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Oct 15, 2009 10:36 PM

Chowdown: Mao Family Cooking, San Mateo

A group of seven hounds were lucky enough to enjoy a chowdown organized by the gracious Victoria Liang at The Noodle Shop/Mao Family Cooking in San Mateo this evening. Despite miserable traffic, we were able to get together and try a variety of dishes favored by the late Chairman.

For appetizers, we ordered crushed garlic cucumber (to counteract the heat of some of the other dishes), husband & wife, five spice beef shank, Szechwan-style cold jelly, and sliced seaweed. The husband & wife and the five spice beef do not appear on the menu but are posted on the wall along with many other specials. Unfortunately, while most items on the wall comes with translations, the husband & wife and five spice beef do not. If you want them, you'll either need a Chinese speaker or a waiter who understands English. Since all of the ordering and conversation with the waiter was done in Mandarin, I don't know if ours actually spoke English. The crowd in the place was decidedly Chinese for the most part. Lambert explained that husband & wife was tendon and shank, so named because they are connected to each other. The sliced seaweed was on the house and came along with the other cold appetizers.

Among the many courses we ordered were the Hunan spicy chili pepper fish head (ordered early because of the amount of time it takes to prepare), fish with leek dumplings (strong of chives and light on the fish), braised bacon cut pork with mantou [steamed buns] (Chairman Mao's favorite dish, which is described on the cover of the menu), Mao's duck casserole (really more like a soup than an American casserole, although it was served in a claypot), tongxin cai (hmm, tube vegetable?), dry chili fried chicken wings (with Sichuan peppercorns), and numbing spicy pork kidneys (the menu says numbling(!), but it wasn't). That was quite a few dishes for our merry band, but we acquitted ourselves admirably and had few leftovers.

My favorites were the braised bacon cut pork (naturallyl) which was utterly succulent and flavorful and the kidney which was just amazing. So many times, I've had the braised pork and the meat is overcooked, super sweet, super salty, or some other "superlative". This one was just right, particularly when a piece was placed in a split mantou and consumed almost like a sandwich. The kidney didn't have that strong kidney taste that I associate with many preparations and while it was served with a lot of sliced jalapenos, it wasn't overly spicy for those who might not appreciate that sort of thing. In fact, the restaurant is quite accommodating for customers who prefer to vary the spice level. The kidney meat was tender as can be.

All told, with tax and tip, we each ended up spending $20. For the generous portions and delightful food with a group of like-minded hounds, how can you go wrong at that price?

And since Romolo's on 37th Avenue got a jump on Halloween, I brought over some of their seasonal witches' finger cookies (think finger-shaped cookie with a red-dyed almond fingernail). Turns out I didn't really need to bring dessert as the restaurant also gave us a warm cloud ear soup and sliced honeydew and orange.

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  1. WOW, Peter you are great getting this post on the board.

    Just a few points of information.

    The free dish was sea kelp which a cousin of seaweed but a little thicker and has more body.

    The Husband and wife was shank and tripe, was only guessing when we order a lot of time it is tendon and shank but not time.

    I will sleep on this meal before making on this wonderful meal.

    Thanks to Victoria for taking up the torch for doing a Chowdown. It was also great to meet new hounds and old hounds.

    The dishes were very large and there was a lot of food. We left a tip over 20% since the total before tip was 107. Again another place where a Chinese reader and speaker helped.

    1. This is what makes Chowdowns special--the opportunity to try an abundance of diverse dishes with the careful guidance of people who know what they are ordering. And great company to enjoy it all!

      My favorite (hard to choose, there are several runners-up) was the spicy fish head and its accompanying sauce. I took the lead of others and spooned the gravy on top of my rice. The fish alternated tender and gelatinous bits and had the perfect balance of salty and sweet (but not spicy). Definitely worth ordering as soon as you sit down because of the prep time. Melanie took home the leftover bits and she will have to tell us if she finally ate the fish eye. (Only one eye because this was only half a head, sliced lengthwise, but it was a big head and plenty for us.)

      Thank you Victoria for organizing and translating. Thank you Peter for that long and accurate listing of our many dishes... and thank you for bringing the "ladyfingers". Thank you Lambert for offering to analyze the complex sauce for the Chairman's favorite pork dish and for pointing out that serving it with bread rather than rice makes it country fare because in the context bread would have been cheaper than rice.

      1. My favorite dish was Mao's favorite too. The meat was cooked perfectly. Not too sweet, tender and not too anything. Just comfort food. After thinking on the clue of red bean in cooking this dish I looked in my kitchen looking over what Chinese cooking ingredients I remember that the bean paste (which may be made from red beans) which is a savory cooking sauce which may be the starting base of this dish. Now I will have to do a little more thinking on which "sugar" that is used for this dish. But I think the not overcooking is what is needed here.

        The Chicken Wings were the other standout with just enough heat and the right crunch in the batter.

        The Fish head was something was great in presentation and very good in in eating. A huge fish that is imported from China frozen. Clean taste for a fresh water fish.
        I was disappointed in the pork kidney's in that in my opinion it was over cooked. The duck soup was a little bland to me. I had hope for more depth in the dish.

        The vegetable dish give a cooling effect to off set some of the heat of the other dishes.

        Thanks to Victoria for hosting and I hope that this restarts our chowdowns.

        1. Pictures
          Cold Appetizers: Marinated kelp (seaweed), Szechwan-style cold jelly, Husband and Wife, Five Spice Beef Shank

          Noodle Shop
          164 W 25th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403

          1. Pictures
            More Dishes: Cold cucumber with garlic, fish and chive dumpling, Mao's red cooked pork belly (braised bacon cut pork), stir-fried kong hsing tsai (or kong xin cai)

            Noodle Shop
            164 W 25th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403