Chowdown Report: Dongbei Lunch @ Nutrition House
Today nine ‘hounds gathered at Nutrition House ( www.5bing2yu.com ) in Milpitas Square for a look at the cooking of Dongbei, China’s Northeast. When this place first opened a few years ago, it made claim to be the first Dongbei cuisine restaurant in the area. It’s changed hands several times but the Chinese name, 五餅二魚 (5 Bing 2 Yu), a reference to Jesus Christ’s miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, has stuck.
This chowdown was a little unusual in that the majority of us (six of nine) were of Chinese descent. We did a quick geographic check around the table, and, alas, no one hails from Dongbei. This cuisine was foreign to all of us. The menu here is enormous, approaching 400 items, and the set menu for 12 people for $128 looked tempting just for expediency. However, my co-host, “tanspace”, soldiered on and in consultation with the waitstaff and a few suggestions from attendees ordered the following:
A1. Northern style bean sheets pork egg & cucumber, $9.95
A9. Gallic (sic) sauce pig feet meat, $9.95
B6. Northeast style intestines, $7.95
B12.Northeast style kidney, $7.95
B15.Slice pork with red mushroom & potato, $8.95
D1. Camin (sic) seed lamb sizzling plate, $9.95
E1. Chicken with mushroom in pot with cake, $9.95
E12.Mao style pork hot pot with cake, $9.95
F1. (Belt) Fish with brown sauce, $9.95
G4. Chili fish, $8.95
J9. Pork soured napa soup, $12.95 (large
)H2. Yam with sugar, $6.95
Per person cost including tax and tip was $16.
Let the discussion begin -- esteemed lunch companions, please report your reactions, favorites, and pans.
496 Barber Ln, Milpitas, CA 95035
Actually, this place exceeded my expectations . . . which I'd set very low since Dongbei cooking is quite simple. That said, i'm not in a rush to go back.
My favorites were E12 and J9, guess i'm a pork person. (g) E12, the Mao style pork hot pot reminded me of pork adobo. The brownish sauce was indeed similar to the B-section dishes but had a tad more vinegar for an extra snap. With all that garlic, chunks of fatty pork belly with the rind, it just needed a little more vinegar and some fish sauce to be adobo. The puffy cake soaked up the gravy nicely.
I like the sliced potato & mushroom in B15. The whole garlic cloves in E12 could be cooked longer to a softer texture. The pig feet meat should probably be served as appetizer, I think other dishes with heavier flavor overwhelmed this dish.
It's been fun meeting all of you and thanks Melanie and tanspace for organizing the lunch!
I thought that B15 was the best of the three B-section, Northeast Special Meat menu. Yes, it did have the identical "shades of House of Nanking" sauce, but it goes to show you what a difference the rendered lard from the pork belly contributes! I've looked into the "red mushrooms" and they are called Ling Zhi or Ganoderma lucidum. The waxy slices of potatoes soaked up the flavors of this dish beautifully.
The pig feet meat is in the appetizer section of the menu. But it came late to the table. Huge serving though, if that counts for anything.
We had quite a lot of food left over with not a lot of people jumping to take the 'remains' home..this spoke volumes!I was disappointed... there was a dreary sameness to many of the dishes, without many distinctive flavors... I was actually surprised as I expected North East Chinese food to be more piquant. Having said this, the pig feet with the "cornbread-looking" topping, was somewhat satisfying...and it was worth the drive to the 'outer limits' (Milpitas) for the company! Interesting, unique and satisfying ...unlike the food.....however there are a myriad of other places to experience in Milpitas, and I'm becoming used to 237!
The pig feet dish I thought could of been better. I've rarely eaten this dish restaurants. But I know it is a popular Korean "snack" dish as well, where one can find it next to kim-bop and duk-buk-ki at Korean markets like Kyopo. The meat is prepared the same way, but with a spicy (with dried shirmp) sauce accompaniment rather than the soy-garlic sauce.
