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China Village Chowdown - 11/4/07

Forty (!!) hounds gathered at this fabled Sichuan restaurant in Albany today with one purpose - to put a new kitchen through its paces by testing out old favorite dishes and sussing out new ones.

Melanie had us divide into two "teams" named after cities in Szechuan province (Chongqing and Chengdu), each comprised of two tables of ten. Each team coordinated its ordering in order to have as little overlap as possible.

We began with a common set of cold dishes:

#2 Spicy conch
#4 Spicy beef tendon
#8 Homestyle chicken
#13Widow spicy diced rabbit
off menu - Shrimp with mustard sauce
off menu - Fresh green beans with garlic sauce

My table (Chongqing table B) also had the following:
#45 Twice-cooked pork
#56 Steamed Spare Ribs with 5-spice ground rice
#122 Cumin Lamb
#150 Charred stir-fried cabbage
#192 Zha jiang noodles
#214 Lamb dumplings
#216 Sesame flat bread
#217 Water dumpling with hot oil sauce
Off menu: water boiled eel
#31 Flower bean curd
#78 Chongqing chicken wings
off menu (I think... I can't find it) Westlake fish soup with 1000 chilis

A poll at the end revealed the favorites to be the Westlake fish soup (by a landslide) followed by the Chongqing chicken wings and the lamb dumplings.

I have to run... will post more details later... but wanted to get the dishes' names up now so that my team can post while tastes and textures are still fresh in their minds.

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  1. Big thanks to everyone who organized this best chowdown ever!

    I was at Daveena's table and tasted all she listed, plus a few bites off other tables.

    My favorite dish of the day was charred stir-fried cabbage. The humble name is deceptive: the cabbage is charred so that sweetness emerges from the caramelized edges, and the combination of that sweetness, chili spice, crunchiness, and slipperiness made this dish memorable. It's a nice lesson in how a single ingredient can yield so much flavor.

    Westlake fish soup was as good as ever. Fish comes in broth topped with a cover of chilies, which impart lots of roasted chili flavor but little heat, letting the fish and its broth shine through.

    Twice-cooked pork, a Sichuan standard made from pork belly that's smoked, sliced, and stir-fried with leeks or green onions, was also excellent. The sauce was spicy and sweet, and the pork was cut thinly to yield floppy strips that were meaty and fatty in every bite.

    My final favorite was water-boiled chicken, which our table didn't order but we tried from the generosity of other tables. I didn't get much of it, but I really liked the red-chili-oil based sauce with maybe some vinegar, peanuts, and what else? Hopefully someone who tried more of it could describe it better.

    I wanted to love the zha jiang noodles, but the handmade noodles were too soft and not chewy enough for my taste, and the sauce lacked the smokiness and dark, molasses-y sweetness in other versions I've tried.

    Great meal! Including tip, $21 per person at our table.

    16 Replies
    1. re: david kaplan

      Sorry that I could not be there. The correct name for the famous fish soup is
      "West Style Spicy Fish Fillet" (Not "Westlake")
      and it is #124 on the menu.

      1. re: Joel

        Thanks for the correction, Joel. My notes were a little messy, and item #124 is a little smudgy on my copy of the menu. The fish was beautifully tender and tasted of shao xing wine. I loved the texture of the fish against the texture of the cellophane noodles. And oh, the broth was delicious.

        My other favorite dishes were the twice-cooked pork, the chongqing chicken wings, and the flower bean curd. And the cabbage. The twice-cooked pork was was just like the best bacon ever, tweaked with a little sugar and spice, and cooked in a way that gave you both the nearly crisp chewiness of the meaty parts and the melting tenderness of the fatty parts. The chongqing chicken wings were fried beautifully and tasted mostly of Szechuan peppercorn. The flower bean curd was a first for me (and for other people at my table who have always only had sweet "dou hua" preparations) - the ultra-tender bean curd was interspersed with filets of fish and covered in red chili oil (that was surprisingly not that spicy). I found the bean curd really soothing after a meal full of intense flavors. Also - while this was not intentional - I liked the symmetry of beginning the meal with the West-style fish (fish and mung bean noodles) and ending it with the dou hua with fish (fish and soybean curd).

        The one major disappointment was probably the steamed spare ribs with 5-spice ground rice - I didn't love the texture, and it was either bland, or the seasonings were too subtle to hold up against the other, more aggressively seasoned dishes we were eating. The zha jian mian was a little disappointing, for the reasons david kaplan listed above.

        I enjoyed the flavor of the cumin lamb, but was surprised by the texture (tender from a cornstarch marinade). I was expecting crusty, caramelized bits of lamb - this was good, but not what I was expecting. Melanie mentioned something about having had lamb skewered on toothpicks... I'd love to know the name of that dish.

        1. re: daveena

          Sam Lok / Z&Y in Chinatown presents its cumin lamb on toothpicks -- except when they don't. Consistency is not Z&Y's strong point.

          1. re: daveena

            Here's my ancient post on the version of gristley, crusty cumin lamb GRILLED on toothpicks.
            I didn't have a chance to look at the menus when we were in the restaurant to see if it's still offered. I wish I'd tried the lamb you ordered, as I haven't been a fan of it in the past for the soft texture and wimpy seasonings, and would have liked to just see if it's the same.

            Oh, and given our pre-lunch exchange about the lamb dumplings, did you order them in any special way or just go with stock?

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I tried asking for a less gamy, more oniony dumpling as you had recommended - he looked at me like I was nuts and said there wasn't really any way to do that. Anyway, people at my table seemed to enjoy them, so maybe they toned down the gaminess since the last time you had them. I thought they were good, but they didn't live up to my #1 lamb dumpling of all time (101 Noodle Express in Alhambra) - I think the meat might not have been fatty enough. Also I'm a little lamb dumpling-ed out because I made and froze a bunch of manti in order to use up dumpling wrappers from Yuen Hop that I've been experimenting with. By the way - fresh dumpling wrappers do *not* make very good cannoli shells when fried :)

              1. re: daveena

                I liked the dumplings mainly because they *were* less gamey than other versions I've had elsewhere. There were also lots of onions or leeks, which added a nice flavor...so maybe he made it happen after all.

