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Chowdown report: Shao Mountain in Fremont

Eleven hounds met this Sunday (2/17) for a hunan chowdown at Shao Mountain in Fremont, organized by CheuCheu and Melanie. We had a delightful meal and good company.

First it's worth noting about the location. It is located on Boscell Rd in Fremont, south from Auto Row in a new shopping area - new enough that my 2011 version mapping software didn't show the road! It's an interesting area, with a string of attractive looking restaurants. The place is not too big, with perhaps 16 tables. We did well to arrive at 11:30 - we were nearly the only ones there. An hour later the place was full, and by the time we left it was full with people waiting, and four small outdoor tables in front of the restaurant in use. One final note is that even we requested normal full-on heat levels, none of the dishes was challengingly spicy

The dishes we ordered were:

Thousand-year eggs with chili
thin slices of preserved eggs on a small plate covered by (not overly spicy) chili oil. For me this was a revelation - I actively don't like preserved eggs, but this presentation removed the sulfur not commonly present, and rendered them with a creamy texture, Nice.

Yam Pork ribs soup

House fried noodle

Smoky steamed together
Combined steamed meats

Sauteed lily bulbs with celery
A pleasant break, with nice crispness

Shao Shredded potato

Western Hunan smoked pork

Lotus root chili with chili in wooden tub
crisped lotus slices fried with chili

Braised pork with wild bamboo shoot
a surprising and good dish. The salt level was considerable lower than a couple of the pork dishes, and the pork had an almost melting texture that paired well with the fresh bamboo

Fish filet with dual flavor
a large round platter with two halves - each with fish filets covered with a sauce - one half red, one half green. We had originally be going to order fish heads, but they were not available and this was a good replacement.

Griddle cooked pig intestine
fried slices of intestine, mixed with slices of onion and chili. For me, this was quite good - the texture of the intestine was crispy, but still with some chew to them. For me, very good.

Bullfrog with chopped chili pepper
served in a pot, with lots of onion and chili

blue berry chinese yam cake
six small heart-shaped cakes with berry preserve on top

glutinous rice dumpling in sweet rice wine
the oddest item. It's a warm soup bowl with what looks like strands of egg in it, so you might be expecting a savory soup but is in fact quite sweet with what seemed like tapioca pearls and flavored pearls.

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  1. First, very nice to meet Melanie's mom. It was very interesting and not a little daunting to hear about the wide travels to lots of far away places with great cuisine...

    Thousand Year Old Eggs: This was unexpectedly nice. No overpowering ammonia smell; the well cooked peppers and chiles made me think of Mexican or Spanish food.

    House Fried Noodles: this was sort of a chow mein with a nice level of non-gritty cumin. Unexpected, not spicy at all but really nice. Ordered some to go for my nine-year-old.

    Smoky Steamed-Together Meats: I am a big fan of smoked meats. This and the Hunan Smoked Pork were very good with pickled chiles, and garlic, really not that spicy, I think because the chiles are in fairly big pieces. dishes, but since the meat is so strongly flavored, for my taste it would be better were it in a preparation with more vegetables for the taste and texture contrast.

    Lily buds with celery: The celery was nicely cut and properly crisp. The lilly buds didn't taste like much, kind of mild less than potato flavor. I liked this dish.

    Lotus root and chile: I really like the texture and mild flavor of the Lotus root, such a difference compared to the pickled version in Japanese cooking or even the Cantonese style stir fried vegetables. Liked the jalapeño chunks.

    Braised Pork with bamboo: Nice dish. I liked the flavor and texture contrast of the bamboo with the pork. I can't remember it was in this dish or another where we decided that there were small batons of semi-dried white radish - it tasted like takuan without the sugar and yellow food coloring.

    Fish fillet with two chiles sauces: This provoked jokes about huevos divorciados. Really nice, white filets, not overcooked. The pickled chile spirit of Hunan cooking came through, really a light touch.

    Griddle cooked pig intestine: I liked the seasoning, and this was less funky than the Golden Bowl's dish but I am sorry to say, I'm not a fan of intestines, that funk is just too jarring.

    Bullfrog with chopped chiles: Nice but the frog was cut into lots of bony pieces so it was a fair amount of work to extract the meat. Good flavor and not swimming in oil.

    Blueberry yam cakes: the cakes were made with yam starch and topped with a blueberry sauce. The yam cakes are a little more robust than a thick custard but they're flavorless to my taste and the blueberry sauce looked nice, was mildly sweet but not intense enough.

