Sichuan Chowdown @ China VIllage (Albany)
Eighteen 'hounds gathered at board favorite China Village tonight. The larger of our two tables got a few extras dishes. The common dishes were:
2. 蒜泥黄瓜 Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce
5. 五香腐竹 Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets
9. 四川口水鸡 Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In)
10. 蒜泥白肉 Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce
14. 棒棒鸡 Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion (bang bang chicken aka bon bon chicken)
70. 风味排骨 Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs
88. 川西泼辣鱼片 West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth
135. 川味轩烤羊肉 China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin
142. 水煮牛肉 Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef (water boiled beef)
180. 干扁苦瓜 Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon (only at the larger table)
189. 蒜炒大豆苗 Roasted Garlic Pea Shoots
191. 呛包心菜 Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage
192. 四川炒土豆丝 Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Sautéed Country-Style
Complimentary fortune cookies
Pre-order to guarantee ingredient availability
Zhang Fai beef
56. 芝麻大饼 Sesame Flat Bread
71. 东坡烧鸭 Dong Bo Braised Duck
185. 麻婆豆腐 Hot Bean Curd (Ma Po Tofu) special ordered with beef
Hand made seafood noodles
Ma la fish (mapo doufu variant but with fish)
Steamed fish with ginger/onion
Lobster with chilies
Finishing out the meal were some lovely citrus (satsumas?) that one of us snuck in. It's late, so I'll post my comments another time.
And just a reminder:
SF CHOWHOUND MEETUPS
Hounds love to eat, and they love to eat together. There are a some established regional groups of hounds who dine together, so you might want to get on their mailing lists. Anyone can plan a chowdown and announce it on the mailing lists (see the Etiquette for more: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/367605#2975390
This was a perfect chowdown thanks to excellent menu selections by Hyperbowler, Melanie and Thomas: hot/cold, spicy/not so spicy, crispy/chewy/tender, fish/fowl/cow/pork (including the ears of the last). Intimidated by the talmudic thoroughness of fellow hounds, I'll offer only general impressions: the spice level was perfect for me but several at my table (the larger one) thought it was a little tamer than CV's usual. It was a revelation how many different flavors of heat were coaxed from those dishes--could have been the difference between use of szechuan peppercorns versus red peppers, but each dish had its own way with spiciness. My favorite dishes were two of the most subtly seasoned--the cold bean curd sheets appetizer and the visually lovely pig ear dish. Bang bang chicken was moist but lackluster, 1000 chili pepper fish soup was as wonderful as always, although the Dong Bo duck was succulent and the braising sauce flavorful, I found myself daydreaming about the Peking duck from Great Wall and the tea-smoked duck from Five Happiness on Geary. The charred cabbage was sub-par--the wok was either too cold or too crowded for real char or smoky flavor. I passed on the lobster, which arrived late in the procession of courses when I didn't have the energy to struggle with shellfish. One detail I didn't note in the previous posts was the cost--at the larger table, which had more dishes and lots of leftovers, $pp was $44--high by chowdown standards but not for the abundant, excellent, varied fare and including a very generous tip.
Great food and great company at Sichuan Gourmet. Thanks to those who organized, with special shout outs for hyperbowler for squeezing me in and Melanie Wong for bringing some delicious wine.
I was excited to try this, given how little I’ve eaten Sichuanese cuisine. I finished Fuschia Dunlop’s memoirs Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper only the day beforehand, and I had spent hundreds of pages hungering for Sichuanese food. China Village certainly didn’t disappoint.
Because I wasn’t intimately familiar with the flavor profile of Sichuan peppercorns, I bought some the day before and tried them a couple of times to get familiar with it. Ms. Dunlop suggests that newbies chew it for only 2 to 3 seconds before spitting it out to become familiar with the flavor and numbing sensation. Despite having little experience beforehand, I found that tasting it before my visit to China Village allowed to pick up on it in the dishes we tasted and see how its flavors added to the overall dish. I suggest trying it for anyone new to Sichuanese food.
(Stealing Melanie's format!)
2. 蒜泥黄瓜 Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce – liked this. the sauce reminded me of a salty Chinese miso.
5. 五香腐竹 Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets – I realized that I have some preconceived notions about the ideal way to enjoy bean curd sheets. In Japan, preparations of bean curd skin (called yuba over there) tend to be more delicate. It tasted a bit salty to me, and I wasn't able to pick up on all the subtleties.
9. 四川口水鸡 Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In) – I liked this, though the sauce reminded me of a jarred version I bought at Ranch 99 when I was living in LA. I first tried it at 101 Noodle Express and I used to put it on everything. I'd have to buy it again to pick up on the differences between that and what is surely a house made version at CV.
10. 蒜泥白肉 Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce – Tasty. Had me craving a bowl of rice!
14. 棒棒鸡 Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion (bang bang chicken aka ban ban ji) – This was fine, though the chicken was rather dry.
17. 五香猪耳 Thinly Sliced Five Spice Pig Ear (only at larger table) – One of our more subtly flavored dishes. I have to admit that I'm only starting to appreciate dishes such as these which appear to be designed to showcase texture more than flavor (something that Ms. Dunlop talks about in her book as being a common occurrence in Chinese cookery).
70. 风味排骨 Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs – I liked this quite a bit. Loved the crispy/chewy texture, which I believe Melanie suggested might have come from rice flour being dusted on it before it was fried. Very intensely flavored and a bit salty.
88. 川西泼辣鱼片 West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth – Another favorite of mine. Heavy on pepper but not overwhelming, the fish remained delicate.
135. 川味轩烤羊肉 China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin – I'm still a neophyte when it comes to cumin lamb. Reading Melanie's description, I can understand what others might not have liked about it. There was no sear and the pieces were quite thin, so that the pieces were all well done. Having had few experiences with other cumin lamb dishes, I loved it and especially appreciated how well it paired with the Joseph Swan Zinfandel.
142. 水煮牛肉 Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef (water boiled beef) – another new dish for me and again one I loved. The beef was quite tender, and I was surprised by how approachable the dish was. I've read about “water boiled” dishes in the past and how spicy they tend to be. This was spicy, but certainly not overwhelmingly so.
180. 干扁苦瓜 Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon (only at larger table) – I appreciated having vegetable dishes, and I ate quite a bit of this. The bitter melon was probably the least bitter of any I've tasted (though still really bitter). I ate a lot of it, hoping it would balance out the copious amounts of fatty meat and other less healthy food I was eating.
189. 蒜炒大豆苗 Roasted Garlic Pea Shoots – Appreciated the vegetables here as well.
191. 呛包心菜 Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage – Liked this, though I wasn't wowed. Just tasted like sautéed and seasoned cabbage.
192. 四川炒土豆丝 Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Sautéed Country-Style – Appreciated all the flavors that come from just the wok seasoning. Some pretty amazing depth and savoriness came solely from that. while I can appreciate the skill it takes to achieve exactly that texture, I couldn't help but imagine myself making that same dish for an old French instructor of mine and him spitting it out and scolding me for leaving it raw. Funny how the ideal dish can vary so much from one food culture to another.
56. 芝麻大饼 Sesame Flat Bread – Quite dense. Though it sopped up the sauce well!
71. 东坡烧鸭 Dong Bo Braised Duck – fun for me to try, given how much I had read about Su Dongpo in not only Ms. Dunlop's book but also recently in the book The Last Chinese Chef. What was even more enjoyable was eating it and realizing I had had the pork version many times without realizing it was named after the famed poet. The braising could have left it a tad more tender, but it was still quite good.
185. 麻婆豆腐 Hot Bean Curd (Ma Po Tofu) special ordered with beef – Surprised by how different it was from the Japanese version (mabo doufu) I had grown up eating. You certainly get some of the floral notes from the the Sichuan peppercorn, and the beef was quite a surprise given that I had always had it with pork, though it was explained to me that the original version was made with beef. Good and again had me craving white rice.
87. 海鲜干炒马面Village Special Seafood with Pork Low Mein * - I liked the noodles quite a bit. Could have had another small bowl of this if I hadn’t been so full.
