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Jan 29, 2012 06:45 AM

Chinese New Year special dishes in Boston?

Has anyone amongst the Chinese foodie regulars come across special New Year's dishes I should know about? "Sichuan Gourmet" in Brookline has several that we've discussed in another thread. I'm hoping to stop by Red Pepper later in the week, then it's off to DC for more eating and contra.

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  1. Jo Jo taipei has a new years menu, but i haven't had a chance to try it yet

    1. I know this thread is from last year, but it might be a good start:

      Also, tatsu noted that the original Jo Jo Taipei chef is doing some sort of special New Year's meal at Asian Gourmet in Concord.

      26 Replies
      1. re: lipoff

        I just came back from that, what a coincidence. The meal did not disappoint! I stopped by last week to say hi to the chef and his wife, who I got to know at his previous places. His wife told me about the dinners they were doing, and even gave me a sample of the apps and dessert during my lunch! So the New Year's Menu, your choice of "A", "B", "C" or "D" menus and up to 6-8 people in your party all for the price of $118 for everyone. A friend took me up on it and she brought her whole family. We didn't really pick one, because it was all written in Chinese, so I just let the owner take care of us.

        We started off with cold roast beef slices and bean curd skin apps, then a big bowl of seafood soup. Then, a nice lobster came out, nicely presented, sectioned, slightly battered and pan-fried with the classic scallion and ginger. Everyone loves that one of course except the kids. Some lo mein came out for them which looked pretty good actually. They absolutely loved the salt and pepper style pork chops, I have never seen salt and pepper done with pork. The orange shrimp came out next, and it was deveined head-on, shell-on good sized prawns, battered and with an orange glaze. We all loved that. The shell was almost edible and I have never been so happy to deal with shrimp shells, the shrimp was definitely extremely fresh. So we just bit in and what ever was not edible we just kind of picked out of our mouths. Some pea pod tendrils accompanied that too. Finally, a whole fried flounder came last, very good, some of that lovely gelatinous cartilage near the edge of the fins. We had 3 desserts, the classic bean soup, but I have to say the best one ever, this was done with black bean, tapioca pearl, purple rice which had a nice crunch to it, and small rice balls. Excellent version! A inverted bowl of hot sticky rice came next. Finally sauteed rice cake slices with some banana filling it seems and just a few beans throughout. That was my favorite actually, it had the smell and crispy exterior of a banana stuff flapjack but that soft unmistakable mochi texture inside. What a feast! With tax and tip it was like 150 bucks or so. So 30 a person, less if you have more people.

        Definitely a stunning value. I have pics on the menu on my cell but I don't know if it's legible and it's written in Chinese.

        They will have this menu tomorrow and Tuesday and that's it. If you can quickly wrangle 5-7 people, do it!

          1. re: yumyum

            Thanks yumyum, you are the wind beneath my wings!

            Looking at lipoff's review of Jo Jo last year, I forgot to mention we also had the sugar cane smoked duck, which is a lot smokier than tea smoked duck. Chef Lee's version is extremely moist, a medium rare. The menus have a lot of overlap. If you follow my fb, a friend took a shot midway through the meal.

            The head chef at Asian Gourmet is Chef Lee. His cooking has always impressed me, and he seems to simply improve as time goes on. Given space and time, he can really craft some perfectly executed dishes, it takes me by surprise! While there are many options for Taiwanese these days, Taiwan Cafe and Jo Jo Taipei deserve credit for being the pioneers. I am just lucky to have run into Chef Lee enough times to follow his path.

            1. re: tatsu

              Ah, the sugarcane smoked duck is at Asian Gourmet, not Jo Jo. I went to Jo Jo to look for it tonight, but they said they only had sugarcane smoked chicken.

              But they do have a special NY menu, which runs till Monday, and includes rabbit with chestnuts, and wild swamp eel. So we're going there tonight (Wed. 2-1) and anyone reading this is invited to come along. I posted the menu to FB.


              As for the duck, I wonder if Asian Gourmet can make it for us by special order. It sounds much better that tea-smoked duck. And the desserts sound awesome; I like rice cake and have recently become a huge fan of sticky rice (which surprises me since I am a mortal enemy of other rices.) Do you know of any particularly good sticky rice dishes in the Boston area?

