Feasting in Fresno @ Hunan Restaurant
- Melanie Wong May 18, 2008 09:54 AM
Following on the Fresno hounds’ look-see at Chef Liu’s Hunan Restaurant, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512948 , “Polar Bear” and I convened a couple larger groups of friends and chowhounds for two scouting banquets this weekend. For these bigger gatherings, we went off-road requesting some of the special dishes I’d had in the past and asked Chef Liu to fill in the menu with his own Sichuan, Shandong, and Tanjia recommendations. Friday’s dinner had 10 attendees, and Saturday’s, 14. Cost per person for each meal was $40, plus tax, tip and corkage for wines that we brought. In addition, our companions at the table opened their hearts and pocketbooks to donate $145 (cash, checks and online pledges) to the relief effort in Sichuan Province, China. Bravo!
Listed below are the menu and wines for each evening. Chowhounds, please share your thoughts on the meals and tell us about your favorite dish.
FRIDAY – May 16
Cold Plates (Appetizer):
Prawn’s Antenna Shredded Beef
Mustard Green with Mustard Sauce
Egg Wrapped shrimp roll
Spicy Pork Kidney
Sichuan Spicy Combination
Fish Fillet in Ginger Sauce
Shandong-style Two Sheets Salad
Abalone and Fish Maw Soup
Five Colors Shrimp Noodles
Dungeness Crab Meat Asparagus
Chinese Style Filet Mignon
Garlic Lamb Stew Hotpot
Sichuan Style Braised Whole Fish with Noodles
Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage
Traditional Peking Duck
Chinese Green Peas Soup with Tapioca
2006 Lake Chalice Marlborough Riesling
2006 Dr. Unger Kremstal Grüner Veltliner
NV Fresno State “Tail Gate White”
1998 Dehlinger Russian River Valley Estate Syrah
SATURDAY – May 17
Cold Plates (Appetizer):
Light Shadow Beef
Mustard Green with Mustard Sauce
Egg Wrapped shrimp roll
Spicy Beef Tripe
Hot and Sour calamari
Spicy Pork Kidney
Sichuan Spicy Combination
Fish Fillet in Ginger Sauce
Dongbei-style Two Sheets Salad
Spinach Dumpling in Duck Soup
LuoHan Two Varieties Shrimp
Abalone Fish Maw Roll
Crab Meat Asparagus
Sichuan Spicy Boiled Filet Mignon
Braised Sea Cucumber
Red Dates Lamb Stew
Sweet & Sour Fish Filet Roll
Peanut Sweet Soup with Black Sesame-filled Rice Dumplinng
2004 Talley “Rosemary’s” Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
2006 Honig Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
1998 Vieux Chateau Gaubert Graves Blanc
2006 Hayman Hill “Interchange” Reserve Selection Santa Barbara County
2001 Shafer “Relentless” Napa Valley (81% Syrah/19% Petite Sirah
)1999 Beaulieu “Tapestry Reserve” Napa Valley”
200? Witness Tree Oregon Pinot Noir
2003 Eitelsbacher Kartaüserhofberg Kabinett Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Again, a special thanks to my co-organizer, Polar Bear, and especially to the ‘hounds for helping the people of Sichuan who gave us this great culinary tradition. Contributions can be mailed to American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 designated for the “Sichuan Earthquake International Response Fund” or online at the Fresno-Madera chapter's website, http://american.redcross.org/site/Pag... .
6716 N Cedar Ave Ste 104, Fresno, CA 93710
ok, I'll start...
First of all, let me give a HUGE thank you to Melanie and to Polar Bear for organizing this wonderful event...many, many kudos to you both!
When I first heard about this event, I was transported back to the first time I tried Chef Liu's cooking, which was also thanks to the hounds:
and I knew I had to go try it again, even if it meant 400 miles round-trip of driving...Unfortunately, I was already committed for Saturday evening, but I was able to be there Friday night. Verdict: A delightful evening of food, wine, and great company, completely worth the drive, sure wish we could figure out how to entice Chef Liu back to the bay area! (just kidding, Polar Bear and the rest of you Fresno hounds...relax, I am kidding. really :-))
Overall, the dinner was not as revelatory as my first Chef Liu banquet, but I guess part of that is that, well, revelations by their very nature only happen once, right? My knowledge of the cuisine has grown considerably since then, so hard to say how much is me, and how much was the cooking. I do know that in our conversations with Chef Liu after the meal he did talk about the difficulties of getting certain ingredients in Fresno (stewing chicken was one: I told Polar Bear I thought we should teach Chef Liu some Spanish and hook him up with the Mexican markets :-))..but overall, if memory serves I would say that this banquet was a little less refined than my first four years ago....