153-a. 麻辣豆腐鱼片 Tender Fish Fillet with Tofu * (only at larger table) – Easily my favorite dish of the night, and I am so appreciative that my table mates let me take the remainder home at the end of the night. Ludicrously fragrant with Sichuan peppercorn and devilishly spicy, this demanded my attention. It was so savory and intense, with textures alternating between the silky tofu and meaty fish (which appeared to have been briefly batter fried before being combined with the sauce). I kept coming back to this, over and over again. And afterwards, I realized I was experiencing a rush of endorphins much like a runner’s high. But instead of my mouth being on fire, as it often is when I eat other spicy foods, my lips were slightly tingly. I could see how special the Sichuan peppercorn was and understand why a foreigner like Ms. Dunlop would dedicate herself to such a uniquely delicious cuisine.
Wonderful recap, thanks!
I didn't focus that much on the bean curd skin. But I think this might be the chewier dried/reconstituted type or perhaps frozen rather than the delicate fresh yuba that you're more familiar with. I'd like to hear more about how CV's mapo doufu differed from what you'd grown up with in Japan. Maybe you could report on our dinner's version adding your comments here,
First rain of the season and Bay Bridge traffic delayed me by nearly an hour past our start time. I arrived at the end of the cold appetizer service. My tablemates had graciously saved me some of everything --- thank you. Arriving late left me out of the ordering loop, but I did ask if we could add a few items since this was the larger of the two tables and we ended up increasing our order, as noted below. Because I slid in late, Mr. Yao did not know I was part of the group until we were done when he came out of the kitchen to check on us. This turned out to be the chance to demonstrate that CV’s cooking is the same for everyone.
2. 蒜泥黄瓜 Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce – Skipped this one, preferring the non-spicy version, since saucing’s same as for the bacon-cut pork.
5. 五香腐竹 Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets – Loved the restraint with 5-spice.
9. 四川口水鸡 Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In) – Fast becoming one of CV’s signature dishes, this shows Yao’s hand in really nailing and perfecting this prep. I always enjoyed this before as “home style” chicken before the fire, and now the sauce is even duskier and more delectable. The more flavorful organic chicken cooked the traditional way on the bone and including the snappy-textured skin improved the dish too. I recognize that it is more work to eat for those not used to gnawing off the bone, but for me, the superior taste is the pay-off.
10. 蒜泥白肉 Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce – Pretty good, thicker sauce brings it closer to my platonic “garlic mud” ideal but not as garlicky as I’d prefer.
14. 棒棒鸡 Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion (bang bang chicken aka ban ban ji) – Second time to order this post-fire, and a disappointment again. Served with julienne of cucumber rather than the green onion named on the menu, the saucing was fine but the parched chicken breast had the texture of sawdust. The dried out white meat served as a carrier for sauce and had no flavor of its own. I agree with Nash that this could be a very fine dish with more attention to the preparation of the breast meat. The earlier time I had this dish, Mrs. Yao took my order and a few minutes later Mr. Yao came out of the kitchen to tell me that I ordered the wrong thing and should get the Mouth-Watering chicken instead. I explained to him that I did indeed want the banban ji, since it is a Sichuan classic dish. Then I soon discovered that this dish does not have the same loving care lavished upon it. This problem has cropped up with a few other dishes in the past such as hui guo rou (twice cooked pork) and gong bao ji ding (kung pao chicken), and as we found with mapo doufu this night, being prepared in cursory fashion.
17. 五香猪耳 Thinly Sliced Five Spice Pig Ear (only at larger table) – First time ordering this, following a rec from “felice” who couldn’t join us. Again, appreciated the restraint with 5-spice and I was surprised at the light color since most versions are poached in a soy sauce base. This proved that less is more, a subtle lift of spice complimenting the sweet porkiness, and accented by the pungent bite of the shredded scallions. Lovely texture, crackly ear cartilage surrounded by smooth unctuousness. A new favorite for me.
70. 风味排骨 Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs – Another first try for me, intensely seasoned, meat somewhat dessicated and almost jerky-like in parts. Packs a wallop and I only needed one bite.
88. 川西泼辣鱼片 West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth – Another signature dish that the kitchen has refined and perfected. Chicken stock shows the minerally taste of the bones.
