Long Overdue--Chinese Food 101 Report
Many of you provided invaluable input for my class last spring on Chinese regional food. Everyone had a great time, and the only difficulty was that we really couldn't eat as much as we wanted to. Our second or third restaurant each day always suffered because we'd been too gluttonous at the first. The kids who are now in college are pushing for a reunion during their winter break.
We began the course in the south with a Cantonese meal at Great Eastern (after watching the first episode of Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, which focused on China). At Great Eastern we had the Pacific Delights set meal, which is a bargain (B.B.Q. Assorted Platter, Shredded Dried Scallop Soup, Spiced Salt Baked Fresh Crab, Fried Squabs, Sauteed Fresh Frog, Sauteed Sea Conch & Scallops with Yellow Chives, Sauteed Soft Bean Cake & Chinese Mushrooms with Tender Greens, Steamed Fish, Dessert & Fresh Fruit), which I supplemented with the Stuffed Boneless Chicken with Sticky Rice. We also upgraded the fish from catfish to bass. I also increased the quantity of Fried Squab so that everyone could have a piece. The kids were great about trying unfamiliar things...everyone ate frog and jellyfish. I think the chicken and the fish were the biggest hits, though the chicken is so rich that I found it a bit overwhelming with all of the other food. We could have used a few more eaters!
I'll add information about the other places we visited as replies to this post. This should let me put up more pictures, and also save me from writing (and you from reading) the giant post from Hell.
In case you're curious, this spring I plan to offer a course on ice cream (history, chemistry, making, and eating), and I'm already planning a course on meat for spring of 2009.
Day One continued (yes, we had another meal--what was I thinking?!) at VH Noodle in Richmond at the Pacific East Mall. We ordered the Fried Shrimp Roll, Preserved Orange Skin Duck, Chow Jew Style Noodle Soup with thin egg noodles (yes, I made the kids try kidneys), and Combo Fried Pure Rice Noodles. It was, to be honest, hard to muster enthusiasm for food after the massive lunch number one at Great Eastern, but we soldiered on. The duck was nice, but I would have preferred a more intense spicing. I don't know this cuisine, so I'm not sure if that's really an option with this dish. The noodles here were great. Nice chewy texture, good broth, and lots of stuff (fish cake, kidneys, meatballs, etc.). It's become a firm favorite of my family since last spring.
Day Two was the day on which I learned that it is physically impossible to eat three lunches in one day. Part of the problem was that it was very difficult to explain at each restaurant that we really did not need a full lunch, because we had already eaten (or because we were about to go someplace else for lunches two and three). As a result, we wound up with far more food than we needed.
Our first stop was Legendary Palace for dim sum. Nothing too adventurous, as most of the kids were familiar with the pork bun to har gow end of the spectrum. They did at least try chicken feet (red), and many were surprised by how much they liked them. With the anniversary special running, we got out for around $60 for thirteen people!
After Legendary Palace, we wandered over to Spices! III for some Taiwanese action. Had pork chop noodles and fried stinky tofu. The stinky tofu defeated all of the kids, and I have to admit that it has yet to grow on me. Since we were there, I also got the fantastic fried chicken wings, which everyone loved (though many had tears running down their faces from the heat).
Day Two continued at Orchid Bowl/Macau Cafe in Richmond at the Pacific East Mall. We had the incredibly addictive roast pork belly, the Portuguese style short ribs (tough and uninteresting...totally western in flavor), the salted fish and pork rice clay pot, another dish I've forgotten, and some Macanese custard tarts we carried in from Sheng Kee Bakery next door. Despite the universal food coma, the kids magically found space for the tarts, which they loved.
Day three saw us finally moving out of the South. We started w/ Hakka items from Ton Kiang. We had the Ton Kiang Steamed Salt Baked Chicken (more steamed than baked, which I found disappointing, though it was tasty and well cooked), Steamed Bacon with Dried Mustard Greens (a huge favorite of mine), Housemade Rice Wine Sauce Beef with Pickled Greens, and the Ton Kiang Seafood Clay Pot. Ton Kiang was a huge hit with the kids.
After Ton Kiang, we went to Chifa Peruano, for a Peruvian take on Chinese food. I thought it would be nice for the kids to see how Chinese food is affected by the other cuisines it encounters as it travels around the world. We also watched some of the Chinese Restaurants documentary series, which included episodes on a couple of Chinese restaurants in Latin America. At Chifa Peruano I asked to have dishes that are the most popular in Peru. As a result, our dishes were pretty middle of the road--won ton soup, chicken fried rice, and Lomo Saltado. Other than the Lomo Saltado, this was time warp Chinese food that could have been served in the 1950s. The restaurant itself is also caught in a time warp, with wonderfully kitschy decor (the kitsch is, however, authentic and not ironic). Oddly, after appreciating the fine dining feel of Ton Kiang, the kids loved Chifa Peruano too. I think it was the comfort of the familiar in the food. One note of warning--Chifa Peruano has a stunningly wretched bathroom. So bad it's funny.
Because I'd learned my lesson (that three lunches is at least one too many), instead of dining at a third restaurant, I picked up thirteen take out orders of Henry's Smoked Ham from the Hunan on Sansome for the kids to take home for dinner.
An update for you regarding Golden Mountain in Hayward (in case you missed a previous post I made):
The owners did sell the business, no idea where they are. Although the online print versions of the menu does not mention Hakka specialty dishes like basil clams, pan fried stuffed tofu, range chicken truly salt baked, they are offered at the restaurant. The general consensus (and also a brief mention with my uncle who knew the owners and was a regular in the past, but no longer) is that 1) quality went down compared to the past 2) prices went up (no more discounts/discount coupons etc). I do hope this place is still better than Ton Kiang or any of those so called "Hakka establishments" all around SF.
Day four took us East and West. We started the day in the west with a trip to China Village in Albany. At China Village we had Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce, Szechwan Home Style Chicken, Widow Spicy Diced Rabbit to start. Our waitress insisted on the rabbit, and I'm very glad she did. It was my favorite of the cold starters and I now can't go to China Village without ordering it. It's a bony, oily mess to eat, but the bright flavor is entirely worth the effort. Not to be ordered unless you really like star anise.
We also had the West Style Spicy Fish Fillet soup, which is a great show as it is revealed from beneath a mountain of chilies. This soup really isn't very spicy--it tastes of the peppers without getting much of their heat. We also had a whole Tea Smoked Duck, and the Boiled Beef.
From China Village, we headed East (both in terms of Bay Area and Chinese geography) and had lunch number two at Lily's in Lafayette. At Lily's we had the Xiao Long Bao, Diced Sea Bass with Pine Nuts, Pork Thigh, Pork Meat Balls, Shanghai Rice Cakes, and Beggar's Chicken. The chicken was an impressive production and had nice flavor, but the meat was disappointingly dry. The Xiao Long Bao were merely okay, but the Pork Thigh was great, and the rice cakes were a big hit. Lily brought us a warm, sweet Shanghainese rice ball soup. I liked it a lot, but the kids weren't buying.