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Apr 21, 2009 03:01 AM

[Hangzhou] Zhi Wei Guan, Yanggongdi Branch (知味观味庄)

I had a truly excellent lunch at Zhi Wei Guan, today, after spending the morning hiking and sampling tea at Dragon Well Village. Although I've had far more dongpo rou than is good for me in the past week, I'm sure, I couldn't resist sampling a small portion, here. Lucky thing, since it was fragrant and meltingly tender. Really a good version. Almost as good as my mama's. :)

My group had two other dishes that were also regional specialties, I believe: (1) a braise made out of fish heads, fried tofu, ginger, dongu mushrooms, scallions and a smidgen of greens that may have been watercress; and (2) smoked duck with pan-crisped glutinous rice. (I'll attempt to load pics of these later.) Both dishes were phenomenal. I'd never had either, so I've no idea whether they were true to traditional form, but it was clear that they were expertly cooked with very high quality ingredients. The fish was perfectly fresh, not overcooked, and the broth / braising liquid was complexly flavored, though pretty salty with soy sauce (noticeably high grade). I don't know what kind of fish it was and wish I'd asked.

The duck... my goodness, the duck!! It was possibly the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth. It was just smoky enough and slightly crispy in parts, and layered very attractively over crisped, pan-fried glutinous rice, then sliced like a pie. The ratio of duck to rice was perfect, as was the ratio of lean to fatty duck meat. Some might find the presentation off-putting, since it was served with the duck's head perched atop, but the server told us that some people eat the duck's head. I couldn't quite figure out a graceful way to do this without an example to watch.

Our final dish was a stirfry of asparagus with lotus petals -- also perfectly cooked, very tender, and surprisingly complexly flavored given the simplicity of ingredients.

The only potential downsides for some diners: the restaurant -- at least the portion we sat in -- doesn't have the best views, really, though it is on Xi Hu (West Lake). We had a fairly unromantic view of the parking lot. The menu had English translations, but servers didn't speak any English. And there were tons of cute kids running amok in the restaurant (which I rather enjoy, but some might find annoying).

Overall, the food was amazing and the restaurant very clean, with fairly upscale decor. There was none of the kitschy glitz that characterizes places like Lou Wai Lou. And it was a fantastic deal. With a huge bottle of local beer and two bowls of rice and another meal's worth of leftovers, the total came to about 240 RMB.

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    1. Sounds divine, you lucky thing! I love anything lotus (root, stems, seeds...) but have never had a dish with lotus petals, the asparagus dish appeals to me very much. One of the best things I had in Hangzhou was a rice dish with fresh lotus seeds in it, steamed in a lotus leaf (this was in August). Very fondly remembered several years later. Must get Suzhou-fixated historian husband to take a detour to Hangzhou next China trip. (And you should go to Suzhou if you haven't been and have a chance, the old city and gardens are quite wonderful as is the food.)

      7 Replies
      1. re: buttertart

        Oh -- was the lotus / rice dish anything like zhongzi (aka "Chinese tamales")? It sounds lovely!

        I would really love to head to Suzhou, esp. if you think it's worth it. (My guidebook was less than flattering in its description... apparently it's a once-beautiful city that has become horribly polluted.) But of the food is good.... ;)

        1. re: cimui

          It's like zongzi but not all wrapped up tight, rice cooked separately and then enfolded in the leaf . Not as compacted, non-glutinous rice.
          Suzhou: I've been there 3x, once in the 90's when it was much MUCH smaller than it is now, and again in 2007 and 2008. Professional interest for my husband (Chinese urban historian, specialty Ming dynasty Suzhou, when it was much bigger than Shanghai and was the dominant economic and cultural center in Jiangnan). Cultural and gastronomic interest for me. The old city and immediate surroundings are of course famous for the gardens, my favorite is the Liuyuan. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is in SZ,, the Wang (surname) Si (4) sorry no time to search the characters one street over from Guanqianjie, the pedestrian (except for motorbikes...China wo ai ni...) entertainment area. It's small and very ordinary in decor but the food is wonderful and the service charming. I believe I've posted on it on the China board under Suzhou recommendations...They have an appetizer of lightly blanched here we go again lotus root that has been marinated in tangerine juice that is simply fabulous - love that very particular lotus root "biteyness". Their Dongpo rou with pine nuts is also great, but you will have had your fill of that dish by now I expect! Following your postings with great interest and must say envy...

          1. re: buttertart


            Thanks for the SuZhou recommendation. I'll search the board later today for more SZ recs since I am headed over there after HZ. As for the surname Wang, that's the king character, right?

            Also, in SZ, if you have a rec on where to buy silk comforters and pillows and a great food place near by, that would be great. Have to make mom happy by fulfilling her blanket order. ;-)

            Today is my China food research day.

            1. re: beetlebug

              Yes wang = king.
              They serve tea with clover flowers and red dates in it (a very small charge is added to the bill) - the waiter pours the water in from a very long-spouted kettle, the force of the water whirls the tea around very amusingly.
              If language is a concern there is an English/Chinese menu which as I recall includes most if not all dishes on the CN menu)
              The restaurant to the left as you face the Wang Si is to be avoided (Xin Chu Feng Yuan), the food is nasty and the owner a bully.
              The Songhelou (song=pine tree he=crane as in bird lou=building of course) restaurant is however very worthwhile, across the street and down a little bit from Wang Si.
              Minced chicken with pine nuts mmm
              River shrimp (delicious but probably farmed in dubious water, what the hell, you don't eat them every day)
              SZ food is on the sweet side but I love it (another special appetizer, lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice and braised in sweet syrup, is very sweet indeed - we ate the leftovers the next morning, rather reminiscent of marrons glacés, another of my obsessions).
              I haven't bought silk anything there, but there is a big SZ silk factory that must sell these items as well as stalls in tourist areas selling them.

            2. re: buttertart

              buttertart, what a perfect description: lotus root biteyness! anyone who's tried lotus root knows just what you mean.

              and you definitely have me sold on souzhou. many thanks for these recommendations! they sound enticing and i cannot wait to try them.

              1. re: cimui

                I look forward to hearing what you think abt SZ as well.

        2. the only photo that seems to attach is the smoked duck with crispy glutinous rice. but here it is in all its glory!

          5 Replies
          1. re: cimui

            Looks great, if not for the faint of heart (the garnish in the beak is very amusing)!

            1. re: buttertart

              That is the part that made my mouth water! The bill is my favourite part of the whole animal.

              1. re: pepper_mil

                pepper_mil, o wise one, give me instruction, please! how do you eat those things? i keeps seeing duck and goose heads everywhere and i honestly can't figure out what to do with those things. they seem so... hard...

                1. re: cimui

                  hah, hardly. The skulls usually come apart in a couple pieces, or have been cut. You eat the brain, nibble the skin and whatnot off the face, and eat the bill. I don't really care for the brain, but the bill is crunchy like a thick potato chip and is delicious.

                  1. re: pepper_mil

                    Mmm, sounds delicious. I'm all about eating every part of the animal, if one is going to eat animals at all. I'm not sure I yet understand the national obsession with chicken feet, yet, but a big, thick potato-chip bill I think I could handle. =)

          2. For Hangzhou and or lotus fanciers - there is an iGoogle theme called Hangzhou, which gives you a nice strip of Xi Hu lotus leaves and flowers as the background to Google...nice.

            1 Reply