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FeldmanFest at China Village (Albany, CA)

  • m

Friday night, Dave Feldman accompanied the Gang of 34 for a Sichuan banquet at China Village in Albany. The goal of the local chowhounds was to demonstrate that our own favorite eatery could hold its own and indeed beat out Manhattan's Grand Sichuan. According to Dave, China Village hit the target and more.

The menu, as revised and in the order of service, is listed below. The salon is open - please discuss among yourselves.

Six cold appetizers of the chef's choice plus special condiments shown in the picture below, from front to back - duck, jellyfish, cucumber in spicy garlic sauce, celtuce stems with red oil, light shadow beef, and pressed tofu with roasted peanuts, plus a centerpiece of rolled chicken, celery, fat choy, and bean curd.

Flash-sauteed geoduck clams with scallions

Shrimp "pasta" stir-fried with three flavors

Double-boiled herb and organic chicken soup with green spinach dumplings filled with ground pork and crab

Eight treasures duck

Stir-fried fresh abalone slices with oyster mushrooms

Water dumplings (shui jiao) with spicy sauce

Beef and enoki mushroom roulade with garlic spicy sauce

Chinese okra braised with golden sauce

Live Mandarin fish steamed with a blend of garlic, fresh chilis and pickled chilis

Glazed banana fritters filled with sweet red bean paste

Fresh fruit platter

Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

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  1. m
    Melanie Wong

    Something went awry in the kitchen with the planned dessert - I have no idea what happened or what was planned - but we were happy with the crackly glazed banana fritters filled with sweet red bean paste that they'd pulled together. Served flaming, this time the server was prepared with the ice water to crack the carmelly coating. "Estnet" said she'd been looking for these for more than 20 years since she had the apple version in Hong Kong.

    The fruit platter was a carved watermelon, done in tiki hut style at our table. The 'hounds ate it all while I was settling the bill - someone else will need to fill us in on the fruit.

    Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Wow -my first ch event - got to sit next to Melanie so I got quite an education. Met many wonderful people and as Melanie said - recovered a fond memory from many years ago. Had apples fried, then dunked in ice water MANY years ago in Hong Kong - both my children and I loved them, but when we returned to the states and asked were either told the restaurant didn't know what I was talking about or "labor costs too much here". These were served still on fire (blue flame) and Mr. Yao commented that it takes a very skillful chef because of the danger of setting one's arm on fire! (from the flambe part?)

      1. re: estnet
        m
        Melanie Wong

        Estelle, I got to sit next to you!

        I'm glad you caught the whole presentation and show. I was afraid that I might have had them extinguish the flames a bit too quickly. (g)

    2. m
      Melanie Wong

      The pickled chilis are housemade, brined for two weeks. Mr. Yao said this was a very typical Sichuan preparation, using a live freshwater fish with a blend of chili heats.

      Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

      8 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong
        d
        Dave Feldman

        If I could go to China Village right now, this is the one dish I'd most like to repeat. The fish was fresh and bracing, and steamed expertly in a Cantonese manner, but the combination of chilies made this dish for me. The photo and your description doesn't indicate so, but not all the chilies were pickled, were they? I could swear that some of them were standard red chilies that were fried along with the pickled chlies. I loved the crunchiness of the chilies and the pickly flavor they provided.

        It left me feeling refreshed at the end of the meal, rather than stuffed. This is what critic Robert Collin called a "Platonic dish."

        1. re: Dave Feldman

          I agree. I'd love to have this dish as part of a smaller meal where I could manage to eat more than a couple of bites of it!

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            m
            Melanie Wong

            Yes, this dish has fresh and pickled chilis in it.

            Mr. Yao said that they've been offering it as a special for about a month. So far, he said about 30% of the customers who try it, don't like it. No word on whether this is too high for it to continue in the repetoire. In any case, there's a good chance you can order this again.

            1. re: Melanie Wong
              d
              Dave Feldman

              Maybe you could share the feedback from CH'ers about the Mandarin fish. Along with the soup and possibly the duck, it seems to have gotten the most mentions as a favorite dish.

              1. re: Dave Feldman
                j
                Joan Kureczka

                I really liked this too. It was spicy, but not overpowering, and quite light after the previous dishes... sort of refreshing in a way.

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          although i enjoyed the chilis and the flavor of the dish, i thought the fish too bony for my taste. i think this stems from my childhood, so nothing i can do about it!! that said, the flesh of the fish was nice. i would have enjoyed the same preparation with a slightly more fleshier fish (maybe like garoupa or something?)

