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Chowhound dinner @ Potluck Cafe (Long)

Prav Jun 14, 2007 08:31 PM

Though the last two arrivals are traditionally responsible for the write-up of Chowhound events, I thought I'd post a lil' something since each dish is fresh in my mind. We tried a new Fou Zhou style Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, Potluck Cafe. (7 Knapp St., 617-482-1188)

The food and company were wonderful. We decided to do a "Limster Omakase" - in that we entrusted Limster to order a spread that would allow us to get a nice culinary "glance" of the cuisine. After some back-and-forth wheelin' and dealin' by Limster and the staff, the treasures emerged.

Complementary "panchan"-style dishes of cold, brined chicken sections and lightly pickled vegetables were a nice touch. The chicken skins were quite tasty and chewy, with a strong salty flavor. The vegetables seemed to be shredded daikon radish and carrot - though I could be wrong.

We started with a fish soup that contained a Chinese squash (called loofah, if I remember correctly), sections of fresh tomato, and thin pounded medallions of mild fish. The broth had a very strong fish taste and aroma, which several of us were not used to. I'd never before seen these thin rounds of fish before, but they had a nice toothsome and chewy texture. The faint acidity from the tomato sections was nice but I preferred if the broth were a little less fishy.

Next up was a Fou Zhou style sweet & sour pork. Well-fried battered chunks of pork, with just the right amount of fattiness, were tossed with lychee and domino-sized rectangles of taro. The meat pieces had just the right chewiness. The sauce was darker than the normal North American neon-red sweet and sour sauce, and not cloyingly sweet at all. We all seemed to love this dish, as it was the first one to be finished.

Kidney and jellyfish. Large pieces of jellyfish, cartilaginous and with a very faint taste, tossed in a tangy sauce with scored slices of kidney and cauliflower. I was glad I was able to try kidney, but I can't say I'm a fan of this particular organ meat. The cauliflower was rather tasty and its ends soaked up the sauce nicely. The kidney had the bitter twang of urea which totally turned me off to it. I guess I've discovered I'm not a kidney person.

Lamb with mushrooms and red rice wine sauce. I liked this dish - fatty boned lamb chunks cooked in a pronounced dark red sauce, with complementing button mushrooms. The wine-yness of each bite was very prominent and tasted like an exaggerated coq au vin with lamb meat. The color of the dish was a brilliant and deep scarlet.

Thin vermicelli with minced pork (?) and vegetables. This was a tasty dish for its simplicity. I only had a couple bites of this, but I appreciated having it in our spread because of its subtlety, and plus, who doesn't love thin noodles?

Steamed whole fish. Our charming server presented this dish whose beauty was in its simplicity. She de-spined the fish with a grace that I could never match. Believe it was just steamed in a simple garlic/ginger/soy mix. Can't go wrong with this.

Oyster omelette. A plate-sized thin, round omelette bursting with oysters and some sort of crunchy greens, with the perfect balance of oysteritude (okay, I made that word up) and egginess. The egg seemed to be thickened with corn starch or tapioca, and was at just the right texture. It reminded me of the nice seafood pancakes one can get at any Korean restaurant. This one went quickly.

Bubbling stewed lamb hotpot. I loved these meaty chunks of lamb on the bone! It really had a homestyle rustic taste that brought me back to Nepali lamb stews. The true lamb flavor wasn't overpowered and was allowed to shine through. Apologies for not remembering more details about this dish - I was just enamored with the honest chunks of lamb. There were big chunks of tofu skin as well, which I'm not usually a fan of, but these were in just the right amount.

Peapod shoots. One of my favorite standard Chinese veggies, simply prepared in garlic and not overcooked. Each bite had a perfect amount of crunch - not mushy at all. I sort of wish they'd been cooked in minced garlic, as I'm used to seeing, but they weren't bad at all.

Eel with peppers. We all seemed to rave about this dish. Slices of fresh eel stir fried with spicy peppers - poblanos? The low-grade heat of the peppers was a welcome flavor among the subtlety of our other dishes' character. This was definitely a stand-out to me.

Crab with clear noodles. Presented beautifully in a bamboo steamer, a whole steamed crab was relaxing on a bed of clear noodles. These clear noodles were similar to shirataki (sweet potato noodles) or the Korean chap chae, and were studded with small mushrooms that resembled enokis. The crab's essence leached into the noodles to flavor them. They were absolutely delicious!

