In last Mondays rain and bluster, I took a little detour on the way home to touch down in Walnut Creek to join a friend for dinner at Dragon 2000. Id been more than curious about it since Olivia Wus rave in the Chronicle and chibis helpful translation of parts of the real menu.
The interior is bright and cheery in a contemporary style. Each place is set with a fork and chopsticks. Tables are set far apart, and theres banquet space in the back where a few large groups of Asian families were dining. When I commented on the attractive space, our waiter said theyd remodeled two years ago when PF Changs came to town to try to hold onto their non-Chinese clientele. The owners and chefs are from Taiwan and the extensive menu offers selections from different regions in China.
My lofan friend had been here before, but said hed not been able to try anything approaching authentic regional cuisine. Heres chibis translation of what we ordered from the Chinese-only menu.
#10 ma la yao pian - numbing hot kidney slices
#106 xiao long tang bao Shanghai-style little steamed dumplings
#63 xue cai bai ye - snow cabbage with tofu strips
#33 san bei ji - three cup chicken
#98-1 is yan du xian - a traditional Shanghai soup made with I believe tofu strips, bamboo shoots and ham, my dad loves this stuff.
The Sichuan-style kidney slices were all that Olivia promised and more. Both of us were ga-ga over this preparation. The texture is indeed more foie gras-like than the firm crunch of stir-fried kidney Ive had with this dish before. The thin, barely cooked sheets of kidney are meltingly tender and unctuous. Frank was so curious about how this could be achieved, he called our server over to find out. Apparently the kidneys are gently steamed or poached and then tossed in the spicy marinade just before service. Served barely warm as a cold dish, the hot red oil is a bit sweet and blended with slivered scallions, cilantro and lots of salt. The only downside is that there are no Sichuan peppercorns in the spice mix, so it is only la and not truly ma la. Still, this dish is definitely worth a trip through the tunnel. And, our waiter said for our next visit, the kidney slices prepared with garlic sauce is even BETTER.
The xltb were forgettable. The wrappers have the correct pebbly texture, but are annoyingly thick. None deflated from leaks, but the soup was lost anyway, leaving a gaping headspace, presumably absorbed by the wrappers. The rich and fatty pork filling has a nice sweet and round flavor, however, too many big slivers of green onion leave a chewy toughness.
We also loved the snow cabbage, soy beans (mao dou), and tofu strips combination. I couldnt help but think of Millicent as we enjoyed this and will swear that this is the best version Ive ever had. The bai ye are very thin and silky textured. The flavor is quite fresh and mild and they are cut in varying widths, which makes me think they might be handmade. The proportion of the three ingredients is perfect, leaning toward a greater amount of the fettucini-like tofu strips, which is my preference. The elements are bound together with a light sauce of thickened chicken stock. Subtly flavored and executed so well with a light hand.
We were very taken by the three-cup chicken too. This was my first taste of this typical Taiwanese dish, and I can only hope that all future versions will be as lip-smackingly tasty. Chopped pieces of dark meat chicken with the skin and bones intact hacked from the wing joint and drumsticks are sautéed with ginger, garlic, fresh basil, and a bit of chili flakes, and then braised in a clay pot with a cup each of rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce. Its name comes from these three seasoning elements. Homestyle, rustic, and thoroughly delicious.
The Shanghai-style hot pot, kept bubbling over sterno at the table, is nice, but pales in comparison to the lusty and richer version at Palo Altos Su Hong. Laced with chunks of fatty fresh bacon, slices of Virginia ham, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, and tofu skins tied into fat knots, the broth is delicious on its own, but the other elements are a little washed out and not well-knit.
Service was attentive and our waiter spoke good English. Interestingly, while the menu is weighted toward Shanghai specialties, he felt the restaurants strength was on the Sichuan side. When I asked him why the English language menu didnt include the dishes from the Chinese menu that Olivia recommended (e.g., tipang), he said that their mostly non-Chinese clientele had experimented with them when the Chronicle article first came out, but didnt enjoy them and soon went back to their usual lemon chicken. So, they decided not to offer them to English-only speakers. In addition to the other kidney dish, he highly recommended we try the fatty pork with garlic sauce, husband and wife combination, and beef tendon from the Sichuan style cold plates. He also recommended the tiger skin tipang (Dereks beloved pork trotter).
Courtesy of issue #66 of San Francisco ChowNews, heres the contact info.
Dragon 2000 Restaurant
1651 Botelho Dr # 120
Walnut Creek 94596