    Didn't get to the soup and couldn't/wouldn't eat the dessert soup, since it had stinky tofu, and reportedly had shrimp bits. People did like it and it reportedly had rice wine lees in it.

    To sum up, it was a much better experience than the reviews on Yelp would have one believe. I think the negative reviews on Yelp are partially driven an ignorance and lack of appreciation for Hunanese cuisine. It is a more robust, strongly flavored, spicy cuisine with its share of oil in the cooking. This place is worth a return visit.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ericruo

      Our thanks to you and your (absent) Hunan native daughter for being the inspiration for this chowdown.

      I'm still thinking about the smokey steamed together meats and wondering what all was in there. The kind of dish that merits an archeological dig, perhaps take-out is in order to put it under a microscope. While I don't have the cookbook, I found this quote from Fuchsia Dunlop's _Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province_ about the region's smoked meats:

      "In the kitchen of the Jade Belt restaurant in Zhangguying, the preserve meats hang from a bamboo pole suspended in the slow, drowsy smoke of the fire. There is pork, obviously, the fat smoked to a honey-colored yellow, the lean meat a dark crimson on the outside, pink within. But there is also wild muntjac, chicken, wild boar, catfish, and rabbit, all of which are local specialties. "

      P.S. Thanks for sharing the Anchor Steam Breckle's Brown. With Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, that I knew nothing about other than it was cold in Bevmo's case, we ended up having a brown ale tasting. The restaurant has Tsing Tao and Heinecken, and doesn't allow byob. We bought some beers there and opened our own bottles on the QT, don't follow this example.

    2. Terrific meal at Shao Mountain. My favorites were the crispy intestines which had a perfect textural combination of crunch and chewiness. These went quick. The fish in red and green chile sauce was sublime. The diced-up peppers spiked with vinegar just popped. Could have eaten this by spoonful.
      The smoked meat preparations were very strong, each with different spicing. And that dessert soup was category-defying and wonderful.
      This meal makes me want to further explore Hunan cuisine. Though it's clearly related to Sichuan it offers a wider variety of textures and flavors and though the heat is present in most of the preparations it never overpowers. A very deft hand in the kitchen today to pull it off right. I would certainly return if I was in the area.
      Thanks to everyone for coming out for a fun, delicious meal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChewChew

        Kudos to my co-host!

        I'll mention for the benefit of others that I like to send in the non-Chinese speaking vanilla-faced guy to handle the arrangements when we have chowdowns at Chinese restaurants. This gives us to a sense of how well the staff can work in English. While it's most certainly a testament to your own communication skills, I'd say the servers responded quite well.

        When we arrived, our table for 10 was two 4-tops pushed together with ten chairs squeezed around it. A quick executive decision commandeered a third table and soon we were still juggling serving platters to find a spot for all the food we'd ordered.

        The dessert soup with chewy mochi balls is one of the traditional Chinese New Year dishes. But you can find it all year round, likely at your favorite Shanghainese place.

        Price for our meal including steamed rice, beverages, and a 20% tip came to $20 per person. Some leftovers to take home too, can't beat that.

        Shao Mountain
        43749 Boscell Rd
        Fremont, CA
        (510) 656-1638

      2. I gained a new appreciation for Hunan food -- delicious!
        Great to see hounds old and new, and meet Melanie's mom.

        My favorites were:
        Thousand-year eggs with chili - this had some kind of jelly and was dramatically different than I've seen before.

        Western Hunan smoked pork

        Lotus root chili with chili in wooden tub

        Braised pork with wild bamboo shoot

        Fish filet with dual flavor ("Christmas" style)
        I was partial to the green, but as others stated, enjoyed the contrast of flavors.

        I didn't care for the blueberry yam dessert, though it was pretty to look at.

        What was labeled stinky soup under desserts was actually a slightly sweet, slightly rice wine flavored soup with tart goji berri's and tapioca pearls. It was an interesting flavor sensation, and I'm glad I tried it. Warning: it was served in a bowl that served 10-12, so be sure you have a crowd if you order this.

        We'll be back! Thanks hounds!

        1 Reply
        1. re: DeeGlaze

          Yeah, I think the preserved egg might have been the most surprising dish for me. The (former) "white" of the egg may be what you mean as "jelly"? During the curing process the tea dyes it black-ish.

          Recipes for making your own preserved eggs,

        2. It was a pleasure seeing/meeting and eating with everyone!

          Thousand-year eggs with chili
          Michele's never been interested in thousand-year eggs, but she was surprised to find herself in love with this dish "because the yolk was really creamy and the flavor was really garlicky and good." I was also a fan, for the same reasons.

