We had a nice dinner for eight at China Village Friday night. The owner, Mr. Yao, came over to our table for a taste of the wine we had brought and told us of his new chef. The very genial Mr. Yao told us that he brings new chefs from China so he can keep up to date on the newest trends in Chinese cuisine. He said sometimes the chefs don't work out, only lasting for a month or two; if they are good they might stay for two years. I had a fleeting vision of disconsolate chefs languishing in Guantanamo; I did not pursue that thought.
The current chef has a number of specialties, not on the menu. One is an appetizer, currently posted at the top of the whiteboard at the entry to the restaurant. It is "pig's ear with cucumber." Mr. Yao recommended it. I've enjoyed white-cooked or red-cooked pig's ear in Cantonese places; it has a pleasantly crunchy texture. This dish was quite different. The pig's ears were tender, and were embedded in a gelatinous matrix like headcheese. This was sliced into neat rectangles about an eighth of a inch thick. Each slice was perched on a perfectly matching slice of cucumber, arranged beautifully on the plate, and topped with sauce. Mr. Yao told us to eat a slice of pork and cuke simultaneously, and expertly demonstrated, rolling up a slice of cucumber with one of pig ear. He was emphatic that the dish would not taste right if we ate the ingredients separately and he was correct. The sauce was numbing-spicy with Szechwan pepper. Highly recommended.
Mr. Y then suggested a number of other specialties from the new chef, but they were all of the spicy variety and our crowd wanted milder food. So we ordered off the regular menu. Mr. Y recommended a dish I've never had before, Hunan Smoked Pork with Dry Turnip (#53 on the menu). The slices of "bacon-cut" pork were smoky and well-seasoned, and the dried turnip was pickly-salty and crunchy. Quite delicious. We also ordered Cumin Lamb (#122), Fish Fillet with Wine-Lees Sauce (#128), Eggplant with Yellow-Bean Paste (#140), and A-Choy in Garlic Sauce (#145, perhaps). The A-Choy had excellent "wok-breath," and the other dishes were expertly prepared. We also had Sesame Bread (#216) and Homestyle chicken (#8). In previous visits the chicken was overly spicy, but the sauce this time was milder and sweeter (and more to my taste). For some reason I forgot to order #150, the Charred Cabbage, which has become another favorite.
An excellent meal, a nice chat with Mr. Yao, good service, and $13 apiece with two corkages (before tip). Let's make sure the new chef sticks around.
1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706