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Jul 7, 2006 05:13 PM

Claypot in Albany Chowdown

18 hungry chowhounds gathered at Claypot restaurant on San Pablo in Albany for a Shanghai style banquet. It was lots of food, great company, lots of food, wonderful conversation, lots of food...
As always there was more food than anyone could possibly finish, but we did not want to miss any of the specialties from the cook. The dinner was truly an example of the slow-food movement...we were never rushed and the dishes came out one or two at a time giving us a chance to taste, discuss, deconstruct and enjoy. They had us sitting at a long table and a round one which we moved to put us closer. Wine (home-made!)was provided by chowhound Joel...thanks!!!!

For dessert Yimster brought a treat: Angry-Wife cakes (I think that was the name?)which were the perfect ending...

The dishes were preordered since some are not on the menu...all for $25 per person!

Here are the dishes we enjoyed:

Shredded fish and spinach soup (or west lake water shield soup if available!).

Xiao lung bao dumplings
Vegetarian duck
Shredded tofu and cilantro
Drunken chicken
Shanghai sweet and sour ribs

Five spice crispy duck
Bi feng eggplant
Sautéed eel
Shanghai braised pork
Ong choi with fermented bean curd
Three cup chicken
Squirrel mandarin fish
Shanghai meatballs (Lion’s Head)

Taro and sesame rolls

I will let people comment on their preferences...for me the three cup chicken was a highlight as were the cold appetizers.

Only one negative note. Two people who RSVP'd that they were coming never showed up. That meant that the rest of us had to pay extra since it was preordered and two people who would have liked to go (there was a long waiting list) were unable to attend. That is simply rude. In the past people who did this were excluded from future invites...

Pictures are at:

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  1. Thanks to our host and organizer, Marlon.

    My favorite dishes were:
    - Shredded tofu and cilantro
    - Shredded fish and spinach soup
    - Bi feng eggplant
    - Five spice crispy duck

    Enjoyable dishes were:
    - Vegetarian duck
    - Shanghai meatballs
    - Ong choi with fermented bean curd
    - Drunken chicken

    Not so great
    - The XLB were too salty for my taste. I've had better.
    - The eel and braised pork were served at the same time, and because the sauce was so similar it diluted the flavor of both dishes.
    - Squirrel mandarin fish was much too sweet for me.

    I met some nice people and enjoyed our food banter, of course! Joel's wine selections were enjoyable - very nice of him to continually refill our glasses!

    I liked the restaurant. Small and unassuming,

    1. Thanks again to Marlon for setting this up. It was my first Chowdown and look forward to many more in the future.

      I too really liked the Shredded tofu and cilantro, Five spice duck, shredded fish and spinach soup. I found their lion's head (Shanghai meatballs) to be quite good as well, unlike many other places which make it too salty.

      I liked the restaurant. It was one I've passed by numerous times but never really occurred to me to drop in.

      All in all a great evening, who can argue with great food and great company.

      1. Thanks again, Marlon, for organising. And to Joel for the lovely wine.

        I am gonna have to concur with both David's on the shredded tofu with cilantro, the five spice duck, the lion's head and the shredded fish and spinach soup. There was just a hint of heat on the tofu dressing that really brightened the dish. I liked the subtleness of the soup and how soft the fish meat was. The lion's head was good in that it was so dense. And the duck had that combined savory and aromatic qualities.

        I did think that the eel, pork, drunken chicken all came out in succesion and all had that cloyish, clinging sweet reddish brown sauce that it kind of deadened my palate. Those dishes would have been better served with other flavours or sauced dishes interspersed.

        However, all in all the place is a great find. And really enjoyed communing with other hounds....

        1. Funny, those of us at the "kid's table" (i.e. the round table added on to the long table) had some different perceptions of the food:

          Shredded fish and spinach soup - we did agree that the spinach soup was the revelation of the meal. It had just the right degree of "spinachness" to it that would please both fans of the veggie as well as those who are normally "eh" about it, with a subtle punch of heat from white pepper.

