That was a great dinner at China Village in Albany! Thank you, Ericf, for recomending it, and Ruth, for organizing it! With the flavors still fresh in memory, I figure now is best time to work out those calories. :)
I confess that I failed to report to Chowhound when I first discovered this place last week while apt-hunting in Albany. It's at Ramona ant Sonano with a rather ordinary decor and green/white facade. They opened about 9 month ago. Even since I discovered their cold fun (mungbean jello), Dandan Noodle and sesame flat bread,I've been back 3 times to order take-out (from the southside of UC campus! :) ). So when Melanie asked me if I'd like to join for the Chowdown, I couldn't believe it! I'd get to taste all those dishes with the adventurous chowhounds!
Ruth, Melanie, Celery, Derek, Loraine, David, Ambria, Falicia, George and Falice came for the #1 chowdown 2003 too. (I am really bad at spelling people's names so do correct me if I misspelled). The Chinese New Year papercuts were up all over the place & the tables were quite empty. I think we were the only table in the second room.
My Mandarin came in handy while ordering, since, honestly, the English translation of their menu (150 items! Not including the Chinese blackboard) can be quite misleading. The hot-spicy Pork feet was in fact pig elbow (or trottle?). Derek had to use his arm to illustrate. :) The ordering was quite chaotic. We had so many choice! The waiter (or the manager? There were only one other waiter and one bus boy the whole time) was very helpful in cordinating the dishes. His English about food may be better than mine. Here are what we ordered:
1. Spicy Combination (aka:Husband and Wife--beef and tripe slices)
2. Sliced Side Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce
3. Five Spicy Pig Ear
4. Spicy Diced Rabbit
5. Cucumber with Garlic Sauce
1. Pickled Chili and Frogs (not on the menu)
2. Home Style(So-called) Pig feet (with red dates)
3. Stir Fried Beef with Chinese Celery
4. Village Special Lamb
5. Fire-Bursted Tripe--It is IN FACT Intestine.
6. Steamed Mandarin Fish (not on the Menu)
7. Tea smoked Duck
8. Hot Bruised Bean Curd (aka Ma-po Tofu)
9. Spicy Sauce Potato Strips
10.Chili Sauteed Mustard Green
(We thought we ordered: Water-boiled beef)
1. Spicy Cold Fun (they have two variations:Zang Style or Chen Du Style. I odered both but only one came, might be the Zang one)
2. Sesame Flat Bread
3. Dandan Noodle
First came the Cold Plate 1-4. Derek had to hold off his chopsticks to let Melanie take some pics first. The Spicy Combination was very authentic, with miced cilantra; the boiled and sliced Pork Belly was soft and not fatty, each slice nicely folded bathing in an excellent spicy garlic sauce; Five Spice Pig Ear wasn't that spicy at all--crunchy with a little kick from the gralic shoot garnishes; Spicy Dice Rabbit was kind of hard in texture--you bite on it & thought:"SO What!", 15 seconds later the vicious spice kicks in and make the tip of your tongue,the inside of your mouth go numb. Whew, beer! Then came stacked cucumbers coated with garlic bits. Talking about Garlic Power! The cucumber cubes was crispy, firm (we suspect it might have been salted/cured) but the garlic flavor was seriously intense. All the cold dishes were tasty and spicy but the spicyness are entirely different. If I am really into it, i should try one dish at a time and figure out which group of taste buds gets busted for which.
Now the main Dishes: They are all very well presented with pretty red flower garnishes on the plate. The pickled Chili was very interesting--a little sour but still spicy. The frog was very tender--definately much tender than chicken. :) The Village Special Lamb was very good. The lamb had a very mild cummin taste to it& still very tender. The Stir Fried Beef with celery was OK. I wonder if that's because my mouth has overdosed n spices--the celery was nice. The Pork trottle was good--I just like the red dates much better. The bowl of cold fun (strips of clear jello make of mung bean, covered with hot, sweet and sour sauces) came around this time & everyone was struggling with the serving spoon and chopsticks. I think the bowl was mean to be eaten by one person, scooping everything with a spoon. Oh well, we resorted to forks. By this time, my plate had been completely occupied with a mess of different sauces, so I couldn't really tell which flavor the cold fun was.
Time to change plates for the steamed fish. It was deboned and soaked in a gingery sweet and salty clear sauce. The fish was very good (don't know if it's really freshly shiped from China, live), the sauce was saltier than the Cantonese ones I am used to. The fire-busted Intestines were crunchy outside and soft inside. I can't describe the taste--it's very good and you'd have to try it yourself. :) The potato Strips are really great too: it has chili in it but was not realy spicy--it has excellent flavors for such a simple dish. The Hot Buised (braised and MaPo) tofu was OK. The tofu was tender little cubes (how come I can never get the cubes stay intact?) with black beans in it. We were surprised that there were no meat in it. The Mustard Green with Chili was very pretty--green and red. My mouth was numb & can't really process any flavor anymore. But it was crunchy. The manager was obviously very proud of this dish--he gave me a whole lecture of how the right timing and mixture of the chili with the mustard the tartness of the vegie into smoky flavor. Hummn, maybe I should've paid more attention, right. Somewhere in between those dishes, the sesame flat bread came. I love it! It's layered with sprinkled green onions freshly baked with golden crunchy & flaky outside. Yumm.
After having this bread, it's hard to eat the bun that came with the Tea Smoked Duck. I don't know how it's supposed to be but this one is a little on the dry side & I don't really get the bun thing.
By this time, we were still wondering if we were going to get the ultimate spicy challenge: Water-boiled beef. No so, the finale Dandan Noodle came in little bowls. Melanie said the noddle wasn't right but the flavor was. I like the dry ground pork bits and the sauce. The noodle was OK--it tasted like Shanghai egg noddles from the Asian supermartets.
After the watermelon and jackfruit slices, we got our fortune cookies and the bill: All the dishes+rice + beer (4 big bottles of Tsingdao) +Tax+Tip came to $242 ($22 a head. Loraine got tons of singles. :)).
We stayed and talked a bit longer. It's so great to chow with the hounds! Afterwards, we talked to the Manager a bit. He was very into spices and tried to explain to me the difference of the peppercorns. Apparently, you can't get the numbing and spicy sichuan qiyang pepper corns in California because of some controlled substance. That explains why I couldn't find it anywhere in 99 Ranch. Interesting.
Slice Pork with Spicy Garlic
Cucumber with Garlic
fire bursted Tripe
Frog with pickled Chili
Village Special Lamb
Tea Smoked Duck
Hot braised Tofu.
What we couldn't bring ourselves to order: