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Apr 25, 2008 09:11 AM

Hunan and Chef Liu [Fresno]

Thought I would start a new thread on this topic given the latest surge of interest on the part of the local and SF Bay hounds.

SF Board thread on Chef Liu (formerly of China Village in Solano)

About Chef Liu

Stopped in yesterday to return the Sichuan menu (not the one online) that Chef Liu graciously provided for me to make copies and distribute, and to have lunch. I've been reading about Dan Dan noodles for a couple of years on multiple boards but never ran across them, so today was the day. WOW, crispy ground pork on top of perfectly cooked noodles laced with cabbage and peanuts, in a red chile oil sauce (I requested spicy). The layers of flavor were outstanding, Speaking with Kathy, the lovely front of the house manager, I'm not sure I got the authentic heat, it had a great slow burn, but didn't bring tears to my eyes, sweat to my brow, or clear my sinuses, but OTOH I do love my chipotle and habanero sauces, so who knows? Being a neophyte, I have nothing to compare them to, but a little voice in my head tells me I'm likely to be disappointed ordering them from any other place in the future. Kathy also insisted that I try their hot and sour soup, compliments of the house, again I fear I'm spoiled by the balance and depth of flavor, only rival I can conceive of is the one Thai Royal Orchid offers.

Kathy mentioned that one of their waiters recently visited Beijing and was blown away about how well known and respected Chef Liu is there. I mentioned that local hound glazebrookgirl had checked out the menu on their website only to find dishes one typically sees all over town and not the cuisine the chef is famous for. Asked if I thought she should include the Sichuan menu online, I replied definitely.

Since I was there prior to the lunch hour I was able to spend a little more time talking with Chef Liu so I asked about the Tanjia dishes that Melanie Wong mentioned in her post. My pronunciation was so off that it took a brief moment or two to clarify what I was asking. The bottom line is that it would be possible to put together a special meal of these subtle, mostly seafood dishes, with at least two weeks notice since Monday is the one time in the week they have to travel to the bay area to shop for ingredients, some of which would take a week to clean and prepare, one of which I understood to be dried fish stomachs?

I took a look at their wine list, typical of what you'd expect a restaurant vendor to put together, to its credit it did have a riesling and a gewurztraminer. Diners are welcome to bring their own, corkage is a whopping $7/bottle.

Finally, Melanie was able to create a PDF file of the menu from a fax I sent to her. If any local hounds are interested in a copy email me at dlw38 AT sbcglobal DOT net

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  1. OMG - the fish maw soup was incredible. Here's a link to a description of that item at the Chinese New Year banquet Chef Liu did for us a few years ago that included some Tanjia dishes (the rest of the thread is mouthwatering reading as well.

    No disrespect intended to Fresno, but how did a renowned Chinese chef end up there when there are restaurants in major metro areas that would kill (and no doubt pay big bucks) to have him?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      How funny, Ruth. I just completed a sequential doc of the dishes, descriptions, and links to photos from that 2004 dinner. I just emailed a copy to Melanie.

      "No disrespect intended to Fresno, but how did a renowned Chinese chef end up there when there are restaurants in major metro areas that would kill (and no doubt pay big bucks) to have him?"

      I wondered about this as well and had a chance to ask yesterday, Kathy told me that he had become tired of working for someone else and wanted his own place, and that the cost of living and doing business here gave him that opportunity. She admits it has been a struggle the past two years but it has been worth it. A move to an even better location may be in the cards when their current lease is up.

      One problem as I pointed out, is that word really hasn't gotten out, hopefully our formidable houndly force can change that. Hell, it might even be Fresno's springboard to fame (yeah, right).

      1. re: Gail

        A few days ago when gbg & I drove out to the restaurant for a quick look-thru-the-window recon, gbg said something about seeing an article posted on the wall inside the restaurant. We were not able to go in &, frankly, I'm not even sure I remember what she said she saw exactly.

        But it is possible that Joan Obra or someone else at the Fresno Bee has, at one time or another, written about Hunan. Sounds like a good reason to go find out.

        1. re: alanstotle

          Yup. She has (the complete article may be online somewhere, but this is enough to know that she's "in the know")

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            The 2005 article is posted near the entrance. But it's more about the chef's background instead of reviewing the food. It does include a recipe for one of his creations, peach-encrusted prawns or something like that. The piece does mention that when Chef Liu took over and tried to introduce his own style of cooking the existing customers were very unhappy, so they had to bring back the Americanized menu and have the old owner teach them how to make those dishes.

            Hunan Restaurant
            6716 N Cedar Ave Ste 104, Fresno, CA 93710

    2. Thank you for this wonderful news!! I can't wait to try Hunan!!

      1. Boy am I confused! I thought chef Liu was new. Joan's article was from 2005. Hunan has been around for at least 20 years and was always busy and considered excellent. I must go back to give it a new try, it's a bit hidden away in the center AND in my mind.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gail

          You're correct Gail, it's been around for a long time, but Chef Liu and his cuisine have only become a part in the last 2-3 years. They were on our rotation long prior to that, but as the article in the Bee previously referred to states, it was westernized, and as we all know, there is a plethora of that in Fresburg. I'm actually a little embarassed for not continuing to patronize them since I was lucky enough to experience a few of the dishes at the beginning. Mea culpa, hopefully I can atone for my houndly slackeredness (oh God, did I just pull a W and add another abomination to the English language?). If you'd like to be included in the updates leading to the chowdown send me your email addy.



        2. Great report! Dan dan mien is usually seasoned ma-la, meaning numbing hot from the use of Sichuan peppercorns. Did the tip of your tongue get a little numb?

          1. Any report on the ambience of the restaurant? The food sounds amazing and I was thinking of taking my Mom and sister there over the Mother's Day weekend since I will be in town.