It's hard to objective at Chowhound dinners because the conversations and company add so much to the food. M.F.K. Fisher once described breaking bread with someone as a non-trivial heartfelt affair, and it's easy to appreciate why, once you've shared a meal with other chowhounds. And the fact that you've dug out a food tip or three from your fellow chowhounds in the process doesn't hurt.
Serious kudos to Lambert for planning, organisation and menu selection, and to Melanie for a beautiful flight of matching wines. (I was particularly fond of the rieslings with the quail and the seafood w/ XO sauce; more below.) Assuming that the Sauterne didn't affect my math too much, I believe we raised over $200 for this website, thanks to the generousity of the SF hounds.
Jumbo's a classic and true Cantonese kitchen, and the dishes were rather nimble.
First, a cold appetizer of sliced pig's trotters with the thick gelantinous rind and meaty core, strands of jellyfish bearing a substantial crunch, and beef shank with silky, well articulated fibers and marble. A trio of textures.
Next, well-oiled duck shreds swimming in a broth with yee fu wontons, wontons that have been first deep fried before being added to the soup. The effect is very pleasant -- the fried fragrance is added to the clear broth and the crispy, blistered wonton skin is softer but there's still a subtle crackle. Finally, an airy touch of cilantro.
The seafood combination is a good showcase for the kitchen. The squid is scored lightly to give a flowery appearance as it curls upon cooking and is both snappy and tender -- a sign of good execution. Scallops are also gentle. To that, the piquance of XO sauce, spicy with light complexity, bringing the seafood together with the celery and scallions on the same dish.
Again, there's good execution with the juicy poultry in the salt and pepper quails as well as the crispy chicken. None too greasy and very flavorful. In particular, the quails get a salt and pepper treatment and also show a light spark of heat.
My favorite (ever since I was 4) was the peking pork chops, with that slightest possible layer of gooey starchiness, a delighful crispness, and thin tender pork, all dressed in a dark red Peking sauce. I liked the fact that the sauce showed balance wasn't overly reddish, nor too plummy, but a good showing of both sweet and sour.
The ginger and scallion crabs were also good, and I got quite a bit of the rich crab butter just under the shell.
The cive catfish brought out many agreeable praises -- no muddy flavors, just clean sweet fish. Lambert tells us that the fish is first poached in hot water to get rid of the slime -- that's how the undesirable flavors are cleared out.
Then thick cuts of black mushroom with just the right amount of soft resistance, along with mustard greens with their faint verdant bitterness followed by a sweetness at the core.
We were sooo stuffed, but two starch dishes were brought out just in case, a competent chicken fried rice, and well textured yee nooodle with the same good black mushrooms.
Desserts were orange slices and almond cookies (great with the sauterne). And so it was easy to go sweetly into the night.