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Sep 1, 2008 01:28 PM

China Village: New Chef (August 2008)

We had a nice dinner for eight at China Village Friday night. The owner, Mr. Yao, came over to our table for a taste of the wine we had brought and told us of his new chef. The very genial Mr. Yao told us that he brings new chefs from China so he can keep up to date on the newest trends in Chinese cuisine. He said sometimes the chefs don't work out, only lasting for a month or two; if they are good they might stay for two years. I had a fleeting vision of disconsolate chefs languishing in Guantanamo; I did not pursue that thought.

The current chef has a number of specialties, not on the menu. One is an appetizer, currently posted at the top of the whiteboard at the entry to the restaurant. It is "pig's ear with cucumber." Mr. Yao recommended it. I've enjoyed white-cooked or red-cooked pig's ear in Cantonese places; it has a pleasantly crunchy texture. This dish was quite different. The pig's ears were tender, and were embedded in a gelatinous matrix like headcheese. This was sliced into neat rectangles about an eighth of a inch thick. Each slice was perched on a perfectly matching slice of cucumber, arranged beautifully on the plate, and topped with sauce. Mr. Yao told us to eat a slice of pork and cuke simultaneously, and expertly demonstrated, rolling up a slice of cucumber with one of pig ear. He was emphatic that the dish would not taste right if we ate the ingredients separately and he was correct. The sauce was numbing-spicy with Szechwan pepper. Highly recommended.

Mr. Y then suggested a number of other specialties from the new chef, but they were all of the spicy variety and our crowd wanted milder food. So we ordered off the regular menu. Mr. Y recommended a dish I've never had before, Hunan Smoked Pork with Dry Turnip (#53 on the menu). The slices of "bacon-cut" pork were smoky and well-seasoned, and the dried turnip was pickly-salty and crunchy. Quite delicious. We also ordered Cumin Lamb (#122), Fish Fillet with Wine-Lees Sauce (#128), Eggplant with Yellow-Bean Paste (#140), and A-Choy in Garlic Sauce (#145, perhaps). The A-Choy had excellent "wok-breath," and the other dishes were expertly prepared. We also had Sesame Bread (#216) and Homestyle chicken (#8). In previous visits the chicken was overly spicy, but the sauce this time was milder and sweeter (and more to my taste). For some reason I forgot to order #150, the Charred Cabbage, which has become another favorite.

An excellent meal, a nice chat with Mr. Yao, good service, and $13 apiece with two corkages (before tip). Let's make sure the new chef sticks around.

China Village
1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

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  1. Melanie or someone reported a while back that the owner was thinking of adding more Shandong / Korean-Chinese dishes to the menu. I see they have a "hot and cold salad" that sounds like "double skin." What else is on there? I can't even spot the zazang myun that they supposedly were serving a while back. If they have zam pong, it's not listed under the soups.

    Anybody tried #104 "Beer Sauce Duck Serving in Clay Pot, No Water! Natural Broth!"?

    scanned menu:

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      They've always had zam pong -- or at least, I first had it there more than five years ago. It's listed under Noodles as #197 Village Special Noodle Soup (Seafood, Spicy, All Good!).

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        One post on Yelp reports there's a Korean menu, and that the tang su yook (Korean-style sweet and sour pork) is good.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          We've had the "double-skin," same as "hot and cold salad".
          It's a large dish, serves ten people easily. The other place I've had it is at Great China in Berkeley, also apparently Korean-Chinese. It consists of a number of cold ingredients served with wide slippery noodles and a tangy mustard sauce. Very tasty but a little goes a long way.
          We also enjoy "beer-sauce duck" -- as you can imagine it is a very rich dish. The sauce is a deep bronze-red, a bit spicy, not very hot. The duck is cut in small pieces. It is an excellent dish, best shared among a group of people, and there is lots of sauce for your rice.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I've had the beer sauce duck a couple of times and was underwhelmed both times. Actually, I've never had a great duck dish at China Village, even under the original chef, although I had a great tea-smoked duck from him at his place in Fresno.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I have an old take-out menu and unlike the sporq one, under rice and noodles, lists #192 Chai Chai Mien Noodle (soybean paste noodle). I've not ordered it at CV since Chef Liu's days when it was made in Beijing style with brown/red bean sauce rather than black. Might be different now.

            2. Mr. Yao cracks me up -- so aggressively helpful. When did they switch to a single menu?

              2 Replies
              1. re: a_and_w

                I don't know when, exactly, but they'd gone to a single menu when we had a big chowdown there in November 2007.

              2. Yimster has the misfortune of being on my cell phone so when I'm sitting the parking lot of Kermit Lynch on Friday in the middle of a rosé-buying spree at three San Pablo Avenue wine stores (the 2007 Dubois rosé from Burgundy at Odd Lots for $11 is fantastic) it's him I call looking for a suggestion for a place to eat.
                He recommended China Village. I loved the place. I went back on Saturday. So I was looking for a thread to jump in.
                Friday I got the water boil pork with bacon cut and a pot of seafood soup. The pork had great flavor and texture. The broth on the soup was excellent.
                Saturday I went back for the lamb with cumin. Another excellent dish. What struck me about the dish was how spicy and vibrant the cumin was in the meal, yet there were also subtle flavors that also showed through.

                1 Reply
                1. re: SteveTimko

                  Wait, do I get some wine for my suggestions. Next time I in Reno I will call you for suggestions. Which will be sooner than later.

                  Glad I could help what are chowhounds for anyway.

                2. Someone in another thread mentioned a fried chicken dish at CV. Maybe it was the one I had recently, called "Szechuan dry cooked chicken" on the "Chef Recommends" menu addendum. This was chunks of bone-in chicken dusted with spice (five-spice? Maybe) and deep fried, then served with the usual red oil and big pile of dried chilis.

                  The chicken was crisp with lots of crunchy little bits of crackling and skin, but the real delight was that some of those little bits were actually sliced ginger, deep fried crunchy ginger. Take a bite of this ginger with just the pointy, milder tip of one of the dried chilis, and the slight unease you might feel about eating this quite greasy dish melts right away.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: ernie in berkeley

                    ernie, thanks for ordering and reporting back on this dish. Mr. Yao said it's Korean-Chinese style and I need to try it. Those ginger and chili bites sound as exotic as the combo with our fried chitlins.


                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Sounds like the dish at Z&Y that is called "explosive chicken" -- here's my comment from a Chowdown last year:

                      ..."chicken with explosive chilli pepper". It was excellent; though the pieces of chicken had been fried, they were crisp, greaseless, and without a thick coating of batter ($10.95). It was a huge portion, however, and as someone else commented, would not work so well for fewer diners...

                      Z & Y
                      655 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                      1. re: Joel

                        The reports of the explosive chicken at Z&Y sounded more like Chonqing chicken to me, but I've not had the dish so can't say.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I've had it explosive=chongqing chicken...
                          Although, really the dish is not that big, unless you eat the chili.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        This sounds like the Chongqing chicken at Zone 88 (RIP I think for their sichuan menu). Their Chongqing chicken had very noticeable ginger in addition to the sichuan peppercorns and garlic. Anyway, it sounds delicious.

                        1. re: P. Punko

                          Chongqing chicken is a separate dish on China Village's menu, so I think this is different.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Yeah, it does sound like it- it was just interesting that the ginger aspects made it sound like Zone 88's Chongqing chicken- which I think had more flavors in it than the usual suspects.