                1. re: daveena

                  I would have liked to have seen that! Sorry to have put you through that, in any case, good to get up to date on the state of lamb dumplings here. But now we have to order them again, given Dave's comments.

                  And, thanks for carrying out my mental experiment, another of my bad ideas.

              2. re: daveena

                the cumin lamb is disappointing, the style one wants is the crunchiness of the dish called Szechwan Style Spicy Beef, but with lamb and cumin.. they make it in this style at a place in New York called Little Pepper. BTW the beef dish I just mentioned is excellent. I tried it last night it is 110 on the take out menu.

            2. re: david kaplan

              here's part two of my favorites and their images ... chongqing chicken wings and the charred stir fried cabbage. And it was such a deal!

              1. re: gordon wing

                oops! here's the stir fried cabbage photo .....

              2. re: david kaplan

                I was at the table with Daveena and David.

                Like David, my top pick was--strangely--the cabbage. I didn't expect to be wowed by a veg dish at all--I'm much more of a pork girl, but the caramel blended with chili was unbelievable. I think I had thirds or fourths--more than my fair share.

                Other than that, I liked the lamb dumplings much more than the flat-tasting pork, and the chicken wings were quite good. I also really liked the spicy water boiled eel, cut in very thin strips--it almost looked like eggplant. I tried a beef dish in the same preparation at another table, but preferred the eel.

                As a general note, I don't have much experience with Szechuan dishes and didn't know what to expect. I feared that it might be too hot, but the heat was a lot like an earthquake or a thunderstorm that you can hear rolling in from far away and drawing nearer--first the spice bit the tip of my tounge, then a bit in the middle, and then warmed the back. It was very spicy but not painful or harsh--just wonderful.

                After, some of us made it to Sketch. I had a cinnamon ice cream with poached pears and salted caramel. The cinnamon ice cream was the best I've had--I expected a bitter or harsh note, like the cheaper versions I've had, but it was warm and even.

                Thanks to the organizational genius who planned this, especially Davenna who had some great, well-researched picks.

                1. re: pane

                  I heartily second your choice of the eel at CV and the ice cream at Sketch. I don't thinkl the eel was cut into julienne. I think these were elvers -- juvenile eels which the Spaniards call "anguillas". This was the dish that I overindulged in. The other standouts for me was the twice-cooked pork and the charred cabbage, although Daveena's selections were all in some way memorable.

                2. re: david kaplan

                  I think you must mean the Organic Chicken in a red oil spicy sauce -- the four "water-boiled" dishes were beef, fish, eel and pork kidney -- the table captains coordinated so that each table had a different one.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    That must be it. Glad to know for my next visit.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Did anyone try all four of the water-boiled preps? This can also be made with chicken, pork, or tripe. I missed the beef one, but of the three, I think I liked the fish the best with brighter flavors.

                    2. re: david kaplan

                      wow..really sorry to have missed this one; was flying home from vacation while you all were enjoying...but had to pipe in to say I recently tried that charred cabbage, and loved it! Can't wait to get back and order it again...

                      Thanks to all for the reports!

                    3. daveena, melanie, lembert, bryan et all .... thanks so much for your efforts in organizing one of the best ever chowmeals! so many good flavors and so much good company!
                      here are some of my favorites and images of same .... homestyle chicken,spicy beef tendon, lamb dumplings and the flower bean curd .... end of part one.

                      1. Thanks to all who helped to get this organized. It was the most interesting chowdown that I have attended. I have been to China Villiage 5 or 6 times before but this time I found some new dishes I really liked:

                        Chicken in a red oil spicy sauce
                        Tea smoked duck (even better if less salty)
                        Hand-cut noodles with seafood
                        Eggplant with shrimp (the first time they served us it was too salty but after they were informed, they redid the dish with much less salt and it was great)

                        I also really enjoyed seeing the rock cod soup cooked with about 50 roasted red chilis on top. The taste was nice too but I thought the presentation is what made it exceptional.

                        I'm also glad I could go since there wasn't enough room at first.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: average

                          Good to meet you, and thanks for posting from our table. This is what I was hoping for in planning this event, that even those who had been to CV numerous times would find something new to love . . . or not . . . but at least we would try new things and get out of our ordering ruts. At first I thought there was going to be a rebellion at our table when some of those who've eaten at CV many times couldn't order their favorites.

                          I liked the eggplant with shrimp in claypot, basically the traditional fish-flavored eggplant with the addition of some prawns. While the shrimp were cooked perfectly and picked up the lovely seasonings, I didn't think they melded well with the eggplant. I think I'd order it w/o shrimp next time for myself.

                        2. Thanks for getting the thread started, Daveena!

                          I was the captain for Chengdu table B. We ordered:

                          #104 Duck in beer sauce
                          #139 Traditional Eggplant in spicy sauce
                          #166 Loofa with prawns
                          #171 Chengdu prawns
                          #217 Water dumplings with spicy sauce
                          #108 Spicy boiled beef
                          #192 Zha jian noodles (transliterated differently on the menu)
                          #216 Sesame flat bread
                          From the specials board:
                          Organic chicken in red oil sauce
                          Crispy fried chitterlings

                          The fun really started when people started going from table to table clutching their rice bowls and begging bites from other dishes. At one point David traded us his table's leftover cumin lamb for our table's chicken! In theory, the other Chengdu table was supposed to share tastes with us, but in practice, they scarfed down every bite themselves.

                          My surprise favorite was the water-boiled beef -- having heard horror stories about this being the hottest dish in the Sichuan cuisine canon, I've always avoided it. But it was delicious, and not *that* spicy. I can eat a whole order of the water dumplings myself, and mopped up the garlicy sauce with my sesame bread. The loofah was delicate yet flavorful, and provide welcome respite from the sea of red oil and chile pods spreading across the table.