I feel like I'm missing a dish or two! There was so much - our cheerful waitress kept bringing dishes out. We ended with a "rice cake" dessert. They were graham-cracker shaped thin slices of pounded sticky rice, embedded with peanuts, deep fried and tossed in brown sugar. They were quite delicious.

I can't believe how wonderful all the other hounds were. The company was definitely the best part of the night. I'm so glad to have met all of you! We all seem to have unique and diverse backgrounds - I think that's why this board is so great. A big thanks to Limster for organizing this. Definitely one of the highlights of my time living in Boston.

  1. galangatron Jun 15, 2007 02:32 AM

    curious how similar dishes compare with counterparts at china gourmet. certain offerings (lychee pork, lamb) available as rich plates? didn't see on take-out menu. dessert either

    4 Replies
    1. re: galangatron
      fredid Jun 15, 2007 04:58 AM

      Hi all!
      It WAS absolutely a wonderful and fun eve of dishing in all senses....I believe great pictures of everything will be posted soon! Limster ordered off the specials board, but even the printed menus were huge, literally a hundred dishes it seemed, in this hole in the wall (well, small...)place..And dessert (and soup) were on the house - Our waitress (who you will meet in the photos) said they make a diffferent one every day! They enjoyed us and we enjoyed them..My one suggestion is this is a great restaurant for a group of adventurous eaters...Many of the dishes might not have been as fun if they were your whole plate, but were terrific as part of the smorgasboard (to mix a little Danish (?) in).

      1. re: fredid
        9lives Jun 15, 2007 08:23 AM

        Great report from Prav and Fredid. I'll add that this was a new cuisine for me. Never had any of the dishes..x the fish and pea pods. My favorites were the eel and the oyster omelette.

        Great group and thanks to Lim for organizing and ordering.


        1. re: 9lives
          Harp00n Jun 16, 2007 09:19 AM

          I feel sooo jealous after looking at your pics. I really do need to go to one of these Hound dinners for both the food and to meet some of the people who educate me constantly . Btw, I've looked at all 269 of your excellent pics, and they really are. I started that journey at 6'3" and 280. By journey's end I'd rocketed past 3 bills justing looking at all that gorgeous food!

      2. re: galangatron
        limster Jun 15, 2007 10:12 PM

        The rice plate section looks quite extensive; lychee pork is one of the offereings. Prefer it to China Gourmet, but haven't been to CG in a long while.

      3. Rubee Jun 15, 2007 09:46 AM

        Wow Prav - great report, you remembered even things I forgot!

        So not much to add, I think your favorites were the same as mine. I also really liked the duck dish. Great company, excellent selection of dishes as they were all new to me (except for fish and the pea shoots/stems), and our waitress was as sweet as could be with our rowdy fun group.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Rubee
          limster Jun 15, 2007 10:04 PM

          The duck was cooked in a sauce made with red wine lees, which is a signature condiment of Fuzhou cooking.

        2. StriperGuy Jun 15, 2007 10:53 AM

          Prav, great report, good to meet you.

          What a great meal.

          1. Niblet Jun 15, 2007 10:57 AM

            Nice writeup Prav! I loved the crab over noodles, and your description did it justice as did 9Lives' photos. Limster did a wonderful job ordering; it was a diverse spread. And only $18 a person! Thanks Limster, I really enjoyed it and it was great to meet everyone.

            1. b
              Bostonbob3 Jun 15, 2007 11:22 AM

              It was a really fun - and tasty - evening. Great to see some familar faces and meet some new ones. Thanks to Limster for putting it all together and ordering a great meal. I particularly loved the eel, and the noodles that were under the crab, soaking up all the crablicious goodness. The jellyfish was a fun little adventure (do I suck it? Chew it? Watch Limster and start to chew, Bobby!). I also happened to like the fish soup. Yes, it had a strong fish taste and aroma, but one that I enjoyed. And I loved the kidneys; nice and tender, not the typical rubber band texture. Actually, there wasn't a single offering I wouldn't try again.

