuchinni (anyone know the right name for this?).
shrimp with spring onions - shrimps cooked just right, with a glistening resilence.
dry fried eel - clean flavors and a slight amount of heat, sweetened this time with peppers and onions
water cooked pork slices - a rounded rich spiciness littered with flakes of peppercorns. A good old sichuan standby succeeds pleasurably. At the bottom, scallions and napa cabbage for a soft vegetable crunch.
tea smoked duck - a supple earthy duck, with delicious depth and (in lieu of a better word) smokiness.
green peppers with potato -- good lightly cooked stripes of potato still left with an crunch not unlike soft apple
I skipped the dou4 hua1 a.k.a. tofu flower -- it's a typical szechuan dessert I believe, but also very common in SE Asia -- Lambert had plans for a good vietnamese version which we enjoyed later that afternoon.
Things that I'm still curious about:
the eight treasure tea (last had this back in Singapore...forgot they had this and ordered chrysanthemum tea which I thought was the closest approximation)
chengdu rice dumplings/balls
varieties of pig's blood
numbing spicy beef tendons
steamed twisted bun (in lieu of rice)
Once again, many thanks to Melanie and Lambert for picking this restaurant. This was a winner.
I enjoyed eight treasures tea in China two years ago and made my cousin bring me more last summer. I believe Ten Ren (in SF Chinatown and Pacific East Mall) sells it. It's definitely available for mail order from their website. Eight treasures tea is of Muslim origin, which may account for the date in the package. It's sweet but nothing like Chrysanthemum tea; there are actual tea leaves involved. The biggest ingredients are a sugar cube and a large floating hollow "nut" that resembles a bead. Perhaps someone else can explain what this is.
My friends in Beijing recalled the tea being poured as Moroccan tea is often poured--from a pot with a long spout like an elephant trunk, and from a great height.
Sorry I missed the pig's blood.
We didn't get the pig's blood either, but I'm scheming to try it the next time.
When I had the 8 treasure tea at a Szechuan place in Singapore, I didn't notice the prominence of tea leaves. Instead, it was primarily a mix of fruits, nut and chrysanthemum flowers. Perhaps I wasn't getting the real deal there or had missed it.
I had the 8 treasures tea at my previous visit and I believe it did have some tea leaves in it, although the other ingredients added sweet, floral and fruity tastes. Let's see, I think the treasures were red date, walnut, palm sugar, white tree ear fungus, monkey head mushroom, lotus seed, longan . . . and that's all I can recall.
What a terrific lunch! Thanks for taking charge of the ordering - we had a wonderful assortment of tastes. The quality of the kitchen shows here in that every dish had its own unique seasoning. Not being Singaporean, I felt the spicing was a bit warmer than "very mild", but certainly didn't hit the heat level I experienced on my earlier visit. I would have been calling for beer chasers! Maybe this is the lunchtime heat quotient.
The red oil clam (or sea snail) left the biggest impression on me for the delicacy of the flavorings. Such a light hand to add heat and spice but not overwhelm the natural sweetness of the shellfish.
I'm not sure, but the shrimp may have been fresh water prawns. Much sweeter and a more tender texture that reminded me of the ones that are netted in West Lake in Hangzhou. Wonder where they get these?
The camphor-smoked duck is the best version I've had on this side of the Pacific. A definite "must-order" for anyone dining here. Unlike many of them here, the skin was well-rendered and crunchy, meat was moist, and the flavors so complex.
The hot numbing beef tendons are prepared with saucing sorta in between the clams and the pork hock slices dish. Wonderful in its own right when I had it, but it would have been somewhat duplicative. The tendons are sliced very thing, almost noodle like and have a nice snap.
Lastly, I'll mention that the cost was $13 per person to try 11 different dishes. Such a deal!
re: Melanie Wong
I thought it worth mentioning that of the 11 dishes we ordered for lunch, only the smoked duck appears on the English language menu. The menu has recently been reprinted and the translation of the Sichuan specialties has been eliminted now appearing only in Chinese. This is really a shame because these dishes are the best work of the kitchen and are the real taste of Sichuan cooking. To my palate, this has been the best example of Sichuan cuisine I've found to date in the Bay Area.
Readers of ChowNews will soon receive a translation of the Chinese menu in a future issue. If you don't read Chinese (like me), this is the key to opening up the best Sichuan food available locally. Isn't that a good reason to subscribe today? You can sign up at the link below.
Also, here's a note I received by email from another fan of this restaurant.
"There's an item on the "specials" menu that we've recently discovered: suan cai ju hong - "sour vegetable pig red": an oblique reference to tasty slices of congealed pork blood, sautéed? with pork and preserved vegetables. The flavors of the dish are very much like the numbing spice of the water cooked pork slices - probably wouldn't order both dishes at the same meal,
unless there were enough people at the table."