          1. re: vespaloon
            m
            Melanie Wong

            The live fish used for this dish is the aucha perch flown in from China. It is part of the food culture in several Asian countries. This is the first place I'd had it fresh, though I didn't grow up with it, there's something about the taste and texture that feels like a long-loved thing. Also, it's not muddy like other freshwater fish can taste.

            You might want to order the Mandarin fish with a sweet and sour preparation. It can be a whole fish, or for a premium, fileted and rolled up. The fish is deep-fried and then tossed with a beautifully sweet and sour sauce.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              the sweet and sour sounds delicious. although many restaurants typically make the awful gloppy stuff that is supposed to *cater* to *caucasian* tastes, i must say that a well-prepared sweet and sour sauce is tasty. my father used to make a really good one when i was growing up, so i have good memories of delicate sweet and sour flavors.

              thanks for the recommendation, melanie!

        3. m
          Melanie Wong

          Loofah aka Chinese okra braised in a thick, boiled down stock. To make the sauce to serve three tables, three chickens and 30 quarts of water with pork bones, dried seafood, and other goodies started the slow reduction process at 10:00 that morning.

          Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

          3 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong
            d
            Dave Feldman

            I was a little disappointed in this dish compared to presentations I've had in New York and Los Angeles. However, this was presented at the same time as the Mandarin Fish...

            1. re: Dave Feldman
              m
              Melanie Wong

              Actually, I was too, as I was expecting more intensity of flavor, a yellower color (from concentration), and more body in the sauce. Yet, as served, the sweetness of the loofah came through more directly. I enjoyed the leftovers of this very much for dinner the next day.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              i didn't care for this as much. kind of mushy, and the sauce didn't have much flavor, although my palate may have been tweaked from the earlier spicy things... i could see that this would have better flavor the next day, but i probably wouldn't order this on my own.

            3. m
              Melanie Wong

              The one truly spicy hot dish of the night.

              Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

              2 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong
                j
                Joan Kureczka

                Another real winner, this is one I'd like the recipe for. The thin slices of tender beef were wrapped around the mushrooms. This was an exceptionally good match with a zinfandel I brought.

                1. re: Joan Kureczka
                  m
                  Melanie Wong

                  Ah, and what zinfandel did you bring? Guess I should post a list of what we had at the other table myself.

                  The saucing on this dish was a little out of balance to my taste. The hotness in the end stood apart from the rest in a disjointed way for me. Loved all that garlic though, and was impressed that the enoki in the middle of those beef rolls were crisp and near raw - that's a trick.

              2. m
                Melanie Wong

                A gift from the kitchen in addition to the agreed upon menu - shui jiao with spicy sauce. I order this almost every time I eat at China Village, guess they thought I should have it at this banquet too.

                While it's not on the menu, just ask them to substitute shui jiao for the wontons in spicy sauce. No advance notice required.

                Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

                6 Replies
                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  d
                  Dave Feldman

                  Loved these dumplings. We were busy trying to figure out what these were ("These don't look like a beef roulade!).

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
                    j
                    Joan Kureczka

                    These were definitely another favorite. Many at our table remarked upon the sauce which included a sweet element in addition to the chili oil.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      r
                      Richard Sowalsky

                      The dumplings were so good and flavorful that they didn't need a sauce. But then, of course, we would have missed the terrific sauce. And that would have just been wrong. Very nice, indeed. Glad to hear they're available all the time.

                      1. re: Richard Sowalsky
                        m
                        Melanie Wong

                        I think the usual offering of these dumplings on the menu is just with a seasoned soy sauce for dipping and you can add some of the hot chili condiment at the table. But they are scrumptious with this sauce, aren't they? I may be mistaken about the name of the sauce - it could be "home made sauce" or "homestyle sauce".

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        and WHAT a gift these were!!!!! i have never had such wonderful dumplings. these were the lightest-skinned, tastiest morsels! and the chili/soy mixture that they were doused in was absolutely amazing. the kitchen really has a great hand with these. often doughy things can be a little heavy, but apparently not when done made by the experts. i could have eaten the hold plate of these myself. normally, i prefer pan-fried dumplings to boiled ones, but i would order these any day!

                        1. re: vespaloon
                          m
                          Melanie Wong

                          I've had more than my share of bad, heavy dumplings too, so I feel the same way! The handmade skins have a nice lightness to them - couldn't help but think about these again when I was eating thick, heavy pierogi last night. The quality of the shui jiao goes up and down with the various dim sum chefs, and the best ones were when Chef Liu made them (but I've only had his dumpling handiwork once). It's a good sign that the kitchen is turning out such good dumplings these days.

                          The seasonings are typical of the usual offerings on the Sichuan menu here. Complex, rounded, deep, and layers of chili flavor and not just heat.