              1. re: KWagle

                K,typo in your second sentence? what type of duck does jojo have?

                i have a feeling the various chinese restnt. takes on 'smoked duck' could be very similar but titled differently. when i make tea smoked duck per barbara tropp i smoke it over a bed of sugar, tea leaves, rice, ginger, orange peel. The sugar melts and catches the rice and tea leaves and causes smoke..... I've never made it w/o tea leaves but Mulan's duck tastes like mine and they say there's no tea used,( they call it 'smoked duck' but you could just as well call it 'sugar cane smoked duck' i would think. So maybe jojo and asia gourmet's would be/taste similar. moist and medium rare are what sound great about AG. Mulan's is moist and med rare but Fuloon's is made w/ an inferior duck and is too well -done. After being consistently disappointed, i finally stopped ordering it there.

                tatsu said AG sugar cane smoked duck 'is much smokier than tea smoked duck' but if tatsu means AG's Sugar cane duck v.s. another restnt's Tea smoked duck, I'm inclined to think it's the same process and sugar/rice ingredients but maybe AG's Chef Lee smokes his longer or with more smoking ingredients(causing more smoke) . OR i could be completely wrong and the two processes are as different as night and day....

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  I don't see a typo. I thought Tatsu ate the duck at JJT, but he must've eaten it at AG, because JJT said they had sugarcane smoked chicken (which BTW is on the regular menu, not the NY menu.). They said their duck is tea-smoked.

                  1. re: KWagle

                    man, that was the weirdest reading filip i've ever experienced. my brain kept seeing 'chicken' as 'duck'. i literally re-read that sentence and your reply ten times before my brain read 'chicken' as 'chicken'. i would laugh but i can't get my jaw off the floor.

                2. re: KWagle

                  pan fried (crunchy outside, soft inside, with chinese sausage and a light scrambled egg coating) sticky rice at Winsor (not to be confused with their steamed sticky rice)

                  sticky rice with unagi at Mulan

                  steamed spicy ribs coated with sticky rice at Chung Shin Yuan

                  1. re: barleywino

                    Oh, that pan fried sticky rice is one of my favorites already, along with the pan fried fish cakes. I had forgotten about the MuLan dish. And One of the Kind has a steamed pork belly with potatoes and sticky rice, which I've had twice and enjoyed both times.

                    1. re: KWagle

                      the house special pork at one of the kind is really good. never had anything like it

                      1. re: galangatron

                        I described it as "the typical inverted bowl of steamed pork belly" because I've had many variants of the dish with different greens under the dome of pork belly. It's steamed in a bowl and inverter to serve. But I haven't had one with a non-greens filling. Grace Garden makes a similar dish with rice power and served on top of potatoes, but theirs is cooked and served upright, not inverted. It's awesome; GG is worth. Trip to Baltimore to try.

                      2. re: KWagle

                        Peach Farm has a sticky rice stuffed chicken but you have to order in advance

                        1. re: KWagle

                          Bamboo cup rice pudding at jojo taipei (weekend brunch only I think)-- sticky rice w/ dried shrimp, mushroom and a slightly spicy /sweet tomato sauce

                          1. re: barleywino

                            barley,this unagi rice dish at Mulan; regular menu, or is this a NewYr dish? would you describe it? does it have a sauce like the japanese sweet sauce?thanx

                        2. re: barleywino

                          barley, my brain breakdown w/ kwagle has me feeling very fragile>> have i asked you about this unagi rice dish before? this is at Mulan? regular menu, or is this a NewYr dish? would you describe it? does it have a sauce like the japanese sweet sauce?

                          this is feeling a little nenu nanu for me; i just spoke w/ someone else about a deeply missed unagi /sticky rice dish that used to be at Rainbow Cafe, but i have no memory of anyone else mentioning this dish at any other Boston chinese restnts (though Kantin has an unagi rice dish in iron pot)..........

                        3. re: KWagle

                          I went with KWagle and a couple of other intrepid diners to Jo Jo Taipei to try some dishes from their New Years menu earlier this past week. We started with a few appetizers off the regular menu: kao3 fu1 (wheat gluten), lian2 ou3 (lotus root), nuo4 mi3 da4 chang2 (salty rice sausage). I think I've had cold kao3 fu1 off Jo Jo's cold appetizer tray before, but they had it mistranslated on another menu insert as "bean curd pie" when it is, in fact, wheat gluten, or wheat bran. I think Zoe's does an even better cold lotus root, but Jo Jo Taipei's is also very good.