              1. dchow Jun 15, 2007 01:45 PM

                prav -- great report with a fine eye for detail! good thing you typed it out as soon as you got home . . . i know i'd have forgotten. i loved the simplicity of the eel and peppers the most, i think. so nice to meet everyone. i'm suggesting a limster dinner at least once a month until he leaves us forever . . .

                p.s. striperguy -- went to yi soon first thing this morning and bought the chocolate cookies!

                3 Replies
                1. re: dchow
                  StriperGuy Jun 15, 2007 06:40 PM

                  Dchow, so were the cookies worthy?

                  1. re: StriperGuy
                    dchow Jun 19, 2007 09:17 AM

                    i wasn't sure which ones you were talking about, so i bought the two chocolatiest ones i saw (a light, airy cookie and a shortbread one with walnuts). i liked them both. perfect snacks. not too sweet. i was also tempted by the green tea butter cookies (very strong matcha flavor) and simple almond shortbread slices. i think my favorite, actually, was the almond cookie. i'm a plain girl and snacked on these with coffee. oh (now don't think i ate all of these at once), i forgot to mention some sort of flaky pastry (though more brioche in texture than croissant) filled with adzuki paste and a gooey rice cake. interesting, but i'd probably have preferred it without the rice cake. i just had to get it because they were bagging them right in front of me. cookies were very reasonable: $1.50 per bag and maybe $2 for the pastry. i think i did all right!

                  2. re: dchow
                    Rubee Jun 17, 2007 08:05 PM

                    "i'm suggesting a limster dinner at least once a month until he leaves us forever . . . "

                    Oh yah, that sounds great to me!

                  3. limster Jun 15, 2007 10:10 PM

                    Many thanks for the detailed write up. Was great to have a sizable group so that we could sample a bunch of dishes. I just ordered some of the basic dishes of the cuisine, and negotiated the rest with the waitress, asking for recommendations along the way.

                    I haven't been to China Gourmet recently, but if my past few experiences at CG were representative, Potluck is significantly better, with more flavour and better technique. I wasn't blown away by the kidney and jelly (even though I liked the jellyfish I thought that the kidney slices were not crunchy enough), but there was nice knifework in scoring the kidney slices.

                    I think my favourites of the evening were the oyster omelette, the eel and the steamed crab.

                    On the while I thought it was very good for what it was and the prices were very reasonable.

                    1. 4
                      4chowpups Jun 16, 2007 08:04 AM

                      Aargh, I am soooo jealous!!! I did see Limster's post but wasn't able to make it into town...next outing I'm in!!!! Thanks for the excellent pic's and reports!!!

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: 4chowpups
                        limster Jun 16, 2007 09:46 AM

                        There's still a lot of dishes to try, we only sampled some of basics. I do hope that hounds will go report back on other dishes, especially since the quality was not uniform. While we focused mostly on the Chinese menu on the wall, many of the dishes are also listed in the regular menu. You can also ask for the set dinner menus (on the other wall in Chinese) -- those list many Fuzhou specialities too.

                        1. re: limster
                          galangatron Jun 16, 2007 01:45 PM

                          would be nice if they just gave you the menus instead of assuming you're not interested

                          1. re: galangatron
                            limster Jun 16, 2007 01:54 PM

                            Sorry, I wasn't clear. They did give us all the menus, but we focused on the stuff written on posters on the walls. When I said " You can also ask for the set dinner menus" I meant you could order them -- they're in plain view on the walls but are in Chinese.

                            1. re: limster
                              galangatron Jun 16, 2007 03:38 PM

                              i meant in general and was speaking from personal experience

                              1. re: galangatron
                                limster Jun 16, 2007 05:13 PM

                                Woops, now I'm confused. There're probably two versions of the printed menu, both of which overlap substantially (one looks like a revised version of the other). If you were given a menu, it's probably one of those two versions. The rest of the stuff is on the walls (mostly Fuzhou specialities and set dinners) and there doesn't seem to be printed versions of those, although some of those dishes are in the printed menu. You mean they didn't give you a menu at all? Or is there yet another menu that we didn't see?

                                1. re: limster
                                  Bostonbob3 Jun 17, 2007 05:29 PM

                                  They definitely gave us menus at the table at the Hound dinner. In fact, I think there were 3 or 4 different ones. In any case, we were all quite happy to rely on Limster's recommendations.

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