          Yam Pork ribs soup
          I thought this was a bit plain, but Michele liked it. The yam was actually Chinese yam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioscore...), and the broth tasted like chicken broth.

          House fried noodle
          Michele also especially liked this one; I liked it but was focusing my attention on the more intense dishes.

          Smoky steamed together and Western Hunan smoked pork
          Honestly, I can't exactly remember which was which. There was one that everyone else thought was too salty; I agreed, but still really liked the flavor, especially in the fat, which had a great, soft texture.

          Sauteed lily bulbs with celery
          For a change, Michele thought this was boring and the texture of the bulb itself was too mealy, and I thought it was reasonably nice. I still probably wouldn't order it again, though.

          Shao Shredded potato
          This was a nicely crisp, fairly simple dish, but nothing amazing.

          Lotus root with chili in wooden tub
          We both really liked the slight sourness and the crunchy texture of the lotus roots.

          Braised pork with wild bamboo shoot
          This was one of the highlights; really good flavor, not too salty, and good textural contrast.

          Fish filet with dual flavor
          A hit. Delicate texture, and both red and green were delicious and distinct, and each had a nice pickled sourness and significant, but not at all excessive, heat.

          Griddle cooked pig intestine
          Michele wasn't a fan; I loved it. Salty, fatty, crunchy, and a stimulating funk without being overpowering.

          Bullfrog with chopped chili pepper
          Everyone seemed to really like this one. Someone mentioned that it tasted kind of Southeast Asian, and I'd agree. Tasty braised frog meat and garlic cloves, and a very flavorful and distinctive sauce/broth.

          blue berry chinese yam cake and glutinous rice dumpling in sweet rice wine
          Neither one of us liked the desserts that much, to be honest.

          1 Reply
          1. re: David Boyk

            So delighted to have you back at the chowhound table again with Michele. Thanks for finding the Dioscorea reference.

            Yes, desserts were a weak point here, and I definitely need something sweet after so much spice. Did anyone check out any of the sweets places in the shopping center? Sorry I had to dash off.

          2. My previous experience with Hunan flavors was limited to some smoked ham, so I had no idea what to expect. With the exception of our fish, the food did not seem very hot, certainly not in comparison with our recent Sichuan dinner in El Cerrito.

            Photos: http://www.jeffersonscher.com/photos/...

            The first thing I tasted set the pace: the Western Style Hunan Smoked Pork, with bacon-like slices of smoky pork belly stir-fried with crunchy vegetables and chillies. The smokiness was heady and delicious and the pork was wonderfully tender. I found the salt level to be a bit high for me, though; I would have eaten much more of this dish if it had been less salty. In comparison, the Smoky Flavors Steamed Together, with two kinds of pork and salt fish, was much, much too salty; I would avoid that one completely.

            Next up were vegetables. The Sauteed Lotus Root with Chili in Wooden Tub and Shao Style Shredded Potato were tender and tasty. The sauce on the lotus root could work with almost any ingredients, and if you happened to get a piece of garlic with your potatoes, it was a brilliant combination. The Sauteed Lily Bulbs With Celery made a light palate cleanser. The bulbs were very tender with an almost potato-like texture, unlike the crunchier ones I've had elsewhere.

            Griddle Cooked Pig Intestine arrived over a flame, and by the end of the meal, the raw onions at the bottom of the pan were tender and caramelized. The intestines, meanwhile, were somewhere between tender and chewy, well seasoned, and as tasty as I think possible with this body part.

            The frog in the Bullfrog with Chili Pepper in Stone Pot was tender with plenty of large meaty pieces; probably the best frog I've ever had. The mildly sweet sauce was reminiscent of Southeast Asian flavors. (Possibly yellow soybean paste?) This would be an easy introduction to frog for those haven't tried it (just reserve the bonier pieces for the experienced eaters).

            Two things surprised me about my first taste of Braised Pork with Wild Bamboo: a thick slab of pure pork fat and the wonderful texture and vibrant flavor of the bamboo. Forget about canned (or even fresh) bamboo shoots; I want more of these. And the succulent pork, of course.

            Because the restaurant was out of fish heads (or just didn't want to serve them to us), we got the fish fillets instead. This probably was a good decision for our group since they're much easier to serve in tasting portions -- and saving $5 probably works for most people. Two parallel rows of fillets were topped with red and green sauces of fresh chillies on alternate sides. These chillies really had a bite, especially the green ones; interest in Melanie's bottled ale immediately increased. The green sauce reminded me of a very potent and garlicky green dipping sauce served with steamed seafood in Southern Thailand. I wonder whether the recipes are similar?