                          From the special new year's menu we had 干貝芥菜胆 mustard green with black mushroom and scallops, which consisted of large slices of green vegetable, equally large pillowy black mushrooms in a clear sauce thickened with starch and flavored with thin strips of dried scallops. That's an old Cantonese technique that makes for an expensive plate of vegetables, but one with a really deep and rich flavor in a sauce that still manages to be light.

                          The 紅燒羊腩煲 roast lamb with vegetable in hotpot was on the chalk board in the vestibule as you walk in to the restaurant, and so may not be a new year's only special. This was a sizeable pot of rich, but thin broth, with floating slices of cabbage, scallions, and tofu skin, along with a lot of different parts of the lamb on the bone. Delicious stewed lamb neck, and other more traditionally meaty pieces as well.

                          Most surprising from the new year's menu was the 芋奶雞 taro chicken, which was relatively thinly pounded slices of chicken breast in thick sauce --- thickened not with corn starch, but with taro root that had been cooked down into a paste. I have never, ever had anything like this before. I don't think the whole table agreed, but it was my favorite dish. In Taiwan sometimes you'll get really good Taro bubble tea thickened with fresh taro (instead of flavored with taro powder) and this reminded me of a savory version of that.

                          We also had 板栗兔肉 rabbit meat in brown sauce with chestnut off the special menu, which was also terrific, with nice chestnuts, and tender, flavorful rabbit meat on the bone all coated very evenly with a brown sauce. Rabbit is always "fiddly" to eat, and this was no exception, although it was a very meaty rabbit.

                          Finally, we also ordered 紅燜黃鱔 swamp eel in special sauce off the special menu, which came in a small clay pot for $25. The dishes on the special menu are a little expensive (average entree price from the special menu is almost $19), and only Peking Duck at $30 is more expensive than this eel. I don't eat eel (my nod to kashrut) so I should leave others to comment on this dish, except that I think it was their universal favorite.

                          For dessert, we had 八寶飯 eight treasure sticky rice, which is one of my favorite Chinese desserts anyway, but this is the best version I've had in Boston. I've only seen it at Fuloon in the Boston area, and I like it there, but this version was better, with a lighter, less overly caramelized rice and a more vibrant assortment of toppings (I think because Jo Jo uses similar toppings for their excellent shaved ice).

                          I was excited by this meal not only to try some dishes I've never heard of before, or that otherwise aren't available around here, but also because it's exciting to see Chinese chefs in the Boston area being creative, trying new dishes, and feeling confident enough to charge higher prices for more elaborate dishes, even if only for a couple weeks a year. For less than $35/pp (including tax, tip, and four very, very full diners), this was a real feast.

                          1. re: lipoff

                            sam, as usual, your informative posts always excite me. the menu goes on til when, do you know? the 'chestnuts' are water chestnuts or chestnuts? and the eel- could one of your companions describe the sauce and the eel- like unagi- river eel? can't wait to try it!

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              I should have been clearer in the previous post, but I'm afriad they have already stopped serving this special new year's menu.

                              I don't want to speak for the restaurant, but I suspect that with some advance notice they probably would make those dishes again. In my experience with special orders at Chinese restaurants it's often best to dine in person, and then ask the boss about a special order for next time. But maybe the phone would work fine too. Since it seems that some items from their special new year's menu last year have made it onto their (enormous) regular menu, I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happened to the most popular dishes this year. But I suspect $25/pot swamp eel will remain a special order.

                              The chestnuts are chestnuts, not water chestnuts. Braised pork with chesnuts in a not entirely different brown sauce is a common northern dish, and so I was not totally surprised to see chestnuts with the rabbit.

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                I believe the special ends Monday, not tonight. It's worth calling. Sam covered the meal much better than I could, so I will only add that the taro chicken wasn't my favorite dish, mostly because i find white meat chicken as boring as i find standard tofu, but it was certainly the most interesting. Likewise the vegetables. I was expecting a shredded prickly vegetable, or at least a more leafy one. But I do like the strong flavor imparted by dried scallops.