                          Our table's tab came to $168 before tip -- $20 each with a 20 percent tip.

                          Thanks to my tablemates for their help in ordering and their excellent company! And thanks to Melanie for inspiring and leading us.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            The water-boiled beef is probably one of the best second day dishes (served over fresh white rice) I've ever had. It seems to triple in taste

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Our table was the only one that *didn't* order the chicken, though after we traded and got the chicken from Ruth's table, we somehow ended up with chicken from Melanie's table too! I really liked the sauce - although we couldn't figure out exactly what was in it.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Hmmm...our table ended up with no pork dishes (except the chitterlings). Clearly a mistake on my part. I wanted to order a couple of them, but then Lambert's table ordered them and didn't share! I went over to try the pork shoulder, and there was literally nothing but two completely picked clean bones in the bowl. I can only assume it was good!

                                The twice-cooked pork belly is definitely on my list for my next visit.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  It wasn't that we at Lambert's table didn't share, Ruth, it was just that other scavengers came over and got some before you made it over!

                                  1. re: JasmineG

                                    Yeah, but we were your team mates -- you were supposed to share with us first!

                                    But let's blame it all on Melanie's table!

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Ruth my fellow team member, I think we need to set ground for the next time. I did not get to table hop either, so I had get feed back from our table mates for input.

                                      As table hosts both Soup Noodles answered question and had discussion of the next round.

                                      I still have a list of dishes I need to try on my next visit. Which may have to be a while since I now need to lose weight before my next Doctor visit.

                                      We were too busy being a host and did not get to visit as quickly as we like.

                                      In defense of Melanie she did not table hop or was too quick for me to see.

                                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Our table shared with all comers, sorry you were too slow in arriving. The other tables were too quick for you. Also it was a small piece and the bone was at least 15% of the piece.

                                    But I will take the blame. We did not order any shrimp dish and I did try any of them either. So there is always next time.

                                  3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Thanks again to all the organizers for their Herculean efforts in accomodating everyone - it was a resounding success! It was inspiring to be amongst so many Hounds.

                                    I was at Ruth's table and everyone was patient enough to let me document our dishes before descending upon them like locusts, albeit polite ones. You will find these photos here:


                                    Of the cold appetizers, my favorites were the spicy beef tendon and the green beans.
                                    Of the main dishes, the spicy boiled kidney/beef/fish with napa cabbage, traditional eggplant, and #67 dry fried chitlins with celery (from Chengdu Table A) were standouts. The zha jiang mein was really tasty too (if a little shy of cucumber) and I found the chewiness of the homemade noodles perfect.

                                    I think when coming here next, I would be mindful of ordering a nice balance of spicy and non-spicy dishes. I definitely want to try the fish/bean thread soup and the flower tofu dish...

                                    Ruth made the astute observation that the "Classic" dishes on the menu were likely Americanized, which is a nice way of distinguishing the 'old Gold Mountain favorites' from the 'down-home-old-country' grub.

                                    After lunch, a 50-50 cup of lime granita and chocolate ice cream from Sketch was the icing on a very spicy cake. Thank god that stuff melts or there wouldn't have been room for it.

                                    It was a pleasure to meet so many Hounds - here's to future Chowdowns!

                                    1. re: crispypork

                                      Great pictures, crispypork! I started salivating while looking over all the dishes again!

                                      I too was at Ruth's table. Of the dishes we ordered, my favorites were the spicy boiled beef and the organic chicken dish, but truly, everything was delicious. The vegetable dishes we ordered were surprisingly good. I loved how fresh the loofah was, and we all concurred that the eggplant dish had excellent texture (not too mushy and slimy as it ends up at many other places).

                                      Other standouts for me: the one bite of cumin lamb I got (thanks to David for the trade!), the super garlicky sauce on the water dumplings, and the nice chewiness of the zhajiang mian (the sauce itself was just okay.)

                                      All in all, a knock out meal. It was fun to meet so many new hounds and to table hop in search of morsels to beg.

                                  4. Thank you, Melanie, Daveena, Ruth, Lembert, Bryan. This was my first Chowdown and I hope the first of many to come.

                                    I was at Melanie's table, but was able to try most of Daveena's table's picks as well. I was most impressed with the classic Sichuan dishes:
                                    - twice cooked pork/fish
                                    - tofu flower fish
                                    - cumin lamb
                                    - Chongqing fried chicken

                                    It seems Ruth's table had "Chengdu Prawns" -which I have not had before. What was that like? Was it stir-fried? What were the seasonings?

                                    Finally, sorry to be a stickler for details, Chongqing is no longer a city in the Sichuan province - it was carved out a few years ago (rumored as the reward for supporting the Three Gorges Dam) to form its own special administrative zone - similar to Beijing and Shanghai.

                                    Thanks again, everyone. I am so full (I think the bread grew in me) that I am skipping dinner...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Maple

                                      The Chengdu prawns are similar to the Chongquing chicken wings: a salt&pepper type coating, dry fried with an equal number of dried chile pods -- you literally dig through the pods to unearth the prawns. The coating on the prawns is reddish -- I don't know if that's because there's chile in the coating or if they just pick it up from the pods during frying.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Do they stiil fry them in the shells? I wasn't the biggest fan of that.

                                        1. re: SamuelA.L.

                                          Yup. That's the way I've always had s&p type preps.

                                      2. re: Maple

                                        Thanks a bunch for helping out at our table. You picked your seat well, strategically located to keep an eye on what was served at our teammate's table! I'm especially glad that you found a savory douhua dish to your satisfaction, since just minutes before we'd been lamenting this style's absence from local menus. Now I think we need to go back for the liang zhang pi ("double skins", #1 Hot and Cold Salad on the menu) that Mrs. Yao described for us!

