A group of seven hounds were lucky enough to enjoy a chowdown organized by the gracious Victoria Liang at The Noodle Shop/Mao Family Cooking in San Mateo this evening. Despite miserable traffic, we were able to get together and try a variety of dishes favored by the late Chairman.
For appetizers, we ordered crushed garlic cucumber (to counteract the heat of some of the other dishes), husband & wife, five spice beef shank, Szechwan-style cold jelly, and sliced seaweed. The husband & wife and the five spice beef do not appear on the menu but are posted on the wall along with many other specials. Unfortunately, while most items on the wall comes with translations, the husband & wife and five spice beef do not. If you want them, you'll either need a Chinese speaker or a waiter who understands English. Since all of the ordering and conversation with the waiter was done in Mandarin, I don't know if ours actually spoke English. The crowd in the place was decidedly Chinese for the most part. Lambert explained that husband & wife was tendon and shank, so named because they are connected to each other. The sliced seaweed was on the house and came along with the other cold appetizers.
Among the many courses we ordered were the Hunan spicy chili pepper fish head (ordered early because of the amount of time it takes to prepare), fish with leek dumplings (strong of chives and light on the fish), braised bacon cut pork with mantou [steamed buns] (Chairman Mao's favorite dish, which is described on the cover of the menu), Mao's duck casserole (really more like a soup than an American casserole, although it was served in a claypot), tongxin cai (hmm, tube vegetable?), dry chili fried chicken wings (with Sichuan peppercorns), and numbing spicy pork kidneys (the menu says numbling(!), but it wasn't). That was quite a few dishes for our merry band, but we acquitted ourselves admirably and had few leftovers.
My favorites were the braised bacon cut pork (naturallyl) which was utterly succulent and flavorful and the kidney which was just amazing. So many times, I've had the braised pork and the meat is overcooked, super sweet, super salty, or some other "superlative". This one was just right, particularly when a piece was placed in a split mantou and consumed almost like a sandwich. The kidney didn't have that strong kidney taste that I associate with many preparations and while it was served with a lot of sliced jalapenos, it wasn't overly spicy for those who might not appreciate that sort of thing. In fact, the restaurant is quite accommodating for customers who prefer to vary the spice level. The kidney meat was tender as can be.
All told, with tax and tip, we each ended up spending $20. For the generous portions and delightful food with a group of like-minded hounds, how can you go wrong at that price?
And since Romolo's on 37th Avenue got a jump on Halloween, I brought over some of their seasonal witches' finger cookies (think finger-shaped cookie with a red-dyed almond fingernail). Turns out I didn't really need to bring dessert as the restaurant also gave us a warm cloud ear soup and sliced honeydew and orange.