135. 川味轩烤羊肉 China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin – A shift in style from before the fire, now made with thinner almost shaved slices of lamb instead of juicier thicker pieces. Yet, the lamb was gray-ish and not seared for more flavor highlights. Tasting mostly of cumin, I would have liked this to be spicier and more complex in seasoning.
142. 水煮牛肉 Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef (water boiled beef) – Nice job, less red oil floating on top than before and more ground dry spices sprinkled on top instead of via infusion. The beef was not as succulent and smooth-textured as typical and was missing the herbal element contributed by more intensely flavored Chinese celery.
180. 干扁苦瓜 Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon (only at larger table) – One of the additions, I wanted to order this because it is another ‘hound’s favorite and also I had liked another bitter melon dish here previously. Cooked gan bian style with minimal oil and no liquid, flavored only with a bit of salt and the seasoning of a well-broken in hot wok. This method intensifies flavors and shows them most directly. I asked Mr. Yao if the bitter melon was treated in any way to make it less bitter. He said that the level of bitterness depends on the time of year, and right now they’re less bitter.
189. 蒜炒大豆苗 Roasted Garlic Pea Shoots – This tasted strictly vegetarian. I prefer the way many Cantonese chefs will prepare greens with a ladleful of chicken stock for more umami.
191. 呛包心菜 Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage – On the soggy side, not as deftly prepared with attention to texture as it could be. Not enough char, not enough raw-ish crisp parts for contrast, still tasted good enough.
192. 四川炒土豆丝 Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Sautéed Country-Style – Exactly on point in waxy, wetly crisp texture, picked up wok seasoning well. An excellent counterpoint to the red oil dishes.
56. 芝麻大饼 Sesame Flat Bread – Too dense, not layered. I asked Mr. Yao if he’d changed flour as this was disappointing. He blamed the damp weather for the insufficient rise.
71. 东坡烧鸭 Dong Bo Braised Duck – A riff on Dongpo Rou, the braised pork belly dishes named after Poet Su Dongpo. A lighter tone to the seasonings to be in balance with poultry rather than pork, but equally delicious. I’ve not had this dish here for a few years, and I was very happy to revisit it.
185. 麻婆豆腐 Hot Bean Curd (Ma Po Tofu) special ordered with beef – Tofu was too soft, not really remarkable in any way.
87. 海鲜干炒马面Village Special Seafood with Pork Low Mein * - Seafood seemed overcooked to me. I prefer other noodle dishes here.
153-a. 麻辣豆腐鱼片 Tender Fish Fillet with Tofu * (only at larger table) – With recent discussion of a mapo doufu made with fish, I wanted to try mala doufu fish fillets here. When the dish came up in the dish of the month thread, I thought that I’d never heard of it let alone tasted it. Well, when this was brought to the table, I recognized it as the prep I had christened “red bowl of death” more than ten years ago!
Here’s “mariacarmen’s” photo again,
With popularity of West style soup, another dish with a float of dried red chile pods, I’d completely forgotten about this one. Deriving its heat from roasted red chile and a generous amount of Sichuan peppercorns, this earned its title “ma la”. Unlike the West style soup, this soupy sauce is stained red as well. Tender fish fillets, savory leeks, tofu chunks, and citrusy-numbing spice seasoning, one of my favorite dishes of the night.
155. 清蒸全鱼 Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger, Onions & Cilantro Market Price – A huge black bass, somewhat muddy tasting, and heavier on soy sauce than a Cantonese chef would use.
Lobster with chilies – Got to this late after it had cooled down. Intriguing seasoning, and it needed that strong flavoring as the underlying lobster was not super sweet and fresh.
Tuesday was Global Zinfandel Day, so representing zinlandia, 2005 Joseph Swan “Mancini” Russian River Valley Zinfandel, a wine that critic Josh Reynolds had described as exhibiting Sichuan peppercorn. We also had 2003 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese and 2004 Rieflé Grand Cru Steinert Gewurztraminer.
re: Melanie Wong
re: bitter melon being in season, that's good to know! Yi Yuan had an unbearably bitter shaved bitter melon and honey dish last week, so I'd hate to know what that would be like in the off season ...
Based on psb and my comments, I think the charred cabbage at the smaller table came out better than at the large table. What did other people at the smaller table think?