                                        For myself, I had a handful of nuts and some cranberry juice last night. Didn't feel that full, but was not hungry again before calling it a night. I do agree with Ruth that the spicing has been toned down. When the original chef left, I felt that some dishes were too brutal in heat, compensating for lack of finesse. Now, I could use more chili in some of the dishes, such as the water-boiled kidneys. I think Mrs. Yao described the style of cooking as Sichuan cuisine with a Shandong touch.

                                      3. I was at Daveena's table as well.

                                        General impressions:: out of the cold plates, i'd order the spicy conch and/or spicy beef tendon again, but not both since they have a similar taste. Actually, I kind of liked the julienned potato from Lembert's table, too bad it doesn't come as a small appetizer plate as well. I tried both the water-boiled eel on our table and the water boiled kidney from another table, and I liked the kidney better because (1) it tasted better and (2) because it's really hard to cook kidney well, so that was nice. I'd discourage ordering #217 the water dumpling with hot oil. If I were going back, I'd get the lamb dumplings for myself. If I had four other people to go back with adding the west style fish soup with water boiled kidney and charred cabbage would be good. maybe some sesame bread to mop up the sauce. The flower bean curd was good, but since the flavor profile is similar to everything else, it dropped off the list. There's potentially great lamb preparations at this place, the cumin prep wasn't my thing, but the cook did a great job on texture and making the lamb not lamb-y. The zhajiang mian was made with fresh noodles and was nice but nothing special, instead, any variations on dandan mian might be worth exploring since there's a great version of dandan mian in an LA szechwan place.

                                        Big thanks to the guys and gals who did the organizing! And additional thanks to Melanie for the wine.

                                        1. I agree with everyone that this was a great chowdown! So many people and so many dishes!

                                          Of the appetizers, I liked the spicy conch and the beef tendon the best. I also liked the homestyle chicken, and enjoyed dipping the sesame flat bread in the nice sesame sauce. The shrimp w/ mustard didn't seem to taste like mustard at all, and the rabbit didn't impress me too much, but the green beans were nice and perfectly cooked.

                                          My favorite of the entire meal was the West Style Fish Soup. I had never had this soup before, and I thought the presentation was really cool. The soup itself was delicious - rich broth, tender pieces of white fish and slippery, thick cellophane noodles.

                                          My other three favorites were the cabbage (I liked the sweetness), the lamb dumplings (I agree with pane that these were better than the water dumplings) and the chongqing chicken wings (which were fried perfectly and very tender).

                                          Other dishes I enjoyed were the flat breads (solid, but nothing too special), the flower bean curd (I was full by this point, so it was tough eating too much) and the twice cooked pork.

                                          I really enjoyed the eel dish, as well as the water boiled beef dish from Yimster's table. I had bites of the water boiled kidney and fish dishes too, and these were also good.

                                          I did not like the steamed spare ribs. The sauce was bland and had a gritty texture that I didn't love...it seemed to not know whether it wanted to be spicy or sweet or salty. The cumin lamb was good, perhaps one of the better versions I've had, but in general I don't like this dish. I liked it more than the version at Spices II in SF. I thought the water dumplings were just OK - same w/ the zha jiang noodles.

                                          It was also fun trying dishes from other tables. The highlights for me were the organic chicken w/ red oil, the boiled beef, the duck in beer sauce and the eggplant with shrimp.

                                          This was a wonderful chowdown! Thanks again to all the organizers, it was a treat!

                                          Dave MP

                                          1. Here are the dishes table three ordered

                                            Round one
                                            West Style soup with chili
                                            Sesame bread/pancake
                                            Water boiled fish
                                            Stir-fried potato with fresh hot green peppers
                                            Organic chicken with chili oil
                                            Braised pork shoulder with Sichuan spices
                                            Stir-fried pork chitlins
                                            Tea-smoked duck with hot peppers
                                            Tea smoked duck with chili

                                            Round two
                                            Cold Kidneys
                                            Stir-fried cabbage
                                            Zha Jiang Noodles

                                            We divided the ordering in two parts so that we can see what was good at the other tables.

                                            We must thank our spy for check out the other tables to make the second round order.

                                            I am only sorry I could not order three more dishes I had on my wish list, but there is another day and another meal.

                                            I was good to meet old hounds as well as new hounds.

                                            Thanks you Soup Noodles for being my co-host.

                                            Cost for the table was 184, with tip we total out to 22 dollars each.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: yimster

                                              Thank you all for organizing this great lunch! I really enjoyed the organic chicken and the water boiled fish. The sauce on the chicken had such a great flavor, spicy and rich and nuanced. By reading this thread I see that I need to go back for the lamb dumplings, fried chicken wings and twice cooked pork belly. I'm uploading the pics but I think I can only do 4 at a time so let me know if there's a better way.

                                              These are the Cold Kidney, Organic Chicken w/Chili Oil, Pork Chitlins and Pork Shoulder (I think).

                                              1. re: rosie7477

                                                Stir Fried Cabbage - So yummy!
                                                Stir Fried Potatoes
                                                Tea Smoked Duck
                                                Water Boiled Fish - I really loved the way this made my tongue tingle!

                                                1. re: rosie7477

                                                  West Style Soup with Chili - surprisingly not so hot once all the chilis were removed

                                                  Zha Jiang Noodles

                                              2. re: yimster

                                                Of the cold starter I like the thinly sliced couch best and cold chicken best. Later we were able to have the cold kidney which were cooked to a prefect texture.

                                                The Organic chicken was tender and very tasty with the chili sauce showing off the chicken and not covering it.

                                                The stir fiy chitlins were a real treat, I was told they also twice cooked, quickly deep fried and then thinly slice and cooked with chilies and vegetables.

                                                The stir fried potatoes off set all the heat of the other dishes, as did the cabbage. Two great simple dishes.

                                                The Zha Jiang Noodles are hose made had a wonderful bite to them and the meat sauce was made liked I remembered it.

                                                I enjoy see old friends and meeting new ones.

                                                But I still have four dishes I need to return for at a much later date. Unlike another hound I cannot run an extra miles.

