I was the guest at a dinner at Z&Y Garden last night. Z&Y (a.k.a. Sam Lok) is the restaurant that has long held down the fort as the best non-Cantonese Chinese dining option in Chinatown, serving Sichuan and now also Yunnan cuisine. It was recently taken over by a former chef at the Chinese Consulate. Alice, my host, gave the chef free rein, basically telling him to prepare a good dinner for eight. Here is what we were served, in approximate order:
Fu Qi Fei Pian (Couple's "Lung" Slices")
Chicken and Ham Soup
Shui Zhu Yu ("Water-cooked" Fish)
Dry-fried Green Beans
Hunan Smoked Pork with Green Beans
Beef in Chili Oil
Hong You Chao Shou (wontons in chili oil)
Shui Jiao (boiled dumplings)
Sweet dessert soup
Overall, everything was well prepared and nicely, but not fussily, presented, and worth ordering again. Some notes and standouts:
- The onion "crepes" were probably the all-around favorite. I'm not sure what these are called (Alice called them "congyou bing") but they were like thin onion pancakes wrapped, burrito style, around a filling of cured ham, cucumber and possibly a touch of haixin sauce, and sliced transversely. Alice said she'd been through 10 orders of these since the new chef took over.
- The duck was a revelation. According to my on-line research, Sichuan-style duck is steamed for three hours to melt away much of the fat, and deep-fried just before serving. Ours had a nice, crispy skin and succulent, but not fatty flesh. It was gently savory, not as aromatic as Cantonese style.
- We all liked the Shui Zhu Yu. It's always surprising that you can taste the characteristics of the fish under all those chilis, but the fish (flounder, we surmised) tasted fresh, and the beansprouts and other stuff dredged from the murky depths were just mildly spicy in this version. I would have preferred this (as with several of the other dishes) a bit spicier, but I'm not such a chili-head that I think anything fails from not being pain-inducing). The beef in chili oil, I should mention, was consderably spicier than the fish dish.
- The xiaolong bao came as a surprise, almost as an "amuse" in the midst of the meal. Unfortunately, I found the wrappers much too thick, though I'd give them points for the filling. The freshly-made shui jiao were more successful, and the wontons in chili (which I'd tried before) were excelent
Of the cold dishes, the mildly spicy cuttlefish and moderately spicy crispy squid were probably the favorites. The jellyfish was a thicker and more irregular cut than the typial Shanghai version (table neighbor Al thought it was from the head of the jellyfish), and not as savory as I would like.
I had earlier guessed that the chef had avoided being rotated back to China after his tour of duty at the Chinese Consulate by marrying, and my hunch turned out to be right. The bubbly hostess/server Michelle is his wife.
The "crepes", duck and water-cooked fish are shown below. More pics can be found at: