Chinese New Year Banquet at Saigon Harbor
Saturday February 5th a group of over 40 Chohounds met for a special Chinese New Year Banquet. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some of our old friends and make some new ones!! People from all over the bay area attended proving once more that there are few endeavors more conducive to happiness and friendship than...good food!!!
I have to apologize for having to leave early because of personal reasons, but I truly enjoyed the early dishes and wonderful company. Here is a list of the dishes as I rercorded, but there may be some missing...so please chime in! Look aslso at the article in the Chron about chinese new year food...we pretty much covered all the main dishes mentioned.
BBQ Combination platter
Honey glazed walnut prawns
dry oyster with chinese seaweed
Black chicken ginseng soup (I did not want to serve sharkfin soup)
House special steamed chichen
pork with mushrroms and greens
dry scallops and black mushrooms
stir-fry crabs with ginger and scallions
steamed live fish
Thanks to all who attended and to Urmi for helping with the organizing...! Gung Chi Fat Choi!
Thank you Marlon and Urmi, for organizing this, and Yimster for working the call-ahead special order magic, as usual!
The special fresh uni custard was indeed delicious, and I enjoyed helping myself to extra when everybody else at my table was trying to save space for the last few courses.
The upside surprise highlights for me were the beef shank on the bbq platter, which was unusually tender, moist, and tasty. Identifiable as the same dish I had a week or two prior at Taste Good Peking in Milpitas, but lightyears more enjoyable. Similarly, the Honey Walnut Prawns were really quite excellent--great prawns, very lightly battered and fried, and lightly sauced. The nuts were exquisitely candied and then rolled in a few sesame seeds, arranged around the prawns so they didn't get drowned in sauce. Wonderfully fresh walnuts with no hint of rancidity, I really couldn't find a way that this dish could be improved. I have always avoided Honey Walnut Prawns, since it has always looked like a Chinese-American bastard child dish with all the bready sweetness of sweet and sour pork or lemon chicken from Panda Express, but this dish will make me reconsider my blanket ban on Honey Walnut Prawns.
I was also pleasantly surprsied by the e-fu noodles. I thought they were going to be run of the mill, but they had a delightfully deep flavor and a nice texture. Were these exceptional, or is this how e-fun noodles are? Where else can I find e-fu noodles this good?
My favorite dish might have been the steamed chicken. It was cooked perfectly, the seasoning was masterfully subtle, and I ate way more than my fair share of it. I've had this dish several times elsewhere, and this stood out above all other renditions.
I wonder if the black chicken gingseng soup that my table got had an accidental ginseng overdose. The bitterness went past medicinal, and it seems like other tables enjoyed theirs more.
Our ginseng black chicken soup was also quite bitter--I could barely identify it as chicken soup, as it tasted mostly bitter, which seemed to thin it a bit.
I also thought this was an excellent rendition of walnut prawns. It's an odd fusion, but the first, and only place I've encountered it is the Bay Area. I think that it is one of those brilliant innovations where all parts work together quite well and am not embarrassed to tell out of town guests it is a regional specialty (the region being here). They generally love it more than I do. That being said, this was one of the best versions I've had--the shrimp portion was no better than I've had before, but the walnuts were perfect--all bits of bitter skin were removed and the sweetness was just right. Many dishes I like to claim I can make just as well at home (for instance, I'll be imitating the pork with mushroom and greens dish), but I can't hold a candle to those walnuts.
My other favorite course was the fish and crab dishes at the end--both cooked the right amount, with flavors that complemented the seafood.
Thanks to all who organized, and to Yimster for the delicious teas and Bryan and David for great wine selections.
People seem to think that Honey Walnut Prawns is an American-Chinese dish, but I read here on chowhound once that it actually originated in Hong Kong (Americans aren't the only ones who do fusion cuisine, after all!). Can anyone shed more light on this?
Hola, I'd like to echo the thanks to M. MAUS for taking the er Rabbit by the er Ears and putting the dinner together ... and URMI as well (I didnt realize you were on the "Program Committee").
re: food ...
--The COLD YELLOW CHICKEN was probably my favorite item.
--MUSHROOM-PORK: Indeed nice cuts of meat.
--WALNUT PRAWNS: also a guilty pleasure for me ... much better than the
D&A Cafe Late Night Special version :-)
--OCTOPUS was fav item of the cold starters (also sort of a guilty pleasure ... I was debating stopping eating OCTOPUS because they are supposed to be clever. Are "small" Octopuses (Octopodes?) supposed to be clever too, or just the large ones?)
--I thought the pickled vegetables we started with were better than similar at a number of places ... nice crunchy texture and clean, sharp taste. Quantity of these seemed small for a table of 10, given a low-cost ingredient ... but maybe I just missed out.
--I enjoyed trying the two "extra-fancy" teas at the table. I preferred the TEA OF THE MONKEY over the TEA OF THE EMPEROR, but maybe that is an Indian Bias.