                                              3. A big round of applause for my co-hosts Daveena, Ruth, Bryan "SoupNoodles", and Yimster for making things go so smoothly! We had forty-ONE at lunch today, no no-shows, and one hopeful extra person from the waiting list to squeeze in. Good show!

                                                After lunch and our dessert run to Sketch, I jumped in the car to drive 110 miles, so looks like I'm the last table captain to check in. Chongqing Table A had 11 people, let's hear what you thought of the food. In addition to the six cold plates, we ordered the following.

                                                Second round:
                                                #18 Hot & Sour & Spicy Cold Fun (liang fen), $4.95
                                                #124 West Style Spicy Fish Filet (in soup), $16.95
                                                #71 Szechwan Spicy Boiled Pork Kidney (“water-boiled”), $8.95
                                                #128 Fish Filet with Precious Wine Lees Sauce, $12.95
                                                #216 (Big) Sesame Flat Bread, $4.95 x 3
                                                Poached organic chicken with red chili oil (new dish)
                                                Smoked tea duck with roasted chilis (white board)
                                                Pan-fried knife-shaved noodles with seafood (on request)

                                                Third round:
                                                #67 Dry Sauteed Pork “Chitlins” with Chinese Celery, $8.95
                                                #176 Fresh Calamari with Ground Chili Paste (pickled chilis), $10.95
                                                Fish-flavored (traditional) eggplant with prawns in clay pot (off menu)
                                                Twice-cooked rock cod filet (new dish)

                                                Complimentary dessert:
                                                Fresh watermelon

                                                Our total before tip was $203, and came to $22 per person including a 20% tip. Corkage was complimentary.

                                                China Village
                                                1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  What did the Fish Filet with Precious Wine Lees Sauce taste like? I was curious about that one.

                                                  1. re: daveena

                                                    When the fish filet with precious wine lees came out, I had a "duh" moment wishing it had dawned on me earlier that this was what I think of as a Shanghainese dish. I like the version at Shanghai East in San Mateo much better. CV's was sweeter and more yeasty, given that it had the wine lees, and not just shaoxing wine as a flavorant. It was pleasant enough, but the sauce was a bit goopy and thickish and a couple notches too sweet. This also pointed out the problem of trying to switch from an early round of spicy dishes to simpler things like this. I also felt that our seafood noodle dish fell out more than it should have because it seemed bland compared to what had come before.

                                                2. I concur with comments as to the 'greatness' of this chowdown!

                                                  Hours after the one meal of my day, the memories most vivid are of the West Style Spicy Fish Fillet, the water-boiled Eels, the stirfried cabbage, twice-cooked pork, the soft tofu/fish fillet/chiles preparation, chongqing chicken. Of the appetizers,I liked the spicy tendon the best although the level of heat was fairly tame. Green beans had excellent color, texture, and symmetry. I was aware of the presentation of the soup, but its actuality was as dramatic as could be, even without the surprise that less familiarity would have offered. The depth of flavor, coupled with the delicacy of the broth was a revelation. One of the best soups I have ever had. The sweetness/freshness of the fillets was a treat.
                                                  I thought the cabbage was stellar-especially when tasted alongside the twice-cooked pork.
                                                  The cumin lamb impressed me at first, but at second tasting, I too was a bit put off by a too-soft texture. I like a little more 'bite' to my meat. This meal helped me to appreciate the role ALL of the senses play in fully enjoying such a variety of dishes. I wanted so much to like the zha jiang noodles more than I did, but they just lacked the drama I think I was hoping for. This is a dish I WILL try again-searching for a version which will exceed my expectations. The noodles were chewy, but a bit softer than I enjoy.
                                                  In the crispy arena, the flavor, heat and crunch of the chicken wings were divine, as was the toothsomeness and earthiness of the crispy chitlins I snagged from our neighbors.
                                                  The flower bean curd was a revelation. I had never tried this style of dish-never in fact had tofu of such silkiness and tenderness. The combination of the fish, the tofu, and the just-spicy broth was a delight. I think for me, if this had arrived slightly earlier, while my appetite was not so sated, the dish would have been a higher favorite.
                                                  I so appreciate the willingness of the organizers to keep opening tables, as interest grew in this chowdown. It was exquisitely organized, and enjoyably consummated. I have rarely had the chance to savor so many flavors and textures at one sitting as I did this afternoon. Thank you, one and all.

                                                  1. Thanks so much, Melanie, Ruth, daveena, Bryan and yimster for organizing! It was an amazing meal, and I'm still (over 7 hours after leaving) completely full. I imagine that this is what one feels like after a meal at French Laundry, and yet this was only $22, what a deal! I was at yimster's table. The cold conch appetizer was one of my favorites, though I liked the beef tendon too. I loved that chicken in the spicy oil sauce, the water boiled fish, and the West Style Fish soup, but the dish that stands out for me the most is that cabbage, it was just fantastic. Thanks, those at daveena's table, for ordering it -- after we begged some bites, our table lobbied for our own order. I only wish that I had managed to beg one of those lamb dumplings, they sound like they were great. The only thing that I didn't like was a squid dish that came over from another table, it must have been Melanie's table, from reading over the lists. The sauce was too sweet, and had an odd flavor that none of us could figure out.

                                                    Thanks again for a great chowdown, I had a really fun time.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                                      I am afraid I would have to take the blame for the squid dish. It is stir fried with pao4 jiao1 (pickled chili), which is a traditional Sichuan ingredient that piqued my interest but is hard to find in the Bay Area. The dish turned out to be quite orange and I didn't much care for the sour pickled flavor. Sorry!

                                                    2. What a feast that was - a huge thanks to the organizers who made this all happen. My favorites were the charred stir-fried cabbage #150, twice cooked rock cod filet, both kidney dishes #71, dried sauteed chitlins #67, spicy conch #2, and the organic chicken with chili oil.

                                                      The kitchen seems to cook kidneys very well - they have plenty of flavor and the right texture. Soup Noodles and I sat next to eachother and both agreed that the kidneys were fantastic.

