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Oct 8, 2007 08:56 PM

Lily's House in Lafayette (split from the 2007 Chowing with the Hounds Picnic report)

Note: this post was split out from the 2007 Chowing with the Hounds Picnic report by the moderators--that thread is here:

It's been years since I've gone chowhounding with the SF hounds; this was just like the good old days, which I miss terribly.

Lily's was great. Thanks to Melanie's guidance and a bit of negotiating with the chef, we hit on some excellent Shanghainese small plates; the standout was the smoked fish, which exceeds any version I've had in this country -- it was exceptionally sweet and crisp. Mock goose, wine poached chicken and kaofu were also very well made.

I was also very impressed with the dragonwell shrimp; despite the faintness of the dragonwell flavour, the curls of shrimip were impeccably cooked -- full of shrimpy sweetness as a counterpoint to the dipping black vinegar, and perfect, delicate succulence.

The beggar's chicken might have been tad overcooked, the flesh not as tender as it could have been. But the aroma and the deliciousness of the stuffing were unimpeachable -- I especially liked the mushrooms and the dried scallops.

Xiao long bao had good skins, but a notch below the delicacy of the ones at Su Hong in Palo Alto whch I had years ago. The merit of their rendition, however, lay in the quality of the filling and flavourful liquid.

Dessert were elegant glutinous rice dumplings cooked in rice wine with a lingering sweetness of osmanthus flowers.

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  1. The two times I had their Beggar's Chicken I discuss the cooking time with Chef and he inform me five to six hours in a 300 degree oven. I have made it myself two or three times and have reduce the cooking time to about 2 and 1/2 hours with the Chicken in the oven for half and hour later with the heat turned off. Results was chicken was not as done. The first time I did two hours without sitting and it was on the rare side. Then again it will depend on the oven.

    I agree that the smoked fish was outstanding. Would have loved joining you but I can no longer eat that many meals in that short of a time period.

    So much food and so little time.

    1 Reply
    1. re: yimster

      Most restaurant ovens will run 25 degrees higher than your average home oven. Try 325 instead of 300.

    2. That smoked fish was amazing. So very, very, very good.

      I thought the dark meat chicken was good, but the white too dry. But then, I'm not a white meat person in any case.

      Sadly, the soup dumpling I got had already been torn and I got no soup. It was tasty enough as a dumpling, but not truly special because of that.

      The one dish that really surprised me was the 'vegetarian goose'. It sounds revolting. It looks revolting. It tastes ... pretty good.

      1. I thought the beggar's chicken was a little dry as well, but I'd go back just for the Dragonwell prawns -- they were so delicate and yet flavorful!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          What makes them Dragonwell--are they cooked or marinated in tea?

          1. re: Windy

            I believe they're stir-fried with the tea, but could be wrong.

        2. Limster, it was great to chow with you once more before you depart our shores. Thanks for being persistent and ordering in advance with the chef. This was my fourth time to Lily's House and it has become my top pick for Shanghainese cooking among the places I've tried in the Bay Area. The smoked fish, the longjing shrimp and the tang yuan mochi dumpling dessert are my favorites here and it's great to share them with you. I thought the drunken chicken was particularly good this time as well.

          I should mention that the xiao long bao took some pleading on your part, as the chef usually farms them out. His own craft is so much better and fresher.

          We tried again to get a handle on what other delicacies to request of this talented chef. His wife provided a listing of some of the items that can be special ordered, some of which we've already tried. But one that I haven't had yet is the shrimp with eel, so maybe for next time. In my brief parting conversation with him as we prepared to leave, he said that he could make any xiao chi from Liu Bo Long in Shanghai that we might desire. There's a lightness to his touch that I'd love to test out on some Hangzhou specialties too.

          Here are the photos of the beggars chicken:

          Resting on the table where the owners' children play and do their homework -

          Lily starting to attack the hard baked covering -

          First glimpse of the chicken unbundled from the fragrant lotus leaves, foil, and baked flour crust -

          Removing the breast bone and leg bones from the baked, stuffed chicken -

          Past reports -

          Lily's House
          3555 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549