Favorite dishes, hmm...hard to say, so many that I really enjoyed. If I had to pick standouts, they would be:
-the Two sheets salad: we all kept wanting more of this, even though we knew we should be pacing ourselves for the rest of the meal. Beautifully presented, lovely contrast of flavors, and perfect for the hot weather. This one is on the Hunan regular menu, btw, and I'd call it a summer-time must order.
-Sichuan spicy combination: tripe and beef shank in an incredible, rich, spicy, complex sauce. I am not the world's biggest tripe fan, and I still love, loved this.
-Dungeness crab and asparagus: wow, what a surprise. A few of the asparagus weren't trimmed quite as well as I'd like...but that's a nit pick: what made this a standout was that the crab was incredibly sweet and perfectly cooked. In mid-May. Almost two months after I thought crab season was over, I was offered the best crab dish I've had this year. When we asked Chef Liu about it his offhand reply was that it was live crab (when cooked). Ok, sure, but most of the crab I've had this year was cooked live. That doesn't explain the magic here.
-Garlic lamb stew hotpot: tender lamb and sweet, creamy roasted whole cloves of garlic in a spicy red sauce: what is not to love?
-the cabbage: this one I requested, and Melanie was kind enough to add to the menu. Another dish that I believe is available on a regular basis at Hunan, and for me it is another must-order. Lovely 'wok-breath' and demonstrated the Chef's skill: it is hard to get cabbage to be just the perfect consistency when stir fried. BTW, I was lucky enough to take 'home' the leftover cabbage. I stuck it in my hotel fridge, intending to bring it back to SF for hubby (since cabbage keeps well), but must confess, it never made it out of the Holiday Inn, and tasted wonderful cold with hotel room coffee for breaktfast! :-)
In keeping with my current Syrah kick the Dehlinger was my favorite of the wines, but the Riesling was a better match with most of the dishes. I didn't try the Fresno State: Melanie took one sip and grimaced, which was enough to discourage me.. :-)
Truthfully, hard to explain the skill and work that went into many of these dishes. Melanie did take pictures and I hope she will be able to post them soon....And again, thanks so much to the organizers and to the Fresno hounds for a wonderful evening and a great visit to your City!
I agree with you that our palates have developed (in part thanks to the dinners Chef Liu has prepared for us in the past at China Village) and a couple dishes on Friday seemed less refined than those in past years, but considering the difficulties of procuring ingredients and skilled kitchen helpers (note Jaymieeaton's plight below), I thought our overall meal was “very tasty and well prepared”.
Prawn’s Antenna Shredded Beef — I expected this to be crispy; instead it just turned into a chewy, but tasty soft mass in my mouth. However, the flavors brought back memories of the Chinese beef jerky Mom used to buy me as a special treat from her grocery trips to SF.
Mustard Greens with Mustard Sauce — This veggies is one of my personal favorites; these were tender but still toothsome and well-trimmed.
Egg-Wrapped Shrimp Roll —The wonderfully clear essence of eggs (scrambled?) vs. shrimp provided counterpoint to the red-oil dishes throughout our meal.
Spicy Pork Kidney — I really enjoyed this cold appetizer. It’s not often I get
the opportunity to enjoy pork kidneys this well-prepared.
Shandong-style Two Sheets Salad — While I enjoyed this dish, I think the knifework on vegetables was not fine as in the past and the “sheets” got a little mushy with time. However, this comment is nit-picking and I’d certainly order it again — especially if I needed to clear out my sinuses!
More late - it's been very busy today since I took off from work Friday to travel to Fresno, but want to encourage some discussion.
re: Stephanie Wong
I actually thought the greens, with all of the mustard sauce, were the perfect sinus cure! A bit too much hot mustard for my taste, (I love the stuff but in small doses) but these are one of my favorite veggies also, so I kept eating....the salad didn't seem that hot to me.