                                                      With the exception of the spicy conch which I enjoyed because of the texture, my other favorite dishes all had amazing flavor that was one notch better than anything else.

                                                      Despite all the chili oil, the food was not too spicy - I could have handled a bit more spice actually.

                                                      I agree regarding the calamari dish being not great (too sweet). Also, the noodles were good but don't really measure up to Joy's version of knife cut noodles in both texture and flavor.

                                                      I can't wait to return for more!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: felice

                                                        I think perhaps they have toned down the spice some. Dishes were hot, but not incendiary (and not as hot as I remember in the past). What they were was, to quote Jonathan Kauffman, "intelligently spicy" -- not just blasting you with pure heat, but layers of different flavors. For example, at first we thought the conch and the tendon cold apps had the same sauce, but when we really compared them, it was clear that the tendon had an earthier toasted chile component, while the conch was brighter and slightly sweeter. I tried the water-cooked beef and water-cooked fish, and it seemed the liquid with the fish was a little lighter, to pair better with the more delicate fish. In every case the flavors of the main ingredient were clear, and not masked by the spices. This was most evident, I think, in the chicken, which was marvelously moist and chewy (in a good way) and tasted of fresh chicken under the coating of chile oil.

                                                      2. Thanks to the table captains for organizing this amazing chowdown. I really enjoyed how people moved around and were able to try food from other tables.
                                                        My favorites:
                                                        Twice-cooked fish - amazingly tender considering it was twice cooked
                                                        Dry Sauteed Chitlins - I'm glad we got this version which was very nice and crispy as opposed to the crispy chitlins.
                                                        Pork shoulder from Yimster's table - I had a piece that was all fat - glorious melt in your mouth fat with a bit of chinese herbal medicine flavor. Yum.

                                                        I have a great new list of favorites at China Village that I can order along with my old favorites (West style fish soup, chongqing fried chicken).

                                                        I will post pictures from Chengdu Table A later.

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: jiongliu

                                                          Thanks for helping communicate with our server. You were really funny when you said you were cycling from my English through Shanghainese to come up with the right Mandarin words.

                                                          Yep, the menu language is deceptive. The really crispy chitlin dish isn't called "crispy", and the ones identified as "crispy" aren't. So be sure to verify this before ordering again.

                                                          Looking forward to your photos!

                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                            1. Tendon (or conch)
                                                            2. Westlake style fish soup
                                                            3. Water boiled kidneys
                                                            4. Fish with Wine Lees Sauce

                                                          2. re: jiongliu

                                                            Attached are the following:
                                                            Shrimp with mustard sauce
                                                            home style chicken
                                                            spicy conch (or tendon?)
                                                            Green beans

                                                            1. re: jiongliu

                                                              1. Poached Organic Chicken
                                                              2. Tea Smoked Duck
                                                              3. Knife Cut Noodles with Seafood
                                                              4. Twice cooked fish

                                                              1. re: jiongliu

                                                                1. Hot and Sour and Spicy Cold Fun (Mung bean jello)
                                                                2. Dry Sauteed Chitlins (totally awesome)
                                                                3. Calamari
                                                                4. Fish flavored eggplant with prawns (take 2)

                                                                1. re: jiongliu

                                                                  Thank you for being our table's photographer. And, I'll express my appreciation again for letting me try the water-boiled eels you managed to snag from Daveena's table.

                                                                  I liked the mung bean jello quite a bit, refreshing on a warm day with its tangy lilt and chili notes. It's cut a bit wider here than other places. Quite a challenge to eat with chopsticks instead of slurping the slippery "worms" from a spoon. IIRC, david kaplan had once asked about a similar dish, so I hope he takes a look at that photo.

                                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                    Yes that was definitely the dish that a colleague brought in as leftovers to work one day and I gobbled up.

                                                              2. Wow, what an epic Chowdown! It's been quite a long time since we had such a big turnout and I can't remember the last one with such a universally loved meal. China Village, despite the change of chefs, continues to be, in my humble opinion, one of the best restaurants in the bay area. Once again, flexing the might that only a large enthusiastic Chowdown group can muster, we were able to sample far more dishes than any of us with a paltry party of four or even six could manage. Fortunately for my table, we were very capably led by Daveena on this culinary voyage, who bore such responsibility with aplomb and grace.

                                                                Of the cold appetizers, I was particularly taken, as was the rest of the table, with the beef tendons and appreciated the texture of the conch which was perfectly cooked. The green beans were well cooked and nicely perfumed with garlic, but otherwise not too surprising. The rabbit was a bit spicy, but did not seem to excite the table as it held the record for the longest ride 'round the lazy susan until Simon finally allowed its plate to be cleared. The Homestyle chicken in a "special sauce" (no, not the same as on a Big Mac) was also perfectly cooked, but the sauce reminded me of hoisin with sesame seeds sprinkled on top and did not otherwise make a strong impression on the table. The lone disappointment for me was the shrimp which was evidently supposed to be served with a mustard sauce. They were perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, but other than a slight hint of the cucumbers upon which they were placed, there was no discernible flavor.

                                                                The mains came out at a smart pace and before we knew it, the table was full of wonderful things indeed. Although it was added as almost an afterthought at the suggestion of the waiter, the West Style Spicy Fish Fillet soup was a resounding hit with the table and, despite the imposing amount of chilis blanketing the soup, the broth was not overly spicy, but rather a rich and heady stock that was entirely satisfying.

                                                                The suprise hit of the table was the charred stir-fried cabbage which was smoky and beautifully caramelized to accentuate the sweetness of the vegetable. I have very rarely had such a simple and delicious dish. Others tables ordered it after sampling ours. Incidentally, I think it speaks quite well of our fearless leader Daveena that so many of the other 'hounds came calling on our table to sample our fare.