A1 - this dish is the traditional "Cao Rou Liang Zhang Pi" dish found at Shandong restaurants, literally meaning stir-fried pork with double-skin. The skin is always the mung bean noodle sheet, wth the Chinese term being "fen pi" as KK mentioned. In Northern China, "fen" is used to refer not to rice flour (like it does in Southern China) but to mung bean flour. So the glass noodle in "Ants Climbing Tree" dish is called "fen tiao", or mung bean noodle strands. All other "noodle" items are called "mian" and are wheat based.
It was a pleasure dining with fellow Chowhounds this noon. I would characterize the dishes as "hearty fare", with prominence of stewing method of cooking. The portions were generous. The Chicken with Mushroom in Pot with Cake (E1) was my favorite - chicken was tender, skinny mushrooms were tasty (I thought they were golden needles at first) and the sauce held everything together. The presentation was attractive with the "bing" or cake/cracker lying across the top of the pot.
Also high on my list was the Chili Fish (G4), fried, and with sufficient heat to wake up those taste buds. I was disappointed in the Cumin Seed Lamb Sizzling Plate (D1) as the lamb tasted tenderized and and a tad bland. But, maybe having spent the last 2 weeks in Xinjiang eating Uyghur "yangro" with spice blends, has affected my palate! I would like to try the dumplings (celery and chinese cabbage dumplings) one of these days.
Thanks, Melanie and tanspace, for organizing this tasting!
The cumin lamb here was much milder than any other version i've had in this area. But once I reset my mental paradigm, I could appreciate it as is. I liked the fragrance of the cumin and the soft, sweet onions in this dish, but I agree with you that the lamb seemed tenderized.
D, thanks for uploading your photos. For this dish, I agree with KK that this version had a little something extra. I've always had lamb and sour cabbage, never the pork belly version, and now I might have a hard time going back! I puzzled over the tofu cubes for quite a while, and was happy to have KK sitting next to me to explain what in the world these could be. Freeze-dried tofu . . . who knew?!?
Had a great time at lunch today too, and it was a pleasure meeting familiar names and aliases.
Yes unfamiliar territory here, other than a previous visit some years ago before ownership change.
A1 on the menu in Mandarin was listed as La Pei (pulled skin) but was actually mung bean noodle sheets (which tanspace quoted to be double skin). At Little Shanghai in San Mateo, this noodle is referred to as fen pei, although from a Cantonese perspective it may allude to the dim sum skin (like shrimp dumpling ha gao). This was a cold appetizer dish that came out very quickly, that required the waitress to toss it up with two spoons. Served with a mild sesame based sauce that was a bit too light on sesame and soy sauce flavor. If I remember correctly they included woodear funghi in it (mu er) which was a nice touch. Couldn't taste as much bean flavor in the noodle sheets and they were a lot more softer than Little Shanghai's in San Mateo.
A9 was my suggestion. Very amusing that they spelt garlic wrong to make it sound like how someone from Boston might say it (in addition to a myriad of fun mispellings that Chowfun and I saw on the menu). This looked exactly like a steamed German style pig's knuckle dish (sliced up). The Mandarin name of the dish would have been Suan Nei Ju Soh, with suan nei being minced garlic (or gallic mud). When the dish arrived (which was somewhere 2/3 through the meal and by then it wasn't an appetizer) the mud was absent. The portions were humongous though so it was good there were enough for 9 to 10 folks. When inquired with the waitress, she pointed out a side bowl of dipping sauce that was mostly soy sauce and some minced garlic inside. This help elevate the dish a bit more. I think vliang would have been disappointed with this. There was flavor but nothing like for example Little Shanghai's or Everyday Beijing's marinated pig's ears kind of texture and collagenous explosion.
Agreed with yimster that B6, B12, and B15 at a glance looked very much identical and tasted eerily similar. Of course the House of Same Sauce (House of Nanking) reference had to be dropped. The kidneys were not dry, but the dish was overly salty. The intestines were pretty decent and thankfully not rubbery.
Cumin lamb was one of the highlights for me. Virtually none of that gamey lamb flavor (and I love gamey lamb too). For some reason I always thought this was an extremely spicy dish, but it is just pure fragrance.