Yes, I agree that the pork kidneys were particularly well-prepared.
I've never actually had Chinese beef jerkey I don't think (perhaps I should head to Chinatown and look for some?) but it is funny you say that, as beef jerky is the flaovr that came to mind as soon as I tasted the beef. Seemed appropriate to me, as I hadn't had any on the trip down, and was missing my usual road food snack...
The meal sounded wonderful. I sorry I had to miss it. But had plans I could not break. I will stop in Fresno next time I am down in the valley (on my way to Vegas or LA). Hope for another chance someday soon.
I had a great time at the chowdown and Melanie proved an excellent hostess! Thanks to the always furry, always friendly Polar Bear for his part is putting on this event.
Hunan: Revelation on a Plate.
I'm unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine other than the ubiquitous, stereotypical Americanized version so common in this country. Thus, tasting authentic regional Chinese was a revelation--who knew Chinese food could taste like this? The flavor layers, textures? (Well, obviously all the Chinese in China, plus the zillions of enlightened eaters of it all over the world. I feel like someone announcing he's discovered fire. In 1978. O well....)
Since I claim no expertise, my ratings are based simply on whether or not I enjoyed the dish. I graded each dish 1-5, 5 being most appealing. I hope this post will *not* get me dis-invited for upcoming Hunan banquets.
Light Shadow Beef - 2 - One of my least favorite dishes. Very thin, crispy beef slices. Adequate flavor. I tried to like this but it reminded me too much of eating dry beef jerky.
Mustard Green with Mustard Sauce - 4 - YOW! My barely legible note says, "Blow my face off good!" Indeed, during a few bites I swore my head was about to detonate like a grenade from the hot mustard sauce, my nose riccocheting off the opposite wall, but the greens were was so good I kept returning for more.
Egg Wrapped shrimp roll - 1 - My least favorite. A beautiful presentation didn't make up for a soft and uninteresting texture. While the taste of shrimp came through, it could not compensate for the texture. The taste itself was pretty one-note. Not a dish I would order.
Spicy Beef Tripe - 5 - I'd never had tripe before--what a lovely introduction! The presentation was pretty, paper-thin slices of tripe ribbon with feathered edges in that distinctive orangey-red Szechwan pepper sauce made for a delicious first meeting with this often maligned offal. The texture was meaty, never rubbery or mushy.
Hot and Sour calamari - 5! - Wow! Calamari as it sould be; al dente, full of flavor from the mariande, hot but never off-puttingly so. I was seriously considering ordering a box of this to go after the dinner, and plan to order it next time I'm at Hunan.
Spicy Pork Kidney - Another 5 - Again, kidney is another offal I'd never had. In this case, pork kidneys, amd delicious ones to boot. The taste was mild, not-quite-beef but not-quite-anythnig else. The texture was somewhat beefy but more resistant to the teeth. I liked this quite a bit.
Fish Fillet in Ginger Sauce - 3 - Nice ginger flavor, but the all-white presentation did not excite my visual interest and the taste, while good, wasn't outstanding in any way.
Spinach Dumpling in Duck Soup - 5 - Simple but not simplistic. Pieces of bone-in, skin-on duck floating in rich, flavorful duck broth with light green spinach dumplings (looked like gyoza.) As soon as I tasted my first spoonful, I wanted to grab the entire bowl for myself. As soon as I tasted the first spinach dumpling, I almost did.
LuoHan Two Varieties Shrimp - 3 and 5 - The first grade is for the whole prawn. These were perfectly cooked but the flavor was too modest for my palate. The second grade is for the breaded fried shrimp with shrimp forcement (thanks to Melanie for the description) on top. The fried shimp wa outstanding; perfectly cooked, full of shrimp flavor, the breading never hiding but rather providing a crispy foundation to the softer richness of the shrimp meat.
PolarBear, seated behind me at the other table, tapped me on the shoulder, held out his plate, and claimed he hadn't gotten any of the fried shrimp--clearly a pathetic attempt to get more than his share of this delicacy (and shrimp I had mentally earmarked for my own consumption!) I growled at him but he persisted, shoving his plate at me repeatedly, pointing to his open mouth with his free hand and moaning "uh uh uh uh" until I relented (he was the co-host, after all) and gave him his shrimp. Some people.
Abalone Fish Maw Roll - 5 - Another all-white dish, but the noodle roll on this was so flavorful with wheaty noodle taste and perfect al dente texture I forgave the monochromatic presentation.
Crab Meat Asparagus - 3 - Perfectly cooked asparagus topped with crab meat and all in a clear broth. A good dish but not a great one, seemed to me the crab was merely piled onto the asparagus. I think this dish would have been superior as a soup.
Sichuan Spicy Boiled Filet Mignon - 5 - OhhhhHHHHHhhhh... now we come to the king of the ball. A dark, dark orangey-red "soup" with slices of still-toothsome cucumber and slices of filet floating in it. Visually, Cinderella's ugly sister. But grab that piece of beef, swirl it around and pop it in your mouth, and the gates of reality shatter and the sun dawns in your soul. The first thing you're aware of is the beginning of a nice beefy taste when the blitzkrieg of heat on your tongue from the red chile peppers arrives a split second later. It's all-out assault, towns and villages burned to husks, and as the searing heat engulfs your tongue, you experience a strange rush, verging on an out-of-body experience. Just when you think, "I can't take any more!" the freezing blast of tongue-numbing heat from Szechwan peppercorns barrels into you like an out of control 18-wheeler. Your mouth, gripped by the iron hands of the gods, is pulled in two directions at once: The flames of the red chilis and the Arctic chill of the pappercorns.
And that's just the first piece of beef.
If you're sick, hung over, depressed, this will cure you, or perhaps just kill you. Not recommended for the very young, the weak, the nervously inclined, or those who suffer from the vapors.
Braised Sea Cucumber - 4 - It wasn't until after I'd eaten this someone reminded me sea cucumber was a slug. O well. This was delicious. Strips of what looked like fleshy cucumber in a thick, sweet sauce. The texture was toothsome, but not rubbery. The sauce carried most of the taste of this dish, I don't know if sea slug has much flavor on its own.
Red Dates Lamb Stew - 4 - Excellent, perfectly cooked chunks of lamb with no gamey taste but rather allowing the taste of the meat itself to show itself.
Sweet & Sour Fish Filet Roll - 2 - Something went wrong in the cooking of this, or it was served in a style unfamiliar to me. The taste of the roll was fine, but the bottom of the roll was hard, impenetrable without serious knife and fork work. The other table's dish had the same issue.
Peanut Sweet Soup with Black Sesame-filled Rice Dumpling - 3 - Eating this was exactly like eating a slurry of hot Malt-O-Meal, lolol.... The dumpling was everything a black sesame dumpling ought to be, and the soup was tasty.
An "in vino, veritas" thanks to PB's friend (whose name escapes me) for bringing many bottles of wine and pouring me the best glass of pinot noir I've had: 2004 Talley “Rosemary’s” Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir. Also thanks to Melanie for introducing me to the 2003 Eitelsbacher Kartaüserhofberg Kabinett Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It was most enjoyable!
Melanie and PB, thank you again for all your effort organizing this. I had a wonderful time and enjoyed meeting the SF hounds and PB's golfing friends. Thanks to Chef Liu, Kathy, and the staff of Hunan Restaurant for a spectacular meal.
"PolarBear, seated behind me at the other table, tapped me on the shoulder, held out his plate, and claimed he hadn't gotten any of the fried shrimp..."
All of us local hounds are well aware of Ken's writing skills but I'm beginning to wonder if in fact fiction is his forte? I thought I'd run into a mother Grizzly with her cubs when I asked for that single morsel from the other table. Just prior to that I'd stepped outside for a moment and returned to find my wine glass missing AND the ice floe I had been sitting on melted substantially. What wasn't revealed is that Mr. KW subsequently asked me to pass the bottle of Talley over on the pretense of taking some notes off the label. Not to point fingers or anything, but no one at our table was sure whatever became of that bottle. Now it was a rather hot day and warm evening so maybe it was just a case of the vapors, that or we'll just have to remember to be extra observant whenever The Sturdy Wench isn't around to keep our not so humble scribe under control. ;>P
I bin wronged! Wronged, I say! PB has coated me with the blackest calumny, that of a wine thief! (The shrimp, I'll grant I looked askance at him but only because I couldn't believe his own friends would do him down for a single crustacean. However, this speaks of the quality of Chef Liu's cooking.) I did take my notes from the label and forthwith returned the bottle to the center of table, unmolested.
I stand pure and unspotted in my innocence.
FRIDAY – May 16
Cold Plates (Appetizer):
Mustard Green with Mustard Sauce –The first two appetizers were my special request, last had this at my birthday banquet at China Village four years ago. If anything, the jade-colored mustard green hearts were even more on point in texture than before. Loved the juicy crunch and the explosion out of the top of the head of the hot mustard (think wasabi burn). Note to those who’ve not experienced the wallop of
Chinese hot mustard before: it has a short half-life and if you let it sit for 15 minutes or so, the firepower calms down a lot.
Prawn’s Antenna Shredded Beef – Nope, this doesn’t have prawns or their antennae in it. Rather beef is shredded into filamentous strands that resemble crustacean whiskers, deep-fried, and then glazed with a spicy-sweet sauce. If done well, the floss is almost like Sichuan-spiced cotton candy. This time, the flavor was fine, but the texture of the beef fibers was tough instead of crispy. Later we found out from Chef Liu that he wasn’t able to get the right cut of beef to make this, but he promised that the similar dish, light-shadow beef the next night would be better.
Spicy Pork Kidney - While the puddle of red oil on the dish might give one pause, the kidneys were only medium spicy and not complicated by Sichuan peppercorn. This gave it a different taste than the “spicy combination”. The well-cleaned kidneys were cross-hatched so that the pieces opened like petals of a flower as they cooked. This also provided more surface area for the tasty saucing to cling to. I complimented Chef Liu on the “Q” factor texture, that special quality sometimes described as “crisp” or “chewy” but perhaps closer to the firm resistance to the tooth, “al dente”. He talked about cleaning the kidney, removing every bit of ligament and possible toughness, and that fastidious shows in the excellence of the finished dish.
Egg wrapped shrimp roll – The thinnest of omelet layers and something dark (maybe seaweed?) wrapped around tender shrimp forcemeat. The purity of shrimp flavor and softness were quite remarkable. I couldn’t help but wonder how the chef gets this soft bundle to hold together without an excess of binding agents. A quiet and yielding “yin”, this was a refuge from the aggressiveness of the other flavors and textures on the table.
Sichuan Spicy Combination – Directly translated as “husband and wife lung slices” or fu qi fei pian, this has no lung in it, but is made of thin slices of beef shank and beef tripe bathed in a fiery “numbing spicy” red oil full of garlic and complex seasonings. This is the dish by which I judge Sichuan kitchens, and Chef Liu’s passes with flying colors. His is still my favorite of all for the careful attention to the grain in cutting the meats and the extra depth of flavor. This serving was better than the order at lunch the previous weekend.
Fish Filet in Ginger Sauce – Called “crystal fish filets” at Albany’s China Village and sometimes offered as part of a special banquet menu there, this is another quiet dish that balances the “yang” offerings. The thickish slices of rock cod look substantial, but after a first firmness to the bite, yield to velvety smoothness. The essence of simplicity, the whisper of ginger adds a savory nuance to the fresh taste of the sea.
Shandong-style Two Sheets Salad – This is the famous liang zhang pi, also known as “double skins”, referring to the mung bean sheets that are broken into irregular shards to make this dish. When Chef Liu proposed this for both the Friday and Saturday dinner menus, I asked that he make them in two different styles. Friday’s Shandong-style is the version that I’ve had at Korean-Chinese restaurants and presumably what’s offered on the menu here at Hunan. It includes cold seafood, in this case, poached prawns and sea cucumber, along with a topping of hot-from-the-wok slivers of pork, white onions, and scallions. Arranged like a sacred mandala of finely julienned carrots, cucumbers, omelet, cloud ears, and translucent pieces of mung bean sheet, its presentation always elicits “oohs and ahs”. Then it’s mixed at the table with a sharp, mustardy dressing. I adore the contrast of hot and old temperatures and range of textures. As Stephanie noted, the knifework on the carrots was not as fine as it should be. Also, the platter came to the table already dressed, rather than adding the liquid at the table, and the bean sheets got soft too quickly.
Abalone and Fish Maw Soup – I requested this dish with much anticipation expecting to repeat the revelatory Tanjia-style fish maw soup enjoyed Chinese New Year’s Eve four years ago. Instead we had this pleasant but very different soup of rich chicken broth and shreds of fish maw, sea cucumber and abalone. Chef Liu was apologetic that he was unable to obtain the type of chicken needed to make the long-simmered soup I craved. This turned into an extended conversation about different types of chickens and initially I thought he needed the yellow-crowned breed or a free-range bird. With many gestures and animated language, he conveyed that he needed an older, tough bird that scratches the ground to stand up to simmering for more than 12 hours to yield the flavor he wanted. Namely, a stewing hen as SusanCinSF mentions above. The next day I returned with a fresh New Stockton Poultry Company brown range chicken with head and feet intact and a frozen stewing chicken for him to experiment with that I’d purchased at RN Market. The results are as yet unknown.
Five Colors Shrimp Noodles – This Shandong dish was another special request from me. Pulverized shrimp meat is whipped with egg whites and then extruded to form fat “pasta” or noodles. These were sauced delicately and combined with strips of red and green peppers, bean sprout “silver”, yellow leeks, and the black of fresh shitake mushrooms. While they tasted as good as before, some of the noodles had broken apart, which detracted from the appearance.
Dungeness Crab Meat Asparagus – Originally planned with balls of winter melon, supply problems struck again and asparagus was substituted. And, what asparagus it was! About a pound’s worth on the plate and fresh as can be, but I agree with Susan that it could have been better trimmed and still provided a bounteous serving. Even more generous was the quantity of crab, and of such high quality too. Normally this style of dish has a few strands of seafood in the sauce crowning the veggies that tends to be more symbolic than contributing to the flavor. Not here. Our server, Sun, said that the crab meat was plucked from a live FOUR-pound Dungeness! Just barely cooked through, the pile of crab meat was so tender and sweet.
Traditional Peking Duck – The “traditional” style here has a non-glazed skin and is served as slices of roasted meat and skin wrapped burrito-style in thin wheat flour pancakes with cucumber and scallions. I like that tianmian jiang is used as the condiment here, rather than the Cantonese hoisin, but it was applied too copiously and drowned out the flavor of the duck. Just a brush stroke is enough, no need for a spoonful. The pancakes were gummy. For me, this was my least favorite bite of the night.
Chinese Style Filet Mignon – These individual servings of buttery soft filet mignon swathed in a black pepper and carmelized onion sauce were so tender we almost didn’t need a knife to cut them. These were presented with a fork and steak knife, just in case. At this point in the meal I was so full, I had just a taste and then asked for mine to be boxed up. Sadly, I forgot to bring it home from our friends’ fridge. I’m sure they enjoyed it.
Garlic Lamb Stew Hotpot – This was a return to the homier style of Sichuan cooking, yet with Chef Liu’s own precise touch to create just the right balance. My first experience with this dish, I loved the sweet creaminess of the slow-cooked whole cloves of garlic. The juicy chunks of lamb still had some fat on them, yielding a gamier flavor to the dish. While the layer of red oil floating on top may look ominous, the seasoning registered only in the mid-range of heat.
Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage – While I’ve had this Sichuan standard many times before, this was my first time from Chef Liu’s wok station. And, he hits it perfectly as Susan described above. Wonderful singed aroma from the sizzling hot wok, still retaining some of its natural crunch, and sweet carmelized tones mingling with roasted red chilis.
Sichuan Style Braised Whole Fish with Noodles – By this point in the evening, I was not only uncomfortably full, but also starting to run out of steam. I could do little more than admire the fish presented in its entirety and the loop-de-loop arrangement of the noodles topped with the savory sauce. My one taste of the fish from toward the tail end was a bit dry, but I could tell it was quite fresh. Somehow I rallied and enjoyed the noodles bathed in the spicy bean paste saucing quite a bit.
Chinese Green Pea Soup with Tapioca – And, finally, time for dessert, a sweet hot soup of pureed green peas with beads of tapioca pearl. This was less sweet than many letting the savory side of the legume show through.