Relentlessly and unbearably bitter would be more the norm. Our dish was the most unbitter I've ever run across. Teens are encouraged to eat it as it's said to be good for the skin and heals acne. But you can imagine how well that goes over with teenagers' more sensitive tastebuds.
I saw bitter melon on two Chinese steam tables this week, which is not typical. Maybe there's a rush on while it's in this milder state.
This was an excellent Chowdown! The tables were lively with conversation and the kitchen was in good form (it was a Tuesday, and the head chef was there)
= Top dishes =
West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet : A+, for the reasons other attendees describe.
Cumin lamb : This was an excellent, albeit subdued version of this dish. There could have been more spice and cumin, but the cumin that was present was fresh and lacked harshness from overcooking. The meat was tender, but held together well and it wasn't greasy.
Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage : The dish's name is self-explanatory, but this was still the biggest surprise of the evening for me and one of the most enjoyable.
Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon : more edge than various types of squash, but the bitterness was not overpowering. I liked the preparation a lot.
Mouth watering chicken : The flavor of the bone-in chicken is strong enough to compete with the bold sauce.
Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef
= Also recommended =
Dong Bo Braised Duck : the fatty skin absorbs the flavors of the braising liquid and is delicious. The meat below was a touch dry in parts, but even still contrasted well with the fatty skin pieces
Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets : mellow dish for balancing out the bolder ones.
= Mixed =
Hand made seafood noodles : I loved the chew of the noodles, but the seafood and sauce didn't add much to its enjoyment
Bon bon chicken : ok, but the chicken wasn't juicy enough. Also, the sauce muted the chicken's flavor, and this might have been overcome with more green onion.
Sesame Flat Bread : this is the second time I've had this in the past month at China Village. Both times, it lacked the layered featheriness of the one at Ancient Sichuan. It's still good for soaking up juices of other dishes.
Mapo doufu : complexity of the sauce was lacking (not enough hot bean sauce), and not enough green onion or Sichuan peppercorns on top.
Thanks to Thomas Nash for help selecting many of the common dishes and Melanie Wong for choosing additional ones. The owner, Mr. Yao, was very helpful in letting us refine our selections. The server also gets points for cutting out the cheeks of the steamed fish with ginger/onion and placing them on my plate--- organizing a meal has its perks!
OK I finally have time to report on the amazing banquet we enjoyed -- food + company. But first, I gotta say how grateful I am to have had this opportunity to tip toe thru the menu. It was a fabulous evening.
Now the food:
2. Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce: I really love cucumbers, and this dish did not disappoint. Crisp, flavorful cukes coated with a strong but not overwhelming sauce.
I gleaned the leftovers that others passed on. And will definitely try to order it as often as possible to "clean the palette".
5. Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets – I appreciated how this dish has a pleasantly simple flavor but still remains complex.
9. Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In): I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t wowed by this dish. Perhaps it would be better appreciated with a meal that has fewer dishes.
10.Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce: I know that this is MariaCarmen’s fave, but I gotta say, I fail to understand why! So she was lucky and got my leftover piece. Chacun a son gout, non?
14. Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion (bang bang chicken aka bon bon chicken) Now this one I loved: seemingly simple, yet a joyful array of flavors. It will be enjoyed often in the future.
70. Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs: Dangerously small bite-sized pieces, with a marinade that ranges in flavor from citrus to earth. I was concerned that this would be sweet and therefore for me. On the contrary. The flavors are subtle.
88. West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth: I think this is the one that wow-ed me the most, since I’d never had anything quite like it before. So it was a total surprise. Yet despite the layer of red chili peppers covering the surface, it’s a dish that is not super-spicey.
135. China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin: I love both lamb and cumin. And this version did not disappoint.
180. Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon: I come to CV often just to grab a dish of bitter melon with pork. And I still prefer this to bitter melon on its own. Glad to see that others appreciated its unusual flavor.
191. Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage: Was enjoyed, but did not get a chance to shine under the freight of so many dishes.
Brown rice: So wonderful to see it on an Asian menu. And it was perfectly cooked.
