After last weeks the chowfest at China Village in Albany, I couldnt wait long to try more from the Sichuan menu. Saturday on my way home from the chow field trip to Walnut Creek, I called in a take-out dinner order to share with my sister and brother-in-law. Then Tuesday night, I got a couple more things to go.
I tried to choose things that would hold up well as take-out and reheat easily. Repeats on Saturday were the sesame flat bread and the spicy combination which showed beautifully, as well as the spicy potato strips which over-steamed in the container and were falling apart and overcooked by the time we served.
New for me and hits were the complimentary 5-spice pork aspic that was tart, savory and rather headcheese-like, Chong Qing style spicy chicken with hacked bony wing bits (also available boneless) and great complexity of Sichuan spices, and the ultra-hot Szechwan style spicy boiled beef that was grainy/crunchy from the concentration of Sichuan peppercorns and while equally delicious didnt have the sublime silken texture of the version at House of Yu Rong.
The dish we didnt like was a mystery dish with long beans. Originally I had ordered dry cooked green beans, but when I learned that this dish was not made with long beans, substituted egg pancake with long bean. This had been recommended by the order-taker as using the pickled long beans well. What we got was a dice of pickled/salted long beans with a little onion and minced pork that was overly salty and one-dimensional. No egg pancake in sight not sure what this was supposed to be.
We were a bit too heavy on chilis this time, and I was glad that Larry broke out the Duvel (Belgian ale) to quench the fires. Satisfying and tasty all in all. My sister amused herself by gathering up all the dried red chili peppers in our various dishes. From these dishes alone, we accumulated nearly two cups worth!
Tuesday night was less successful. The sesame flat bread was a shadow of the previous renditions. Fewer sesame seeds, less puffed up, doughy in the middle and not as finely seasoned, this tasted like everyone elses and was not special at all. The spicy ponpon chicken had a medium spiced thick sesame-based sauce over strips of skinless chicken breast and julienne cucumber that I mixed at home. The chicken was coarse and should have had a smoother texture. If I order this as take-out again, I would ask for the sauce to be packed separately. Even though it had not been tossed, the cucumber had started to weep by the time I got home. I wondered if the main chef is off on Tuesdays have others had less good experiences on Tuesday or other nights?
On Saturday, I had a chance to talk with the owner, John Yao (who had waited on our group at dinner), more about his chef. When I asked about the Class I chef rating, rather than explaining the training and rating system, he replied that the chef was the number one chef by winning the national competition to represent China in the Bocuse dOr in 1999! He proudly showed me the poster, pointing out his chef among the other contestants. So, its not clear to me that this chef is rated Class I in the Chinese system, but in any case, he is world-class.
It gave me a chance to ask my question, and yes, the head chef does make Mongolian beef and General Tsous chicken! Mr. Yao said those were not hard for him to learn. He also said that the assistant chef prepares the dim sum items, while the head chef does the other cooking.
I also learned that the chef is a native of Beijing, who learned Sichuan cooking from his mentor who came from Chengdu. He has that love and fervor for the cuisine thats unique to converts. Mr. Yao stressed that not only is the chef expert in preparing dishes from all over China, he is also skilled in French technique and other western-style preparation as tested in the Bocuse dOr competition. He encouraged me to try Shandong and Cantonese dishes on the menu. He also showed me some banquet menus, including one that was all seafood for $250/10 people. He pointed out that while the chef does a good job on the homestyle dishes on the regular menu, where his talents really lie is in presenting special dishes for a banquet. He suggested a price of $50 to $100 per person, with a weeks advance notice.
I do wonder how long this neighborhood restaurant will be able to hold onto this star chef. Meanwhile, Im going to try to sample as much from his repertoire as I can while hes here.