B15's mushroom was delicious, tasted like a European kind, as Melanie described.
The hot pots were interesting. Piled on top were baked (and seemingly grilled/fried afterwards) cake bread thingies. I thought these were the restaurant's version of the corn cakes (like at Guan Dong House in Cupertino), but they tasted more like "silver thread rolls" or the deep fried version of mahn toh (northern style white steamed buns).
E12 I enjoyed very much over E1. Small tasty chunks of pork belly with tons and tons and tons of GALLIC cloves. Thick brown sauce that was virtually identical to E1s.
Did not try the belt fish as I got scarred by super fishy versions from the supermarket one time.
Chili fish was fantastic. Kudos to Yimster for ordering medium spicy as any hotter I would have downed my water and tea more quikcly and entirely.
The suan bai cai ju rou tang J9 as excellent. A big pot of sour (fermented) cabbage with bean thread vermicelli (dung fun, or fun si), with slices of delectable pork belly. A true NE style staple. Comes close to the verison at Joy in Foster City, maybe a tad bit better. As an extra fine touch, they threw in tofu cubes that were freeze dried, meaning fresh firm tofu placed into the freezer first, which acts as densification. Once it is back to room temperature, it remains more tightly packed and has a completely different texture. It is superb for soups and hot pots where freeze dried tofu can absorb more fluids, which makes a Little Sheep Monglian Hot Pot experience that much better with it. (There are additional great health benefits to freeze dried tofu).
H2, a shame they couldn't throw that in for free given the amount that was spent today (a lot of revenue for the restaurant). They put way too much sugar or sweetener inside and with the sesame seeds sprinkled on top, it tasted exactly like walnut prawns from your Chinese (wedding) banquet dinner (minus the prawn flavor).
And thanks again to tanspace for doing such a great job with the ordering.
It looks like this restaurant still offers Northern Style breakfast/brunch all day and even during weekdays, and there are also a variety of boiled dumplings as well.
Not busy at all today, quite a few empty tables.
Just saw tanspace's reply and I have to agree that the restaurant does have a lot of breadth but doesn't seem to have the necessary depth. The variety is indeed all over the map, and the two to three menus alone seemed overly confusing.
A1, B15, J9, E1 are listed as some of their special items on their website. Chairman Mao's pork is also something I haven't seen elsewhere. Better version of A1 and H2 can be found at Shandong-style restaurants. The mung bean sheet was cooked too soft, and the sauce did not taste mustardy enough.
This "New" Nutrition House is no longer the original Dongbei restaurant. They've added many Sichuan and even Cantonese items to the menu. Chili Fish and Cumin Lamb are actually Sichuan items. Chili Fish was nice since it has similar flavor as the traditional ChongQing Spicy chicken, but made with fish filet instead of chicken wing with lots of bones.
The fish was not very good, though it was recommended to us I've also had better pig feet elsewhere. I did not order any noodles because they use regular factory noodles, nothing homemade.
One thing about this place is that there are a lot of items here which cannot be found easily elsewhere. The E1 and E12 "hot pot with cake" items are a nice touch. Yimster called it "green onion pancake" without the green onion - it was great for soaking up the sauces from the pot.
The was interesting but much of the dishes looked alike and to my disappointment tasted alike. B6, B12, and B15 all looked alike and had the same sauce.
The presentation of E12 and E1 look very much alike also but each had it own taste.
Three dishes which I like best were the Soured Napa Cabbage soup with Sliced Pork, Cumin Lamb and Chili Fish which when the wait staff asked how hot I am glad to say medium hot.
Would like to check out the soup noodles.
Really enjoy the company, to diner with so many knowledgeable hounds was great.
My one dislike was that too many of the dishes were so much alike. Wish our selection covered more of the taste of the region. But as Melanie has stated none fo the Chinese attend are from Dongbei. I think there is only one or two from that area in the Bay Area.
We may have been better off ordering the set menu.
Cost for a little on the high side for what we got.