56. Sesame Flat Bread: It was fine. But not as interesting as the one shared some time back at Ancient Sichuan.
71. Dong Bo Braised Duck: This was also 1 of the highlights of the meal – moist and tender. A nice change from tea smoked duck I typically get around town.
And lucky me, I was fortunate to get to enjoy a taste of Melanie's well-chosen wines to complement the banquet. Thank you, MW.
Overall, I was surprised that there wasn't more heat in the chili peppers. I wonder if that's my assumption, or if the heat's been turned down for American taste buds. That aside, it was an incredible meal.
I wasn't paying too much attention to the heat/spiciness that night, but I'll mention a few general things about heat in chili peppers:
= The color of Sichuan preparations makes them look a lot spicier than they actually are!
= At least in my Sichuan cookbooks, the seeds are often removed from the chilies and thrown out, toning town the heat
= The flavor, rather than the heat, of chilies is often the goal. Chongqing chicken is a dish to notice this in.
= The numbing of Sichuan peppercorns can distract from the spiciness of the chilies
>2. Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce
better than same dish i have had at other places. cukes had a lot of flavor and great snap. although it ended up fading a bit due to the large number of stronger dishes ... which might not have been the case if this was your "non-rich" dish in a menu of 5 items.
>5. Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets
i like this quite a bit. good contrast to the spicy/oily dishes we had. this was a better rendition than the version i had on my last CV trip.
>9. Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In)
>14.Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion
14 > 9 ...
I preferred the "Szechuan spicy chicken strips". The other one was good but just as a matter of personal preference, it was a bit gingery and i dont like really boney pieces of chicken, duck etc. I did like the spicy oil the chicken was bathing in ... it was good product for the sesame bread which arrived just after.
>10. Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce
this is one of my fav dishes at CV. this was a strong redition. possibly my fav item of the evening, although i'll admit this is a bit "cynical good" [i.e. "throw fat at the problem" ... in contrast to ...]
>88. West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth
another strong performance items ... complicated, deep taste to the broth. [fish = flounder?]
>135. China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin
this was a favorite item too. generally this dish is popular with my friends, although i sometimes find it is too cumin-y. today's dish was just right for me.
>70. Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs
perfectly good, but it came late in the meal and some fatigue was setting in. also overshadowed by some stronger dishes, when it comes to personal pref.
>191. Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage
the last time i had this at CV, i thought it was "good" but i felt fell short of it's reputation. tonight i thought it was "very good" and perhaps lived up to being a "must".
>192. Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Saut�ed Country-Style
i liked this more than i expected. i'd been interested in trying one of the potato dishes at other places such as Yao Ming Beijing, but my companions were never interested, so was glad to try it.
>71. Dong Bo Braised Duck
good, but again a little "cynical" ... "duck fat ... Mmmmmm". i wish i had saved some sesame bread to have turned this into a fatty duck bun/sando.
>185. Hot Bean Curd (Ma Po Tofu) special ordered with beef
i didn not find this too exciting. judging by the amount left over, i suspect this wasnt a table favorite.
>Hand made seafood noodles
the bits of seafood were good, but i didnt like the ensemble much.
>Steamed fish with ginger/onion
i had a small piece of fish and it was ok. this type of prep is generally not my fav. [fish = black bass]
>Lobster with chilies
i didnt love this. but i also probably deferred eating it too long and it had cooled and congealed a bit.
i havent been to CV a huge number of times, but this was the best meal i have had there ... 20dishes.
want to thank the Hyperbowler for the invitation, and MWong for the taste of the dessert wine. enjoyed the evening, the company as well.
Tried to call China Village tonight . . . Jeff answered the phone but said that the whole neighborhood's power is out.
C'mon, there were 18 people at the dinner, why so quiet? Did anybody else find anything enjoyable about this meal? Favorites? Dislikes? Learn anything about Sichuan cuisine?