            Our soup came in handy after the fish. Although it contained (dry, played-out) pieces of pork, it tasted a bit more of chicken. The mountain yams, which often have a slimy texture, were tamed in this preparation, feeling a bit more like turnips in the mouth than potatoes.

            I got around to the House Special Fried Noodles after the seafood was gone. Despite the dish's unique cumin flavor, it seemed a bit boring compared with the rest of our meal.

            Our first dessert was a yam "cake" topped with blueberry sauce. "Cake" should not be misunderstood to refer to a baked item; it was a puree of mountain yam with just enough stickiness to hold the shape of a heart. In a word: baby food.

            Our second dessert is listed on the take-out menu as Glutinous Rice Dumplings In Sweet Rice Wine, but the word "stinky" was associated with the dish by our waitress and on the receipt. Does this refer to the smaller-than-a-gumball sized rice dumplings, to the mysterious egg-like ribbons, or to the broth? Who knows. It's a warm, sweet dessert soup with chewy stuff in it, and you either like that sort of thing or you don't.

            Wow, good lunch. I did need a 90 minute nap afterwards, so I'll probably skip the desserts and eat a bit more moderately next time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Jefferson

              Thanks for being our photographer. Glad to have the photos for refreshing my fading memories. The pieces I had of the braised pork with bamboo seemed more like hock or shank meat, but the pictures seem more like belly from the look of the rind and fat.

            2. It was my first chowdown ever - so thanks ChewChew and Melanie for organizing it!
              I'm originally from India and seeing (almost) every dish red-colored made my soul happy.
              My favorites were the crispy intestine and the bullfrog with chopped chili peppers.The intestine was crispy, crunchy goodness - and the spiciness perfectly complimented the texture. The bullfrogs were sizeable and had good chunks of meat in them.A little saltier than the intestine, but extremely tasty. I went for seconds, and thirds and fourths(?!)
              We were disappointed because they ran out of steamed fish heads (which by the way is the restaurant's speciality) - but we learned later that you have to pre-order. So a tip for all the fellow chowhounders : Reserve your heads in advance!
              But we got the same preparation with Fish Filets and I must say that both the sauces were lovely and when I drizzled them in the pork soup that we got, the flavors were elevated to another level. The noodles were a decent surprise because of cumin (definitely gonna experiment with that in the home kitchen!)
              The hunan smoked pork was wayyy too salty and mind you is a statement coming from someone who's accused of oversalting his food almost all the time. And I didn't care much about the desserts - the stinky soup was a little too syrupy-tasting and I gave the yams a miss.

              Overall, a really good meal and great company! Can't wait for the next one!

              1 Reply
              1. re: ashwinbaliga

                Great to meet you! Good move adding the pickled chiles to your soup, will try that another time.

              2. So impressed by the ‘hounds who turned out to an unproven place, and especially to one panned on Y***. And taking a leap was very rewarding this time. Some very solid Hunan cooking can be found here. Kind of an interesting portfolio with some dishes stylized and perfected for restaurant service, e.g., the preserved eggs or lotus root, and others appeared much more homemade-ish in taste and rustic presentation. Our waitress, Suki, took good care of us and her English skills made ordering easier than expected.

                Thousand-year eggs with chili – Count me in the camp that usually doesn’t like preserved eggs much, either hot or cold, but I enjoyed this dish very much. The velvety roasted and peeled strips of red and green pepper added another visual and textural layer as well as flavor punch.

                House fried noodle – Glad Ashwin added this to our order. I’ve never had cumin-flavored noodles before and I enjoyed the aromatic presence. The noodles were on the soft side, seem like just plain flour and water-based dough. And the knife work on the mix of meats was ugly as hell nor were they stir-fried well. So, while I probably wouldn’t order this again, I’ll incorporate the flavors into my own home cooking.

                Smoky steamed together – Not sure we’ve entirely teased out what was in this dish. Fish, you say? I got to this a bit late and found not only smoked pork belly (more soft and squishy after longer steaming than in the Western Hunan smoke pork dish), but also smoked chicken and smoked duck on the bone. This is the kind of dish that you eat with plenty of steamed white rice to mop up the fat, salt and smoke, and then go hibernate for the winter.