--Probably less interesting to most, but I did like the NOODLES and DESSERT.
--The MOSS was pretty interesting. I havent had that before ... the texture kinda reminded me of something made with pulverized greens but that dish has a lot of garlic and is a strong flavor dish ... I have only had it at Indian homes.
Service was friendlier than I've experienced at a lot of Chinese restos. Also the two broken wine glasses were dealt with quickly and smoothly. Speaking of which, I'd like to thank my table neighbor (Brian? Bryan? Mr. Riedel Petaluma?) for sharing his wines.
p.s. Favorite Non-Chinese Ethnic Bonding Exchange of the Evening
Mukherjea: Look, that Snow Crab is trying to escape!
Banerjee: But there's another Crab holding him back!
Mukherjea: Must be a Bengali Crab.
Marlon gives me too much credit - all I did was tag along and stuff my face at a pre-dinner dinner a few weeks back and check out the menu with him.
My favorites from the dinner were definitely the custard that everyone has mentioned, the uni was fresh and plump and the clams were delicious. I loved the gingery sauce that came with the poached chicken and made for a lovely combination. The dried oyster / scallops with the chinese sea weed that I enjoyed for its "sea" and "fishy" yet sweet clean flavors. The ginseng soup started bitter but had mellow chicken broth below. I am not much for the medicinal soups, but this I liked. By the way, is it safe to eat the ginseng roots in the soup?
I have to admit this was one of the best Chinese banquets I have attended, made more so by the company which was truly delightful, lots of old and new faces. My table-mates brought some excellent wine to the table - thank you Bryan, Nick and Terese (I am probably misspelling your name, I am sorry!). PSB, Felix, Cece, as well as David & Betsy who came late to the table :) Thanks yimster for ordering the uni custard, now I am going to crave it whenever I go to Saigon harbor! Of course marlon, for organizing such an awesome dinner and missing half of it. I hope you guys had fun too cause it was lovely sharing a table with all of you.
Last but not least, the sesame cookies and the mango pudding were pretty good, especially compared to the red bean soup that they typically provide us, which I am afraid is very much an acquired taste.
So, when's the next chowdown???
-- Urmi (aka jhinky)
I sure hope it is safe to eat the ginseng root, since I did! :-)
I also loved the clam custard; a great blend of ocean flavors, flavorful clams nicely cooked, fresh uni, and the comfort of the custard. I definitely would crave the dish also. I wondered how others ate the soft custard with chopsticks: I improvised and used the clam shells as scoops to get all that great flavor. (once I spooned a big portion onto my plate, of course :-))
My other favorite was the duck on the cold plate.
I took lots of pics, but since I was next to Al, he got (and posted) the same shots I did. Besides, I was fixated on taking pics of the crab trying to escape.
Hubby commented that he thought he had the best seat in the house, since he was next to the tanks and thus a bit out of the ordered chaos of the middle of the room...though he was a bit worried about that crab climbing onto his back. :-)
It was really great to see everyone and to have a banquet the likes of which one definitely can't get in my (new) home town...thanks to Marlon and Urmi and I hope to be able to attend another Chowdown soon!
I'm posting this here after I emailed the banquet-goers. Glad to see that more knowledgeable folks have posted with more specific info. I took no photos, I don't know the names of the dishes, and, in a word, I'm useless. Oh, wait...I DO know the name of the restaurant. It's Saigon Harbor, not to be confused with Saigon in Vietnam.
However....someone must jump into the pool first.
I loved, loved, loved this banquet. My stepson Jack and daughter-in-law Rachel came with me and we sat at a table with Ruth Lafler, Susan Carter, late in SF now in the Central Valley and several other charming folks whose names I can't remember. Can't make the petites cellules grises (actually that should probably be "little gray cells" because Poirot is created by an Englishwoman) work anymore at my advanced age.
Aside from the usual insults and disparaging remarks about my lack of character and evil ways by Yimster, the evening was quite lovely. He claimed that this was his last chow event due to his loss of face when I tied him in the Chinese Chicken Salad war 2 years ago at the Chow Picnic. He stated that his son no longer speaks to him due to this shame. My reminders that Chinese Chicken salad is not really Chinese and was probably invented by some guy at Denny's, did no good as he said his "adieus". I hope he's joshing because there's nobody like the Yimster for verbal jousting!
And now to the food. There is probably a menu online somewhere, but I didn't see it and so will describe the dishes as best I can.
We started with a big platter of sliced meats - pork and duck. I think they were bbq'd and I know they were fab.
The most amazing dish to me was the clam custard. The clam shells (containing clams) stood up in the pale custard. There was another ingredient which I can't remember - mushroom? Anyway, it was served in a souffle dish and looked gorgeous and tasted wonderful.
The whole fish, which was handled by the waitperson who deftly removed all the meat from the bones in about 4 seconds. Perfectly cooked.