* * * * Sichuan Chowdown Series * * * *
China Village, Albany (November 2013)
China Village, Albany (July 2013)
China Village, Albany (July 2013)
Mandarin Gourmet, Palo Alto (May 2013)
Chef Ma, San Jose (May 2013)
Fey Restaurant, Menlo Park (May 2013)
Happy Golden Bowl aka Ancient Szechuan, El Cerrito (February 2013)
Dong Bei Mama/Panda Country Kitchen, San Francisco (June 2011)
Trend, Mountain View (November 2008)
Z & Y, San Francisco (September 2008)
Chili Garden, Milpitas (July 2008)
Little Sichuan, San Mateo (July 2008)
Great Szechuan, Richmond (June 2008)
Hunan Restaurant, Fresno (Chef Liu rediscovered, May 2008)
China Village, Albany (November 2007)
South Legend, Milpitas (July 2007)
Zone 88, San Francisco (December 2006)
Little Sichuan Express, Fremont (September 2005)
FeldmanFest @ China Village, Albany (Chef Liu’s last night, September 2004)
Sam Lok - SF Chinatown Chowdown Lunch Series #8 Report (May 2004)
We’ve Been Ma-La’d @ Spices! II, San Francisco (January 2004)
NYE China Village Chowdown (January 2004)
China Village, Albany (July 2003)
#1 Chowdown of 2003 – China Village (January 2003)
House of Yu Rong in San Jose (May 2002)
re: Melanie Wong
re: Melanie Wong
It is interesting to hear people's opinions about the Ma Po tofu at CV. Before the fire it was one of my favorite dishes there. After the fire it has been meh. I have been trying to think about how it has changed. I think that before the fire the quality of the tofu seemed better. More silken and creamy. There was more sauce. After the fire the quality of the tofu has not been as good. There has not been very much sauce or liquid at all but instead an over abundance of chili oil. So the dish now is more like tofu in chili oil and it lacks the depth of flavor and complexity it used to have.
This was the Chowdown I was waiting for. Thanks, hyperbowler for organizing it. Something like 18 or 20 dishes were available and most of us ate too much, but this banquet was really a way to see what this CH favored restaurant could do.
Some years ago, based on CH raves, the two of us checked out China Village on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and were very disappointed. I don’t know what happened, probably just a selection of dishes that were not among the best (maybe the ma po tofu was one). So, after the fire we went back as a twosome again and, as I posted recently, were much more favorably impressed by several dishes (twice cooked pork was one, bon bon chi another) and not so happy with the “ma po” or “ma la” crab. But after last night’s amazing display, I became a believer. China Village is really the best Sichuan, at least in the Bay Area.
As mariacarman noted there were no true failures, but to start on a positive note, there were a few incredible triumphs:
I am really glad there was no crab and that we had what the owner called “Sichuan style lobster”. This was an amazingly sophisticated dish and really perfect. Of course, there are no Maine lobsters or Dungeness crabs walking around the rivers and lakes of Sichuan. So this is a modern take at a time when such beasties can be flown in. That doesn’t make it any less Sichuan. (I am a little confused about the description “Lobster with chilies” in hyperbowler’s list as there is an item with this name on the menu, but the owner seemed to steer us to a differently named dish as I noted earlier. Not sure if they are 2 dishes or not — so be careful in ordering this.)
I was also totally impressed by the Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs. For the first time I understood what people mean by a “citrusy” flavor from Sichuan pepper corns. Maybe it was a marinade they used, but these dry cooked ribs had a new (for me) and complex flavor. This is what I expect from real Sichuan cooking.
Other dishes new to me and excellent:
Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets, a wonderful addition to a set of cold starter dishes.
Dong po duck. Boy, ducks were meant for this long braising dish. Even better than the usual pork and lighter in many ways as most of the fat gets cooked out. Loved it.
West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth. Lovely and light despite the covering of chiles, dramatically removed by the waiter.
The following were superb and the best rendition I have ever seen:
Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef (water boiled beef). There are several other restaurants around here doing this, but I think this may have been slightly better than the best. Lots of a dry roasted chili, sichuan pepper corn, and what else?, on top. Superb.
Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In). The owner insisted on this, while I insisted on ordering the bon bon chicken. He was right. This is perfectly prepared version, with highest quality chicken, and a deep and interesting sauce.
