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
Shredded tofu and cilantro
Shanghai sweet and sour ribs
Five spice crispy duck
Bi feng eggplant
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: http://share.evite.shutterfly.com/act...
Thanks, for hosting this event. I agree with most of the post.
Large Mouth Black Bass is a wonderful fish if steamed or the flesh is quickly stir fry, but not deep fried. Also the head is not very good in that it is hard and does not have a lot of meat. I was not planning on eating this head. So if Joel notice I did not even try to take a head.
Everything was good, expect for the xlb's and stir fried eel, where the shitake mushroom and bamboo shoot were cut to size of the eel. This made it hard to tell what was eel and what was not.
The cake was a "Old Wife's cake" glad it was enjoyed.
Earlier in the year, many of my fellow wine-geek friends/acquaintances did 2 offlines there (not chowdowns because these were put together through the Wine Therapy website and private email). Our friend, Christian, was the one who turned us onto Claypot as an offline venue. Neither time did we pre-order, but ordered off the chalkboard and from the regional specialities on the printed menu. We were quite pleased by what we had. I'm not as experienced in the finer points of Chinese cuisine, but it did get two thumbs up from Byran Loofbourrow (my go-to Chinese food expert). The last offline had 10 of us, 16 btls ($80 corkage) and the bill was stupidly cheap at $20 a head with tax. We happily left $30 each.
The one thing I loved was that we weren't hurried or rushed as at some Asian restaurants. We were there 3-3 1/2 hours each time. As long as we kept ordering food, they were happy to have us there.
Well I enjoyed my first chowdown--thanks to everyone for making it fun and giving out suggestions for other great dishes at their favorite spots. Special thanks to Marlon for organizing and to Joel for the wine and yimster for the Angry Wife cakes.
I agree with the other posters who found many of the dishes too sweet, but I have rarely met a Shanghai-style brown sauce that I've really loved. The cold dishes and the soup were my favorite items. I particularly liked the shredded tofu and cilantro--it had a good balance of flavors and the texture of the shredded tofu was firm enough to give it a satisfying bite. The shredded fish and spinach soup was also good--the fish had a nice, soft texture and the soup had a nice balance with a slight spiciness. To me, it didn't taste at all like spinach, but the bright green color the spinach imparted made it fun. I also enjoyed the drunken chicken and the crispy duck, although I didn't taste any five spice in the duck and the skin was not all that crispy.
I did enjoy the Lion's Head and the Bi-feng eggplant. The Lion's Head had a good flavor and were very soft in texture. The eggplant was the epitome of a breaded, fried item. It had very little eggplant flavor, but the slight fishy flavor was appealing, as well as the coating with included spices and sesame. I also enjoyed the ong choi--the fermented bean curd gave it a nice, savory flavor and it was a wlecome break from the sweeter dishes.
Thanks Marlon for organizing this dinner.
Bi Feng Eggplant - They didn't even taste like eggplant which is a plus for me.
Shreded Fish and Spinach Soup - the white pepper made the dish
Taro and Sesame Rolls - these were amazing. I'm surprised I've never had these before.
Angry Wife's cake that yimster brought
On Cai - needed more of the fermented tofu
Lion's Head Meatballs - I prefer mine with bits of something inside to make it more texturally interesting.
Xiao Long Bao (the wrapper was shriveled up, not that much juice inside)
Squirrel Mandarin Fish (wrong fish, a little too fried)
I enjoyed the dinner, but I thought most of the food was only okay.
As others have said, the soup and the cold dishes were very good. I thought most of the other dishes were so-so. The only one I'd order again was the Lion's Head meatballs, which were perfectly to my taste (lots of ginger, little five spice/anise). Oh, the on choi was pretty good, and the taro sesame rolls were tasty, although they were too oily and wouldn't have been enjoyable if they weren't piping hot.
I was particularly disappointed with the pork belly (for one thing, I was expecting the trotter). I thought it was overcooked, tough and dry, when it should have been tender, melting and, to use Melanie's favorite word, unctuous. The chef is trying hard, but I'm sorry to say I think his skills just aren't at a high level.
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.
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!
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....
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.
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,