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Restaurants & Bars 6

More on Chef Ding, San Mateo

Melanie Wong | Apr 23, 200310:58 PM

Last week I had the chance to try Chef Ding for the first time for lunch. It has been on my radar screen for a while after hearing good reports of the xiao long bao here, and especially after Bryan posted on the recent chowdinner. (link below – why didn’t anyone reply?)

The interior is quite spare, but it smells just wonderful when you step inside with fresh cooking aromas. The menu promotes the specialties as Shanghai and Szechuan cuisine, so I ordered two snacks, my holy grails of these regional schools.

When I asked about the style of Dan Dan Mien, $4.95, my server said it could be made however I wanted. A good sign. I replied that I didn’t want any peanuts and asked what the options were. He suggested the Chengdu style, describing it as a bowl of plain noodles and some very hot sauce and garlic on the side that I could mix together. I went with this version. The noodles were standard fresh egg noodles, a little too springy and firm for this purpose. The sauce was deadly, breathing awesome heat and spicy complexity of steeped herbs with plenty of Sichuan peppercorns plus scallions and very potent minced garlic. There was no ground pork in the sauce. I only used about two-thirds of it on my noodles and even with that fraction was soon daunted. After about four bites I pushed it aside because I was afraid that further exposure to the “ma la” numbing heat would completely burn out my taste buds for the rest of my lunch.

The Shanghai Steamed Dumplings (6), $4.25, looked exactly as they should. I had brought my camera with me to take a photo of the xiao long bao, but I forgot about it in my haste to try these. The wrappers were just about perfect with a slight elasticity yielding to tender softness. The filling was a little firmer than ideal, but not bad, and each had a good quantity of soup. Yet, I’d have to agree with Bryan that the flavor lacked a certain roundness and the special sweetness of the best. The finish stopped a little short of complete.

I’d gotten an order of Lion’s head meatballs to go to enjoy the next day. Two versions are offered here and I’d opted for the soupy style with cellophane noodles, Napa cabbage, and black mushrooms. The soup had a smoky note and good intensity, and the four large meatballs were lightly browned and soft in texture, the way I like them.

There are two items on the menu that I’m hoping someone can provide feedback on. The first is Beggar’s Baked Spring Chicken, $25, which requires advance order. I haven’t had this for years and would love to try a good version again. The second is Rice Sizzling Scallops and Prawns, $12, one of my favorite dishes at Wu Kong in Kowloon which Bryan referred to. Opinions?

I noted with interest on the menu – “Chef Ding Has Been Conferred The Title of First-Class Master By China”. Does anyone have the background on this?

The menu also indicated that Chef Ding has a location in Shanghai. I asked about this and received a business card for the restaurant in China. This is beyond my Chinese literacy, but instead of a typical name for the restaurant the largest type on both sides of the card is what I think says “new building upstairs big restaurant”. It’s in the city of Shanghai at #428 “heaven _something_ central/center street”. I’m carrying it around in my purse – maybe someone at the Dim Sum Civil War on Sunday can help me figure it out.


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