                                As for the wild swamp eel (probably Monopterus albus) I really enjoyed it. It's "unagi" only in the sense that a swamp eel is probably not saltwater--the use of "unagi" to describe items on a Chinese menu seems about as useful to me as "warm-blooded" or "terrestrial." To me a fish is a fish, and i don't find much difference based on salinity of water. But maybe in the raw fish world, or the eel world, there's a huge difference I don't know about. It was meaty rather than flaky (having been corrected offline recently on my misuse of toothsome, I won't call it that!)

                                I really enjoyed this place and hope to get back in March for some sugarcane smoked chicken and other things from their regular menu. And I want to ask the manager if they can make eight treasure duck (a whole boneless duck stuffed with sticky rice and steamed in lotus leaves till absurdly tender) which I had in DC a few months ago, thanks to Steve Siegel, and was easily my favorite duck dish ever.

                              2. re: lipoff

                                had the rabbit with chestnuts in brown sauce and roasted belly pork with green vegetables (dongpo rou) off the new year menu

                                the rabbit was really good (despite the preponderance of small bones) but the dongpo rou was a huge disappointment. the large slab of pork belly was dry, slightly tough, and the sauce was way too salty

                                1. re: lipoff

                                  any chance they'll add the 8 treasure sticky rice to the regular menu?

                                  1. re: galangatron

                                    I hope so. It's got to be the easiest of those special dishes to make, and doesn't require any special ingredients other than what they already have on hand for their shaved ice. Jo Jo Taipei already has one of the widest array of Chinese desserts around, and they happen to be located across the street from the best Chinese bakery in Boston (Yi Soon), a three minute walk from what I think is the best frozen yougurt in Boston (Mixx), and right next door to the only place that has better shaved ice than they do (Blue Asia). Add ba bao fan, and Brighton Ave will be Chinese dessert heaven.

                                    1. re: lipoff

                                      Do they make good 蛋撻 at Yi Soon? I have yet to find truly excellent 蛋撻 anywhere in Boston..

                          2. re: tatsu

                            tatsu, i really like the way you describe things; I can imagine it all. thnx much. gotta try this place. Esp for that smoked duck!

                            1. re: tatsu

                              salt and pepper pork chops are a very common dish. you can find them at almost any chinese restaurant. my favorite version is the spicy salted pork chop on rice at royal palace on tyler street just outside of chinatown

                            2. re: lipoff

                              If I had known there was another thread I would've just resurrected it!

                              I was hoping for some info on places I don't get to often, like Red Pepper... and Jo Jo Taipei, which I've only been to once. The sugarcane smoked duck sounds really interesting. I wonder if they'd make it by special order at other times.

                              "Salt-and-pepper" (椒鹽) pork shops are found at almost every restaurant I frequent, but the best I ever had came from the late Wing's Kitchen. It often has a different name, which you might not recognize without knowing the Chinese. Lao Sichuan has one on their specials menu, "Wa Jeal" in NYC has a wonderful 椒鹽 lotus root they call "wok-roasted", and Hollywood East near DC has "deep fried spicy tofu", which is easily my favorite 椒鹽 these days.

                              (I've seen the tofu in my dim sum apps, but haven't found it anywhere other than HWE--a lot of places have un-coated deep fried tofu, which is toughened rather than crispy, but the lightly coated and therefore crispy stuff seems to be elusive.)

                            3. Yee Sang, a colorful raw fish salad typically containing over 25 ingredients that is enjoyed in Malaysia and SIngapore during the Chinese New Year, is offered in Penang.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: nasilemak

                                more than just yee sang. they have a whole lunar new year menu

                                1. re: nasilemak

                                  And very pretty and festive it is, but raw fish was just one tiny part of it, pretty much lost in the shuffle. Many of those ingredients were toasted crackery or candied things; overall it was crunchy, savory, a little herbal and more than a little sweet, reminding me more than anything else of a (very elaborate) Indian chaat. It struck me as the most interesting thing on the special menu, though I arrived late and didn't get much time to read it. We also got braised pork shank/foot with chestnuts and mushrooms that was really good but not wait-all-year special imho, and a chicken and veg stir-fry in a crispy bowl-shaped shell that was perfectly nice.

                                  1. re: Aromatherapy

                                    the yee sang was wonderful. easily my favorite dish of the entire meal. a lovely presentation, a plethora of colorful ingredients, and a great contrast of different tastes and textures

                                    1. re: Aromatherapy

                                      I think that almost medicinal flavor was from kaffir lime leaves perhaps.