          5 spice crispy duck - tasted more like a very well-prepared cripsy chicken (though it was obviously duck from the color of the flesh). The flavors of it were surprisingly muted. It wasn't bad, but it tasted like chicken (which duck shouldn't).

          Squirrel mandarin fish - I agree with Yimster that the black seabass would've been better prepared in a steamed preparation rather than battered and deep-fried. It was amusing to hear Yimster & Joel debate who was going to get the fish head. Luckily, there were 2 preparations for the group....=-D

          Shanghai braised pork - who amongst us doesn't love pork belly??!!

          Kudos to Marlon for doing a tremendous job organizing this and putting together the menu, as well as to Carol & Joel for providing the cabernet & cabernet franc for us. As always, it was great seeing other CH'ers and sharing many stories (mostly food-based in nature). Cya at the next one!

          1. Thanks to Marlon for this dinner. I think of this particular Chowdown not as a dinner or banquet, but as an exploration of the capabilities and specialties of the restaurant. It was a lot of fun.

            My ratings are
            *** = would order again, very good
            ** = OK, good in context
            * = edible but not my favorite
            There was nothing that I disliked.

            Shredded fish and spinach soup: light and delicate, a beautiful jade-green. It seemed to have a good amount of white pepper. *

            Xiao lung bao dumplings: very juicy. ***
            Vegetarian duck: unusual, because most places serve a vegetarian Goose. This seemed heartier than the usual veg goose.***

            Shredded tofu and cilantro: not too exciting for me. *
            Drunken chicken: I thought this did not have enough wine flavor. *

            Shanghai sweet and sour ribs: Very unusual. The ribs were in small pieces, deepfried. But the sauce was more sour than sweet (a good thing); a good vinegar flavor. ***

            Five spice crispy duck: As Eugene mentioned, this was rather neutral-tasting. *

            Bi feng eggplant: Very unusual. Grenades of flavor, consisting of two pieces of eggplant sandwiching some sort of filling (fish paste), covered in breadcrumbs (Panko?) flavored with pepper, garlic and other spices, then deepfried. Most unexpectedly, there was a huge pile of extra breading covering the plate. It is not clear to me what one was to do with this material; it was too bready to be a topping for rice, though it was tasty on its own. **

            Ong choi with fermented bean curd *** nice bits of sweet red pepper. Also good as leftovers.

            Squirrel mandarin fish* I only had the crispy bits. Although I snatched the head away from Yimster, it turned out to be hard and bony (the head, not Yimster). The sauce was just OK. The crispy parts got soggy rather quickly. It was some sort of bass, and I think that kind of fish is better simply steamed.

            Shanghai meatballs (Lion’s Head): * the meat was coarsely chopped, not to my taste though I see how it could be attractive. I prefer the style where the meatballs are in a broth with noodles, and with a smoother texture.

            The following three items were, as mentioned, similar, and served together so that the effect was muted. They were all very salty.
            Sautéed eel ** The usual tender slender strips of eel.
            Three cup chicken *** Served flaming! With 110 proof Chinese sorghum liquor. You can see the flames in Marlon's photograph!
            Shanghai braised pork ** This had "knots" of bean curd skin mixed in. It had an unusual green herb in the sauce -- perhaps some sort of basil. Very tasty but too salty (even in leftovers the next day).

            Taro and sesame rolls *** Fried cylinders of taro, crusted with sesame at each end. Unusual; though I was full, I wound up eating a bunch of these.

            The service was great, but we were practically the only people in the place. Very sweet waiters and owners.

            Marlon did not mention that the $25 cost included the tip (they had included it in the overall price), and three five-dollar corkage fees, perfectly reasonable for a magnum and two bottles. It also included the cost for the two no-shows, so it would have been $22.50 if they had been there.