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China Village - Sichuan banquet (long!)

  • c

We got a group of 10 together last night and had the
$198 banquet menu (for 10) at China Village (I've linked to our first chowdown report below). Made reservations and discussed the menu with the owner about 3 days in advance.

All in all it was really good, very spicy, tons of food (and of course we ordered a few items off the menu too, because we couldn't help ourselves!):

Most of these items are on the menu - make sure you ask for the Chinese/Sichuan menu or you'll get the more mainstream menu - the menu is in English although translations aren't always quite right, especially for types of meat.

The owner, John Yao, is very helpful in deciphering the menu or helping to plan your meal. The other staff may be helpful, but you have to really ask the right questions.

I've noted which items aren't on the menu, otherwise have listed the name as it appears on the takeout menu I have.

Everyone else who was there, feel free to jump in with your take (and any corrections too!)

Menu consisted of 10 dishes:

1. Six cold appetizers:
sliced side pork with spicy garlic sauce
spicy combination (aka husband and wife - beef/tripe) cucumber with garlic sauce
ponpon chicken (aka bonbon)
jellyfish salad
some kind of ribs

The handsdown favorite was the pork with spicy garlic sauce - for the sauce! The cucumbers are a nice cooling touch, although the sauce can vary (it was really heavy and garlicky the first time we had it and a lot less so this time). Jellyfish still isn't a favorite of mine, but I liked this version better than others I've had - thinly sliced and tasty sauce.

2. sauteed calamari with scallops - very tender, not chewy calamari, not spicy at all, nice contrast to everything else. (don't see on regular menu)

3. dry cooked shredded beef - really flavorful strips of beef, almost beef jerky like - but better. This also had Chinese celery strips (and strips of jalapenos, if you weren't careful you'd chomp on one of those expecting celery and surprise!)

4. Buddha delight soup - with dry scallops, dry squid, quail eggs, virgina ham, bacon, pork hock, bamboo shoots, chicken in chicken broth - complex soup that cooks for hours, but not a hit at least on my side of the table, almost had too much stuff in it, esp. for those tiny soup bowls - not spicy - don't see this on regular menu.

5. smoked tea duck. this was better than last time ie less dry, but we're starting to get full now ..... must keep eating ... The owner keeps mentioning we must try the beer duck, something about using lots of bottles of beer to cook it? It might need to be ordered in advance (don't see it on menu - beer duck that is, the tea duck is on the menu).

6. Chen du style shrimp (hot spicy fried whole - heads and tails included - prawns) - very spicy yet addictive - some couldn't eat it at all 'cause it was so spicy, yet it was a big hit with the spice lovers and since it was battered it made eating the heads a little less intimidating for those who are sqeamish about such things

7. chili sauteed mustard greens - good but not as flavorful as earlier in the season (a la last dinner) -bit of a spicy bite.

8. instead of the usual steamed mandarin fish that comes with this menu, we substituted spicy tofu with fish fillet. We'd asked for a dish that was 'ma la' or numbing spicy hot cause we'd thought we wouldn't have enough spice (ha!). Melanie called this 'red hot pot of death' (or was it fire?!) as it came to table in big soup tureen filled with red hot liquid (lots of chili oil), perfectly cooked moist fresh fish fillet chunks, soft tofu, leeks and more. It was really delicious - I'd order this on its own. Was kind of sorry I was way too full to do more than just taste this. (did I mention we started the night out with desserts and tea? more to come on that from Windy...)

9. sesame flat bread. John offered us either two orders of this or one order of this and one of dumplings. It's really good but seems to be inconsistent - sometimes it's not cooked all the way thru and can be gummy - but it's still pretty darn good, esp. leftover and heated in your toaster oven.

10. and for dessert, eight treasure rice cake - had lots of 'treasures' nuts, dried fruits and rice and pineapple and orange segments (and no those red things on the plate weren't chilis.... just maraschino cherries!)

And if that wasn't enough we also asked for some 'long life' noodles - and got some kind of noodle soup - we asked for just a small amount for each of us, but got a whole soup pot - not sure which one it was or how it's listed on the menu.

And to make Derek happy ..... dry cooked tripe. In the post below I think we referred to it as fire bursted tripe. We ordered that last night and got a totally different beast - more stewy and saucy (the only dish we either didn't finish and didn't take home), not crispy and chewy. So for the crispy/chewy version, ask for 'dry cooked' - it almost tastes like bacon it's so smoky.

Lots of care was taken with presentations, garnishes (little butterfly carrots (or were they moths?!)

We had piles and piles of red chili pods left over! Did anyone get all of these to take home?

The only complaint I heard was that the food's a bit salty - but as Melanie pointed out, it plays off the heat better that way.

Ok..... next?!

China Village
1335 Solano
Albany, CA
510-525-2285

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. I don't think I'm going to be hungry for days -- physically yes, but psychologically I'm completely sated.

    The growing pile of chile pods became a running joke -- the number with the Cheng Du prawns was particularly impressive. Although we eyed them with concern (not only were they literally buried in chile pods, but the light batter had a suspiciously orange cast), the prawns were addictive the way hot food can be -- if we were hungrier we probably would have scarfed the whole dish.

    I think my two favorites were the "red bowl of death" (tofu fish stew) and the sliced pork in spicy garlic sauce (I think I could eat an old boot with that sauce -- nice that I don't have to!). The dry fried beef and the squid dish were another two I'd definitely order again. The squid in particular showed off the difference between food prepared by a cook and a highly trained chef: the squid was scored so that each piece fluffed up into an amazingly tender little ball, and the presentation of the basically white dish (squid and scallops in a light sauce) was enhanced by a few pieces of bright green broccoli around the edges and a sprinkling of the carrot butterflies across the top -- I hope there's a good picture! Unfortunately I think this was one of the few dishes we had that wasn't on the regular menu, but based on this dish I'd certainly try any squid dish on the menu.