                                                                Other standouts for me include the sumptuous twice cooked pork which beautifully married the smokiness of the pork belly with the sweet aromatics of the green onions. Although I tried and certainly enjoyed the twice cooked fish, I think the addition of the pork fat made this my favorite of the two similarly prepared dishes. I was very taken with the Chongqing fried chicken which was also very popular with visiting 'hounds who were lining up to try it. Additionally, the lamb with cumin was very flavorful and well seasoned.

                                                                Although the constant image of dumplings on the evite might have built up a bit too much hype and anticipation, I was not bowled over by the ones served with chili oil, but preferred the lamb dumplings. However, neither seemed to be overly adored again as a lone lamb dumpling circled around for quite some time on our table before be passed along to a neighboring table. The sole underwhelming dish seemed to be the steamed spare ribs with five spice ground rice. Though they were cooked well and quite tender, the flavor didn't seem especially interesting, particularly since it was competing with dishes such as the picant water boiled eels.

                                                                Special kudos to Dave for venturing out to other tables to trade for other dishes. Coming back with the organic chicken was a score, if only for the tasty sauce that accompanied it. Sopping up that wonderful mixture of spicy goodness with a warm piece of sesame bread approached Nirvana for me, if only for a fleeting moment. My own visits to neighboring tables allowed me to sample both versions of the chitterlings and, as was the consensus, I preferred the dry fried ones which were much crispier than the ones billed as "crispy" on the menu.

                                                                Whew, well after that meal, I couldn't fathom eating again for the rest of the day, but now that I've posted the pictures and done the write up, I find myself salivating on my keyboard. We definitely need to do this again.

                                                                My pictures are posted on Flickr here...


                                                                As always, it was a great pleasure to see everyone, new and old faces alike. Over my years as part of the Chowhound community, these sort of meals are definitely the best part of being a 'hound. If you've never chowed down with the 'hounds, you owe it to yourself to come out for a bite or twenty with us.

                                                                à santé,

                                                                9 Replies
                                                                1. re: Curtis

                                                                  Nice post Curtis!

                                                                  One comment: I really really liked the lamb dumplings, and the only reason I let that extra one circle around for so long on the lazy-susan was because I was trying to be polite and not too greedy. Lesson learned I guess. :)

                                                                  1. re: Dave MP

                                                                    I, too, would like to thank the organizers and the restaurant for putting out consistent quality food for a large group of people. I didn't get to see the lamb dumplings--our table was wondering what they were like. Were they steamed and what sort of sauce ere they served with? What made them so good--the texture and flavor of the lamb itself? Sorry to ask so many questions without contributing first.

                                                                    I was at Ruth's table and the only not so great dish was the crispy pork chitterlings. As mentioned, the main problem is that the crispy dish is in no way crispy--make sure you order the dry fried if you actually want crispy. The cold tendon and conch were some of the highlights for me. They were both really well balanced and had great texture. I think the eggplant at our table probably ruined my future orders of this dish from lesser restaurants, because the balance of flavors was perfect. It can often come out too sweet or too oily, or not enough flavor, or with tough eggplant skins, but this one had the perfect flavor and texture. I preferred the water-cooked beef, but I feel like the beer sauce duck didn't get as much attention as it could have in the wake of so many red oil dishes. It wasn't as spicy as the red oil dishes, but it had other herbal notes and an overall pleasing but not showy dish--it is claypot after all. I also enjoyed the Zha Jiang Noodles--I had only had these previously from a streetcart in New York and their noodles weren't nearly as chewy.

                                                                    1. re: ...tm...

                                                                      The exterior was slightly rustic with a thicker, slightly chewy skin kind of like the mian. The interior was pretty flavorful and juicy which is what i prefer. the lamb dumplings should definitely be eaten hot, so i'd eat 'em as soon as they're served. they were steamed, and if there was a sauce i missed it. it probably didn't need a sauce, but zhejiang vinegar is great with xiaolongbao so that might be something to try and see if they play well together.

                                                                      1. re: StephP

                                                                        CV's original chef used to make a killer chili oil condiment and I would use a little on the lamb dumplings. I didn't ask for any to taste, wondering if the chili sauce is still housemade.

                                                                        And, tm, i do agree that some of the milder dishes might have gotten short shrift. If the West style fish soup hadn't come out early, we might not have enjoyed it so much. Thanks for mentioning the beer duck, as I've liked it in the past.

                                                                  2. re: Curtis

                                                                    Great write up, Curtis, and I agree with you on both the shrimp and the rabbit; the shrimp didn't have much flavor, and while the rabbit was fine, my main thought on eating it was "I don't want this to take up too much space in my stomach!" so I think that I probably would not order it again.

                                                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                                                      I think at our table they forgot to put on the mustard sauce - it seemed like plain, poached shrimp. Did anyone at any table taste mustard?

                                                                      1. re: Dave MP

                                                                        I hadn't asked for a description of this dish when Mr. Yao suggested it on the phone. In my mind's eye, I was anticipating a fiery golden mustard dressing such as would be used on liang zhang pi. I thought I tasted a faint horseradish or wasabi like tone under the fresh sweetness of the poached shrimp.

                                                                        1. re: Dave MP

                                                                          No, they just tasted like plain shrimp to me--no seasoning at all.

                                                                          1. re: pane

                                                                            yes, I think that our whole table was a bit puzzled by this one?

                                                                    2. Man, this sounds like it was quite a night. I'd love to see a Peninsula chowdown at Classic Sichuan, just to survey people's opinions. It's built quite a following in the Millbrae area.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Deeg67

                                                                        Heheh, this was a 2+ hour lunch! Before picking the date and time I had asked the owner, Mr. Yao, when would be the best to bring a big group to order ala carte. He said Sunday at lunch time because all the cooks would be working, the chefs are fresher, the house is less busy, and we'd have weekend breakfast and Sunday dinner specials available to us as well as the regular menu. I think these all worked in our favor in having many dishes to choose from and the high quality of the execution.

                                                                      2. geez...the more i read this thread the sadder I get for not being able to go this past weekend.