May 16 Dinner slideshow -
Overall, I’d grade this dinner a “B”. The overall menu was balanced in texture and flavors with good progression of courses. Chef Liu surprised us with a few changes of dishes and order from the proposed menu, and I think that these were for the better, improving the flow and harmony of the meal.
This was an excellent re-introduction to his repertoire. Now warmed up, Chef Liu’s cooking was even better the next night. More later.
Ken and Melanie have already given great reports on these two meals, just thought I'd throw in a few comments.
My favorites of the appetizers for the two nights were the Mustard Greens with Mustard Sauce, Spicy Pork Kidney, Light Shadow Beef, Spicy Beef Tripe, Sichuan Spicy Combination, both the Shandong and Dongbei-style Two Sheets Salads, and of course my previously raved about Hot and Sour calamari. The photo in Melanie's slide show says it all about the mustard greens, vibrant color, perfect texture and the great kick-butt sauce. On future visits I'll be calling ahead to see if there's a chance of getting Chef Liu to prepare it. The crispy, almost carmelized edges on the port kidney really put the flavors over the top. I ended up with some left overs after one of the feasts (forget which) and going through the fridge the next day came across the two sheets salad, can't recall ever having left over salad before but ate every bit of it, still very tasty. The ginger fish was a perfect balance for alternating with the spicy dishes. I'd really like to try the prawn antennae again, the flavors had such promise and had it been crispy/shattering like the shadow beef I imagine it would have been devine.
The outstanding entrees for me on Friday were the Dungeness Crab Meat Asparagus, silky smooth, plenty of fresh tasting crab, the Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage which had plenty of kick to it, and the Garlic Lamb Stew Hotpot with huge buttery cloves of garlic and a sauce to die for (another that we were lucky enough to bring home and enjoy over the next couple of days).
The Chinese Style Filet Mignon was the most flavorful tender pieces of meat I've ever tasted and the size of what most places consider a main entree. Was only able to eat about a third of it, but very much enjoyed it the next day. Watching Sun prepare the Traditional Peking Duck I was afraid it was going to be like too many of the Mu Shu pork dishes I've tried (too heavy on the hoisin and sweet) but was pleasantly surprised. By the time we got to Sichuan Style Braised Whole Fish with Noodles I was too stuffed to take more than a bite which seemed a little overcooked, I also took a stab at the noodles but am afraid palate fatigue had also set in.
Saturday's standouts were the Abalone Fish Maw Roll, wonderful delicate flavors, Sichuan Spicy Boiled Filet Mignon, so much more flavorful than the name suggests, the Red Dates Lamb Stew, starting to think that anything Chef Liu makes with lamb will be outstanding, and to my surprise the Braised Sea Cucumber. My long time pal sitting next to me, who for years was in partnership with a Chinese fellow and privy to getting the best from restaurants they visited or home cooked in the company kitchen, turned green when this dish was delivered and said that he had tried them once in the past and were with out a doubt the single, most foul thing he'd ever put in his mouth. I took a bite and was able to get him to try them which thankfully removed the distaste he'd had for the simple creatures. Again, stuffed by the time the Sweet & Sour Fish Filet Roll arrived of which the flavor seemed OK but a strange toughness on the bottom of the rolls reminiscent of parchment paper, not sure what happened here. Thought desserts both nights were decent, not too sweet, which I find preferable.
All in all, great scouting and training for the May 31 event, that Melanie has just put up on the board:
ok, your postings have completely expanded my eating options! i haven't been to the hunan for many, many years and am so happy that i revisited it after joining chowhound. i too had never tried sea cucumber, i remember my mom loving it, and us americanized kids being grossed out! it wasn't until i saw andrew zimmern eating it that i thought maybe i'd give it a chance. the braised pork shoulder with sea cucmber at Hunan was recommended by our wonderful waiter. YUMMY! the sea cucumber was some what like the briased tendon-y parts of chinese beef stew. not fishy at all! we also had a lovely fish soup with sichuan peppercorns, fried chillies, and glass noodles! I love this place! what's nice is that they make great chinese-chinese food, and great chinese-american food too! our friendly waiter let us know that maybe some of you would be doing another tastings menu? is there room for one more? : )