Following were competitive with the best I have had, maybe better, maybe just as good, all excellent:
Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage
Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Sautéed Country-Style
Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon
Wow, what a list of winners! But there were some negatives:
The ma po tofu with beef is very good, but not up to what this place should be doing. A conversation with the owner after the meal was quite informative. He clearly knows that the original version of this dish is not vegetarian (as the menu offers), uses browned beef, and far more spicy and complex. But he noted that in other parts of China, beef is not considered a quality ingredient so pork is expected in the MPTF. I think that is a correct interpretation. Worse is that he confirms the sense we have had that pressure from those thinking that tofu equates to vegetarian encouraged many restaurants in the US, including CV, to put this on the vegetable section and make it without meat. I think he confirmed that without meat it really should be called ma la tofu. And I think that is what they call the crab version and the fish version, both of which have little to do with MPTF except that they included tofu and a somewhat spicy, oily red sauce. I really wish CV would demonstrate what an authentic, firry hot, MPTF is all about as I know this kitchen can do it. Hope someone is reading this…
And now a brief rant about bon bon chi. CV makes the best and most authentic version around these parts, but it is not as good as they should be doing, which may be why the owner steered us away from it. This is one of my favorite classic Sichuan dishes. “bon bon” or ”bang bang” refers to the sound made by the side of a cleaver banging the chicken breast so it can be shredded by hand. Here it is sliced in juliennes from a rather dry breast pre-prepared and grabbed from the fridge. Although the saucing is pretty close to correct, could be more fiery hot, it should be made from a juicy (high quality) chicken breast just pulled out of the broth and then bang banged and shredded. The other place making an excellent variant is Spices II, where the chicken comes on the bone in chopped up pieces. So the meat is better than at CV, but this is supposed to be a boneless shredded dish.
Others can speak to the Sesame bread as apparently the weather didn’t help in its creation last night.
Steamed fish with ginger/onion is a Cantonese dish and this kitchen was not at its best in implementing it.
Hand made seafood noodles. Noodles were excellent and quite perfect in texture, but maybe this was just too much after everything else, but I didn’t get the point of the seafood and saucing.
All in all one of the best Chinese banquets I have been at in a long time. Great food, great conversation, interesting people. And we discovered that CV is only a 20 minute walk from the El Ceritto Plaza BART stop — so we avoided the rainy day Bridge traffic. Thanks to hyperbowler for the ride back to the City.
oh thank goodness you started this already! thanks, HB, for arranging this, and for pre-ordering the duck and the zhang fai beef.
my faves of the night were the cooked bitter melon (my first time trying this - it had a lovely vegetal, almost pepper-like taste, without the heat, and from all accounts, not as bitter as this dish can be); the lamb with cumin (i loved the assertiveness of the dish - cumin and lamb - they work so well together); the spicy bean curd sheet (loved the texture, and the simple prep - scallions, light and gingery); the pea shoots (just fresh and garlicky); the shoestring potatoes (smokey goodness, a particular fave of mine); and the wok-charred cabbage (more smokiness, sweet). in truth, there wasn't a fail for me. i didn't feel any of the dishes were super hot (i really like it hot), tho there was plenty of mala in many. while i didn't love the spicy organic chicken itself,(mostly because there wasn't enough to taste - a few pieces on the bone to split amongst 10 at our table) - the sauce was incredible. the boneless chicken had something of a tahini-taste to it, which i liked at first bite but after a bit i didn't need to have any more (but to be honest, there were just SO MANY dishes). I loved the pig ears,will always love the cold spicy bacon and was quite happy to find others didn't so there was more for me. to those of us discussing the 1000 pepper fish soup (a lovely mild dish, despite the frightening prospect of those peppers, with wonderfully meaty, perfectly cooked fish - as to whether it was fish or chicken broth - interestingly, the receipt i snagged says its chicken. we were bummed that there was no crab available tonight, but we "made do" with the special lobster, which was heavenly.
thanks to Melanie for providing delicious, interesting well-paired wines (a riesling, a gewurst, and a wonderful red - i'm not remembering the varietal), and for suggesting a few additional dishes to our already hefty list.
the company, of course, was great - good to meet some known CH-ers but also a lot of new ones. i had a hard time deciding whether to pay attention to the fascinating conversation about Paris or the one about mala.
I'm posting my pics too, as i was at the other table (although i think we had mostly the same dishes).
China Village continues to surprise and wow. Thanks again, everyone.