                                                                        1. An incredible event! Thank you, Melanie and Ruth, for organizing the ever-expanding chowdown.

                                                                          I was at Ruth's table. My favorites were the eggplant yuxiang, a fabulous rendition of a favorite dish; the beer-braised duck, rich, moist, succulent; the water-boiled fish (our beef was excellent, though not sublime); the loofa.

                                                                          But everything was pretty great!

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Lisa Hirsch

                                                                            I'm glad your table ordered the eggplant yuxiang ("fish-flavored eggplant). Beforehand my references to it may have flummoxed Ruth a bit since the menu lists it as "traditional eggplant" or something like that and she couldn't figure out what I was referring to. It is one of the Sichuan standards that I'd not tried here, and it's nice to know that CV does it well.

                                                                            The only reason I was willing to put up with the hassle of expanding the party size from the original 20 up to 30 seats and ultimately to 40 is because I wanted to double the number of opinions reported here. Despite notifying the group BEFORE the event of what was expected and also sending a reminder/reminders after, barely half have fulfilled their responsibility to post, which is pretty poor. Well, I guess it makes it easy to know who to strike from the guest list for future chowdowns.

                                                                          2. After rethinking this wonderful lunch, I now have more questions and dishes I need to try. Before I arrive I have a list of dishes we must try. After the meal my list is now even longer. I do want start at #1 and go to the last number, but there were more then a few of classic dishes Sichaun style of food I have not have had at CV.

                                                                            It is something I need to do soon.

                                                                            I was also proud of my fellow hound who had a bottle of cooling yogurt at his table to cool off the heat of the food and did not drink it.

                                                                            Also I did not need any of the tissue in my pants to clear my nose. I now can reflect on my Father words, "The hotter you eat the most heat will need satisfy you desire for heat. If you do not sweat then you need to add more peppers"

                                                                            China Village will get a return visit for me.

                                                                            1. Here're my notes. Star ratings reflect my enthusiasm. More stars == more happy. I regret that I do not have official menu names for these dishes. I thought of that too late.

                                                                              *Cold Beef Tendon in Chili Oil
                                                                              *Cold Conch in Chili Oil

                                                                              I'm putting these together because they were in exactly the same sauce. Like most, I preferred the conch, because it contributed its own subtle flavor to the mix, while the tendon merely provided texture, and was probably sliced a bit too thin to convey enough of that to stand up to the sauce, but I was extremely happy with both dishes.

                                                                              Cold shrimp - Not much to it, plain boiled shrimp on cucumbers with no apparent seasoning. Didn't really see the point.

                                                                              *Cold Chopped green beans - Oh, this was nice. Little crisp 3/8" lengths of bean, livened up with tanginess, sprightly and refreshing.

                                                                              *1/2 Cold chicken on the bone.Nice. Great firm texture and savor, superb flavors of chili and vinegar

                                                                              *1/2 Sesame bread. A 3/4" thick pancake of scallion bread, browned to an outed crispness, and with sesame seeds pressed into one side. Just the right amount of salt, firm outside, tender and scalliony inside, great stuff.

                                                                              *** Boiled fish
                                                                              *** Boiled Kidney
                                                                              Boiled Eel

                                                                              Another trilogy; in this case, the fish was from our table and the eel and kidney from another, all swimming in the same thick, spicy, bean-y sauce. The eel was good, but the kidney was transcendental, nicely undercooked and soft in texture, adding its funkiness to the experience, and the fish was equally amazing, but by contrasting its uplifting purity with the low-down sauce. A triumph, and not insanely spicy by any means.

                                                                              Stir-fried potato with fresh, hot green peppers. If you've not had this dish, which is long shreds of potato cooked only enough to still stay firm while shedding the crunchiness of a raw potato, it's a nice surprise and worth ordering for novelty. Unfortunately I've had much better versions of this, with much more hot pepper, sliced finer, so that the synergy of the pepper and potato flavors added a whole different dimension to the experience. Certainly good, but...

                                                                              **Organic chicken Nice aged vinegar flavor with mild spices, this one shows off the compelling savory qualities of the vinegar while keeping everything very subtle. I liked this one a lot.

                                                                              Braised sichuan pork shoulder - I just couldn't make friends with this dish, despite the perfection of the texture, with the soft, savory gelatinous bits. The combination of 5-spice with sichuan flavors just doesn't work for me.

                                                                              **Stir-fried pork chitlins. Oh, baby. Incredibly tasty, soft in texture and rich in flavor. Loved this one.

                                                                              Tea-smoked duck with red peppers - A preview, in the form of a tidbit from another table, was unpromising, because the duck was overcooked and dried out. But when ours arrived, most of it was reasonably moist, a very good dish wanting, perhaps, only a bit less cooking to reach greatness.

                                                                              **Cold Kidneys - Upon realizing that we had at least 3 rabid kidney enthusiasts at our table, we thought of including a whole dish of those wonderful boiled kidneys in our order, but when the staff suggested we try this, we went for it, and were glad we did. Perfectly cooked kidneys in a mildly spicy sauce, playing up the coldness in a nice way, a winner that will be part of my standard appetizer order here when I'm in a kidney mood, which is most of the time.

                                                                              Dan Dan Noodles - Decent, and I enjoyed the texture of the noodles, but didn't really grab me.

                                                                              ****Cabbage. Like everyone else, I was awed by the compelling smokiness of this deceptively simple dish. One of these days, I'm dragging home a half-dozen heads of cabbage and doing an experiment. If I can get it to come out half this good, I'm calling it a success.

                                                                              Bottom line: China Village is still very much in play. I don't know of a better Sichuan restaurant in the area. It's funny, if you were watching us eat, and saw at least 4 dishes at each table swimming in what looked like the same chili-oil sauce, you might have thought it wasn't much of a place. But all of those sauces were different, and in ways that complemented the main ingredient. The choice of veggies and other texture elements in the dishes was very well thought-out, and there were more WOW dishes than anyone has a right to expect in a single meal. My digestion made a few feeble protests later, but I don't care. I'm going back for sure.