    Thanks again for putting this together, and letting me highjack the evening for Melanie's birthday!

    BTW, this restaurant is the perfect example of the value of Chowhound: how else would we have found a certified Sichuan specialist chef trained at the Grand Hotel in Beijing hiding out in an unassuming neighborhood restaurant in Albany! Especially since you have to ask for the right menu. The owner is missing a bet: if he advertised that they were serving genuine Sichuan food prepared by this level of chef, every foodie in the area would be beating a path to their door. Instead, this place looks no different than any of the couple of dozen other Chinese restaurants within a one-mile radius.

    16 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I got the leftover chiles (I mean prawns), and they were even better cold the next day. Each bite was a combination of pain and pleasure... Now what to do with a whole container of marinated peppers, aside from letting them leak all over the fridge.

      Not sure if it was all the teas or the wine tasting or 10 courses of spicy food, but this meal induced a pretty serious food coma right around when the pot of peppers arrived.

      1. re: Windy

        Boy, I love this restaurant. The pictures to follow are of the things that were new to me this time.

        This one is the unnamed rib dish that was part of the assortment of cold appetizers. I didn't think it was that tasty, but it sure did photograph well!

        Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/cvc...

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          This is the delicate squid and scallop dish that even Ms. Ruth "I don't like shellfish" Lafler couldn't resist. Note the cross cut calamari tubes.

          Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/cvc...

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            This is the dry shredded beef with Chinese celery and lots of red chilis. It was ma la, numbing hot. I loved the contrast of textures in each bite, the bubbly fried surface vs. the chewy almost jerky-like beef.

            Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/cvc...

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Here's the before and after on the Chengdu style prawns so that you can see how many chilis went into this dish. We asked the owner how much dried chilis the place uses. He estimated 20 lbs/day on weekdays and 30 lbs/day on the weekends!

              Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/cvc...

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Here's the red bowl of death. My mom got scared this weekend just looking at the picture! Yet, underneath that layer of floating red chilis was a concentrated fish stock with silky fresh filets of Mandarin fish, soft tofu, and leeks, as you can see in the individual serving. I got to take this one home and very much enjoyed the leftovers (consumed with lots of ice water). Another ma la seasoned dish.

                Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/cvc...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Instead of birthday cake, Chinese commemorate each year with "long life noodles". The version here was excellent (and not on the menu - ask for it). The knife-cut noodles are housemade. The very flavorful soup was full of mushrooms, wood ears, seafood, and other goodies, and while there were no chilis, it did have lots of numbing Sichuan peppercorn. Windy and I marvelled at how we'd lost the sensation in the tips of our tongues.

                  Yet I still had the chance to blow out a birthday candle. This is atop an eight treasure rice cake - one of the best versions I've had. It looks small, but is very rich with many different sweets. We didn't finish all of it, and I was happy to enjoy the rest a few days later.

                  Thank you all for helping me celebrate!

                  Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/cvc...

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    The noodle dish was delicious, although we were so full I think most of us only had a bite or two.

                    We had asked for just a symbolic serving of "long-life" noodles, and were rather daunted by the appearance of another large tureen with full servings for ten!

                    BTW, did we mention how much this cost? I don't remember exactly, but with tax, tip and some beverages it was under $30/person, $28 I think, for more food than 10 dedicated chowhounds could eat.

                    Not cheap, but a good price-to-value ratio.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              Good picture, Melanie -- you can see the scored squid balls and the butterfly carrots I described in my comments.

              BTW, I've narrowed my dislikes from "shellfish" to "bivalves" -- but since I've liked the last two scallop dishes I've had (this one and one at Piperade) I may have to junk that until-now-precise term as well.

              I don't think I'm ever going to like mussels, but maybe if the Chowchild invites me to his next mussel feed I'l be won over.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                m
                Mother of Chowchild

                "I don't think I'm ever going to like mussels, but maybe if the Chowchild invites me to his next mussel feed I'l be won over. Ruth: You have Chowchild's mother's permission to take him w/ you next time you're in Pescadero. He's still young enough not to need a fishing license and I'm sure he'd love to show off his cooking skills. The only part he disliked was scrubbing the shells so he'll try to coerce you into cleaning. (I've got to admit--they were gross.)

                1. re: Mother of Chowchild

                  Re: scrubbing the wild mussels, be sure to let them soak for a good amount of time in fresh water. Then, don't bother trying to debeard them, just get the sand and gunk (forget the barnacles too) off the shells with a stiff brush or scrubber. I prefer them to look like they're wild-harvested and not cultured.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
                    m
                    Mother of Chowchild

                    Now you tell me! (g) Good advice for next time. Speaking of next time--why don't you go with Chowchild and Ruth on their mussel mission? You taught him well his first time and I'm sure he'd love an outing with his 'aunties'.

                    1. re: Mother of Chowchild

                      The mussel season ends April 30, not much time left.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong
                        m
                        Mother of Chowchild

                        He's got his sweatshirt on and is waiting by the door for the ChowCruiser!

                2. re: Ruth Lafler
                  c
                  Caitlin McGrath

                  "BTW, I've narrowed my dislikes from "shellfish" to "bivalves" -- but since I've liked the last two scallop dishes I've had (this one and one at Piperade) I may have to junk that until-now-precise term as well."

                  Ruth, I'm right there with you (almost): I love scallops and always have, but I really don't care for the other bivalves. I may need a revelatory crab experience like yours to convert me to a crab lover; I don't dislike crab, but it doesn't appeal to me much. Other crustaceans, and cephalopods, make me very happy.

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    There you go again, showing off your superior taxonomy skills. (vbg)