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Last month a family member asked me to help her order from Chef Liu. I told her the best way was to just give him a budget, a couple days notice, and let him cook for us.
Despite my 16+ year history with Chef Liu's cooking, he did manage to serve up a few dishes that were new to me. Double-flavor crab served up the Dungeness crab legs stir-fried in black pepper sauce along with egg rolls generously stuffed with sweet and tender king crab and Dungeness soft body meat with a little bit of pineapple. A giant serving of braised pork belly offered a slightly different sauce from the dongpo pork, hong shao rou or three yuan pork belly that I've tried previously. This has a sweet seafood element to it and is not as meat-forward. Combined with the fried eggs, a bite takes on even more richness. The crispy whole fish seemed like the seafood version of lemon chicken and I would have preferred a less sweet presentation.
The most remarkable dish was a repeat from a banquet in Fresno in October 2008. On his proposed menu, we had requested a change in the soup course, and after not being enamored with his next three suggestions for a substitution, I went through some of my old photos and picked out the "Goldfish and Silver Flower Soup" to make the request. Good thing I had the shot, as he said he'd forgotten about this dish and would not have known what I was requesting without seeing a photo. The latest version is even more refined. Shrimp forcemeat was formed around spongey bamboo pith to create a goldfish head and body, then attached to snow fungus to create a filigreed tail. Very fine shreds of crisp, fresh seaweed added color and texture. The consommé was clear and brilliant, yet intensely flavored. I asked him how he achieved this. He explained that he makes a slurry of raw chicken breast meat, egg whites, wine, ginger and other aromatics in a blender. Then boils the stock made of chicken and pork bones and stirs in the slurry, which congeals and collects all the solids. I said, "Oh, you make a raft." He replied, "Yes, the French call it a raft." Spoken like the Bocuse d'Or competitor that he is.
The $500 set menu for 10, including tax and service -
Signature pork feet jelly
Couples delight (fuqi fei pian)
Steam chicken in wine sauce
Royal signature eggplant salad
Black fungus salad
Marinated salmon and avocado
Goldfish and silver flower soup
Braised abalone with four delicacies
Kung pao lobster
Braised pork belly with fried eggs
Braised dried scallop with Napa cabbage
Braised lamb with dates in clay pot
Crispy fried whole fish with sweet sauce
Stir-fried potatoes with vinegar
Mixed seafood with crispy noodles
Our spice-adverse relatives had trouble with the Couples delight. While they acknowledged the heat in the kung lao lobster, the dish was more manageable chile pepper-wise.
148 El Camino Real
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