The Pot Sticker got a spicy Sichuan makeover earlier this year, with a new chef from Z & Y, and Melanie Wong was impressed with what she tried on a recent visit (which turned out to be two of her server's favorites, also). Thin Guilin rice noodles come in a light yet meaty stock with thin shavings of well-cooked beef shank, plus fragrant scallions, spicy pickles, roasted peanuts, celery, and cilantro. A few quail eggs bob on the surface. "I loved how the broth grew more fiery as the chili oil from the sour-hot bits diffused through the bowl with more steeping time," comments Melanie. "However, chile-phobes need not run, the overall effect is only moderately hot."
Couple's Delight, a classic appetizer, has thin-sliced beef tendon and tripe doused with chile oil, rolled up in a flaky, oniony pancake and cut into sections. "I’d had a similar dish with just the shank meat and too much sweet sauce at Z & Y, and this version with the mala spice hit was much better," says Melanie.
Down in Mountain View, although Bamboo Garden trumpets its Shanghai and "Mandarin" cuisine on its no-longer-new grand opening banner, the real house specialties are from Dongbei, a region in China's northeast. These hearty dishes are just the thing for cold, wet winter weather, says Melanie Wong.
House special sparerib stew with string beans is not much to look at, but boy, does it have flavor. "Despite having a Dongbei sparerib stew at two other places, this is the first time I really 'got it,'" says Melanie. It's aromatic with star anise and other spices, yet the seasoning doesn't detract from the flavor of the tender pork, which was hacked into bite-size pieces.
Pork with mustard sauce is reminiscent of pork and sauerkraut, thin shavings of pork belly poached in a light stock with housemade pickled cabbage and wide cellophane noodles. And Shanghai-style xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, are pretty good—the pork and crab version has tons of juice contained in thin but strong walls, and a coarser filling with not much crab but good flavor.
Pot Sticker [Chinatown]
150 Waverly Place, San Francisco
Bamboo Garden [Peninsula]
108 S. Rengstorff Avenue, Mountain View