                Sauteed lily bulbs with celery – A classic stir-fry with just three main ingredients. Cooked on point, but I’ll ding it a bit for using too much of the outer stalks of celery and not just the most tender parts. But one of the better versions out there, for sure. I’m not crazy about lily bulbs but wanted to order this because it’s a new year’s dish, and the lily bulbs were more crisp and less mealy than typical. Again, a good foil and a break from the chile peppers.

                Shao Shredded potato – Interesting to see two different preps of shredded potato listed on the menu. One of the few times that I’ve walked out of a restaurant and forgotten to grab a menu, so someone else will need to fill in what the other was. Still mystified by what “Shao style” means . . . a cooking prep, regional based cuisine or what? These were prepared to a tee with some raw-ish crispness but cooked enough to not taste raw then jazzed up with many kinds of pepper to be one of the spiciest dishes on the table.

                Western Hunan smoked pork – The real deal in Hunan-style preserved pork (la rou or 腊肉) made with the pig belly (aka bacon cut or streaky pork). Surprisingly hard to find around these parts, Henry’s Hunan in San Francisco took it off the menu and only serves ham because customers complained about fat, as described in this lament, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5104... . To me, Hunan smoked pork belly is one of the greatest bacons in the world. Waxy firm fat cured by salt and air-drying, intense smoke influence, concentrated meatiness, exotic spices, and little sweetness. No idea what makes this prep Western Hunan style, but that denotes one of the three regions of Hunan cuisine. It was served in a different combination than I’ve had before, stir-fried with crisp batons of addictively tasty dried radish, spiked with fermented black beans, dried and fresh red chiles, and juicy celery. Very fine indeed.

                Lotus root with chili in wooden tub – Stylish presentation in a shallow tub showed off the lotus root’s perforated disks. Elsewhere I’ve had lotus root boiled to a near potato-like softness or quickly stir-fried preserving its juicy crunch. This prep managed to be somewhere in between with the bonus that the lotus root soaked up delectable juices and the array of seasoning peppers. One of my favorites of the meal.

                Braised pork with wild bamboo shoot – Good sequencing (though perhaps unintentional) for this to be the third of our five pork dishes. Lower in salt, and not cured, this dish made for a good contrast to the two earlier examples. The smooth, gelatinous slickness of melted connective tissue with the pieces of softened fatty rind and rosy meat paired up nicely with the wild bamboo, swaddling the slender vegetable in delectable braising juices. I had thought we ordered Mao Zedong’s favorite dish, red-cooked pork belly, but this appeared instead, and I was not unhappy at all at the change.

                Fish filet with dual flavor – Huevos divorciados, New Mexico’s Christmas chile and now dual flavored fish . . . just goes to show that more than one food culture has posed the eternal question: red chile or green chile? The fish was not fresh and was heavily salted, but under the wet heat of the pickled chile peppers, it made little difference.

                Griddle cooked pig intestine – Dry-fried to a nice crispness with a core of chewiness, the intestines swathed in a mélange of hot chiles and pungent onions were some of the best I’ve had. Served up in a mini wok over sterno, nicely presented as well.

                Bullfrog with chopped chili pepper – Buried in a stone pot, I was late to try this dish and wound up with a bony rib cage. Tasty critter though, seasoned with fresh chiles and some dusky spices for a different kind of flavor complexity.

                Yam Pork ribs soup – This came near the end, and felt like it needed more time on the fire to extract more from the ribs into the soup base. But it was a nice rinse, light and lean, and I liked the crunch of the yam disks.

                Blue berry chinese yam cake – Heart-breakingly bland but for the berry sauce.

                Glutinous rice dumpling in sweet rice wine – Several have mentioned “stinky” . . . where did that come from and maybe that was supposed to be “sticky” as in sticky aka glutinous rice? The syrup was too thick for me with too much heavy egg. While scattered with dried osmanthus, I didn’t really pick up the scent or flavor of the aromatic flower.

                Here’s the chowdown photo outside the restaurant. The red Zingerman’s Deli (Ann Arbor, MI) t-shirt identifies the heart and soul of true chowhounds. And don’t we look happy and satisfied? We definitely are happy with the peak amount of chili-induced endorphins coursing through our systems after this tasty lunch.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Oh, duh, finally dawned on me. Shaoshan is Mao's birthplace. Shaoshan means Shao Mountain.

                  Some references for Shaoshan cooking:

                  Saw some shrimp like this on another table,

                  Shaoshan cuisine,

                  Dong'an chicken

                  I think we need to go back for more!