There was a dish of chicken with skin on which had been steamed or poached. The skin was yellowish and the meat was white. Looked great. Tasted great.
The most amazing dish to my hayseed eyes was the one with the black, tarry
One of my favorites was a mushroom and (I think) mustard greens dish. A great combo of smooth and silky mushrooms with the tangy mustard greens. I could have been happy just eating this dish for hours...well, maybe minutes.
We had crab that was steamed and shrimp that was poached with a sort-of mayonnaise dressing and fried walnuts. I've had this dish several times before and always love it for some reason...it doesn't really have a strong taste, but the crispy walnuts and the soft shrimp are perfect together.
There was also a nice soup with fresh noodles.
I've run out of steam here.
Thanks so much to Marlon! He did his usual stellar job of organizing this. There was a very good turnout and I was sorry to miss talking to so many other Chowsters. Maybe we should have a musical chairs banquet where we switch half of each table every half hour.
I need to add one more dish to the menu. It was a gift from the owner for us. A very high item not always available.
Steamed Egg Custard using live clams and live uni from the North Coast of California. This item is not on the menu but it can be asked for ahead of time so that they could order it for you.
This dishes was one of the best one I have had. Worth asking for.
Since Marlon had a few extra dollars he asked me to order one additional dish for each table. So I was able to have the Mushroom Pork Stir Fry dish added to the dinner. The pork (as Melaine was able to see was the meat around the neck one of the best cuts for stir frying I think the correct English name is cushion meat). The mushroom was King Oyster mushroom.
I too thank Marlon for doing this. The sad part was he had to leave before having the whole dinner.
By the way the service was excellent for a full house, Ruth since Marlon the the staff the I was left in charge since he was leaving the Lady asked me if she could service the noodles in small bowls. I just want to let the group know that they were sharp in service and knowing when to ask before taking in action with asking.
I will let the thirty plus add their input before add my two cents.
re: Melanie Wong
@DCfoodblog - I'd like to see those photos too.
Overall I left with a good impression of the restaurant. For me, the standouts were the clam in steamed custard, the pea shoots w/ oyster and moss, and the steamed chicken, . A couple of dishes that weren't perfectly executed, but it was a very busy night for the restaurant and the service was good.
Big thanks for Marlon and Urmi for organizing!
The dishes were very traditional (Marlon's list of the dishes doesn't reflect that the "chinese seaweed" was "fat choi" -- one of those food homonyms that cause certain foods to be symbolic necessities), and therefore not revelatory, but I thought the execution was exceptional (especially considering how slammed the kitchen was -- there was no apparently slacking for CNY!).
I enjoyed the substitution of the black chicken ginseng soup -- I thought the bitterness from the ginseng was a nice counterpoint and palate cleanser for the richer dishes.
The steamed chicken was the best version I've ever had, and likewise with the honey-glazed walnut prawns, a dish I have a somewhat guilty liking for. The pork with mushrooms was also stellar. The roast duck on the BBQ combo platter was soft and tender. Dessert turned out to be mango pudding surrounded by triangles of coconut-flavored jelly AND a plate of sesame cookies that tasted like sesame balls without the filling.
Portions were generous -- at least three of the tables had significant amounts of crab leftover (my caretaker thanks you very much!).
Service was very good -- they brought us water and kept it refilled. And when the waitress brought the e-fu noodles and there was no room on the table for them, on her own initiative she took them back to the kitchen and had them put in individual bowls for us. Even though we were shouting across the table, Melanie and I agreed that the acoustics are slightly better than they were before the fire -- at least our ears weren't ringing! We were sitting by the seafood tanks and the glassed in BBQ station and enjoyed watching both of them (especially the snow crab who was making a valiant effort all evening to climb out of his tank, which someone remarked indicated a failure to think through what would happen if he succeeded).
Based on this meal I would recommend Saigon Harbor for high-end Cantonese/Hong Kong style dishes.
Thank you Marlon for organizing. We had four tables with about 10 happy diners at each. Definitely New Year cheeriness all over the huge and crowded and noisy Saigon Restaurant. I was glad not to see shark's fin soup; thanks to Marlon for replacing it with the ginseng soup which was one of my favorites of the evening. The one dish not mentioned in Marlon's list above was my favorite: the egg custard with clams and sea urchin; talk about comfort food and at a perfect place in the meal, after the fish and before the noodles.
I am a flickr novice, so did not know to label images before sending to Flickr nor means for adding them to this email one at a time. But anyway: here is link to pix of the dishes...http://www.flickr.com/photos/47966408...
Just click on the title where it says "IMG_2448" and change the title. You can also change the title at upload time or anytime after that. If you rename your pictures before uploading them, they will have the title you want. I'm new to this as well, but feel free to email me if you need any Flickr advice.
Anyway, nice panoramic shot of all the dishes on the table.