Twenty-four Chowhounds came to sample the Shanghai specialties at Su Hong, in Palo Alto, and were rewarded with an excellent twelve course meal and some really fine wines. ( Greg will review the wines in a separate post.)
We were arranged in two tables of twelve, and when we arrived we were greeted with a plate of peanuts that had been boiled with star anise. The peanuts were still firm and crunchy and the anise gave them a pleasant licorice tang.
COLD APPETIZER PLATE The first course was an appetizer platter consisting of Smoked Fish, Drunken Chicken, Jellyfish, Salty Duck, Jellied Ham, Vegetarian Goose, and Kao Fu. The Kao Fu and the Smoked Fish were the clear favorites. Kao Fu is an
imitation meat made from soy protein in a flavorful sauce of sesame oil and Chinese spices. The Smoked Fish had a pleasing firm texture and very good flavor. It was excellent. The consensus on the Jellyfish was that it was a bit too crunchy. They
apparently buy whole jellyfish and prepare it themselves, rather than packaged and sliced as most other places do. The Vegetarian Goose, which didnt seem anything like goose to me, was tofu skins filled with marinated mushrooms. It was very tasty. The Drunken Chicken was cooked in wine and had a very good wine flavor to it. The jellied Ham was reformulated ham between two layers of a tasty gelatin. It looked a lot like head cheese. It was very good. The Salty Duck was poached and rather plain. It was my least
SOUP IN A CLAY POT This soup is a signature dish of Shanghai cuisine. It was a hearty soup with pork spare ribs, Virginia ham, two kinds of bamboo shoots, and tofu skins tied in little square knots. It was well received; everyone seemed very happy with it.
XIAO LONG BAO (Steamed soup dumplings) These were one of the highlights of the meal. There were crab and pork dumplings. They were served in steamer baskets and ginger and vinegar was available to drizzle on them. They supplied little straws for the novices.
The skin of the dumplings is very delicate, and it is a little tricky to get them without losing the very tasty broth within them. They can be tricky to eat too, since biting into one can fill your mouth with very hot broth. The trick was to pick them up by the little knot on top, and transfer them right to your spoon. Next puncture the skin to let the soup
run into the spoon. The soup was very intense and flavorful. After carefully sipping the soup, drizzle a bit of the vinegar and ginger onto the dumpling. The dumpling had a very delicate thin skin and a delicious filling. Limster thought they were the best hes ever had in this country.
CRISPY DUCK This was basically fried duck. It was prepared so that there was almost no fat under the skin, and it was fried just right so that the skin was crispy and the meat was soft and tender. It was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. To add to its appeal, it was on the house.
BRAISED PORK TROTTERS IN BROWN SAUCE WITH SHANGHAI CABBAGE The definitive comment from someone was Amazing! This was probably the consensus favorite dish of the evening. The pork was very tender and flavorful. This dish is naturally very fatty, and IMHO the trick seems to be cooking it so that the fat enhances the flavor and mouth feel
without dominating it. They accomplished that feat very well. I think the cabbage would have countered the richness and provided a textural balance to the trotters, but, alas, the cabbage was all gone by the time the platter reached me.
CLAYPOT RICE WITH MUSTARD GREENS AND SALTED PORK This dish came in a big clay pot that had been baked, so that there was a nice crunchy crust at the interface of the rice and the pot. I thought this dish was a very good alternative to fried rice. It was not as oily, but still had all the flavors of the greens and meat.
YANGZHOU SLICED BEAN SHEETS This was tofu noodles cooked with spinach and Virginia ham. It rivaled the Sea Cucumber for the least favorite dish of the evening. The consensus was that it was too bland and overcooked, leaving the noodles mushy and somewhat tasteless.
SHRIMP ROE WITH SEA CUCUMBER This dish was made from whole cucumbers rather than the presliced kind that usually is offered. Thats about all the good things I can say about it. I didnt notice any shrimp roe. This was my least favorite dish of the evening and
judging by the amount left on the serving platters no-one else was too enthusiastic about it either. This dish has supplied me with a New Years resolution. NO MORE SEA CUCUMBERS!!! I have dutifully tried them many times, as they are ubiquitous at Chinese banquets. I dont understand why. In my unscientific, informal survey, I have found exactly one person who admits to liking the damn things. Why do we keep ordering them?
SWEET AND SOUR SQUIRREL FISH There is indeed a fish called a squirrelfish. This wasnt it. I think it was a fresh water fish but I couldnt identify it. The name comes from the fact that once upon a time someone thought that the fish prepared this way looked like a squirrel. Whoever it was must have had a very vivid imagination. It was prepared with black vinegar, and garnished with pine nuts, peas, and diced bell peppers. It was a little more sour than I expected, but it was very tasty with crispy skin and firm meat not at all overcooked. It was very popular. From four fish all was consumed from head to tail with just a half a head sans cheek left on one platter.
PEA SHOOTS AND PRAWNS This was a very simple yet tasty dish. The soft texture and mild flavor of the prawns was complemented by the slightly crunchy tangy flavors of the shoots. They were in a simple sauce that mainly provided moisture and did not interfere
with the delicate flavors.
FRIED PASTRIES WITH RED BEAN PASTE These were like crepes or blintzes, only deep fried. The dough was very crisp and the bean paste was sweet and tasty.
SICKY RICE DUMPLINGS IN OSMANTHUS FLOWER FLAVORED WINE BROTH This was a lot like egg drop soup with something sweet added. I guess that was the wine. Floating in amongst the egg drops were gelatinous rice balls. The whole effect was sweet and pleasant, a good
way to end a magnificent feast. For those curious about osmanthus flowers try the link below.
After dinner we passed the hat for supporting Chowhound and raised $230.