There were nine of us, gathered at Chef Dings in San Mateo for what turned out to be a truly delightful multi-course Shanghai banquet, arranged by Yimster and (hope Ive got your handle right) Grow_power.
It was a test of Chowhound will power at first: a delightful plate of cold appetizers lay before us, covered in plastic, waiting for the last people to arrive. We passed the test and did not touch it until all were there.
Yimster brought some wonderful tea: a very high-grade Tie-Guan-Yin, lightly fermented green Oolong tea with a delightfully complex aroma and a delicate yet deep and satisfying flavor.
Assembled at last, we dug eagerly into the cold appetizers, aka Rainbow Deluxe Combination Plate:
Chopped deep green vegetable (we were told it was spinach, though there was some debate about whether that was correct. I think it was), mixed with little bits of very flavorful preserved bean curd. Delicious. VERY GOOD PLUS.
Wheat gluten, in 1/16 thick strips in a spicy (sesame?) sauce very much like the sauce used with bon bon chicken. Great sauce, great texture. EXCELLENT.
Thin slices of chicken with some veggies for texture I seem to have failed to note more particulars of this dish. VERY GOOD PLUS
Smoked fish, firmly fleshed and delicately flavored, with sweet soy and rice wine flavors. Even the skin was good. VERY GOOD
Tendon, in thin slices. This is not the all-translucent tendon, but chewy firm meat streaked with glutinous tendonlike portions, cooked less than pure tendon would have been. Never seen tendon like this, but I sure liked it. EXCELLENT
Wow. Five items on the plate, five delicious home runs. Barry Bonds, meet Chef Ding.
Wu-Lu Duck: Duck, on the bone in pieces, in a remarkable thick sweet reduced sauce that is just like what is used with the upper part of the pork foot. Tasty meat, great sauce (EXCELLENT PLUS)
Sister in Law Soup: It looked sort of like hot and sour, with those ethereally thin ribbons of egg, and a light brown color. It was, in fact, a bit sour in the same way, but with tiny pieces of fish, tiny bits of dried mushroom. Thickness was perfect, the balance of the vinegar was just right, and the flavor of the soup stayed in the mouth for ages, like a fine wine. (OUTSTANDING MINUS)
Birds Nest Triple Delight: I wasnt sure if I was actually going to eat my first non-dessert birds nest, but no, it was metaphor: a clear-sauced stir-fry in a basket of thick noodles with three kinds of seafood. Delightfully firm-textured scallops and other seafoods, little pointed young bamboo shoots, mushrooms, broccoli (cooked perfectly, not too firm, no overcooked flavors or mush). The noodle basket could have been better (and, as Grow_power said, thinner), but I loved the textures of the stir-fry. (VERY GOOD)
Red Pepper Stir-fried Beef. This was a stir-fried dish of some very flavorful cut of beef with a thick, tasty sauce, with strips of red bell pepper. I have to give a lot of credit to the chef, and not just for the deliciousness of this dish. So often, bell pepper in a stir-fry is very firm, and contrasts harshly with the meat. These strips, however, were perfectly tender, which seemed to bring out the flavor of bell pepper without its faint harshness. EXCELLENT
Shredded Chicken Jellyfish: Firm, almost bouncy-textured threads of chicken, and thinner threads of jellyfish. Not bad, but I wished the jellyfish threads were the same thickness as the chicken. As it was, you could hardly tell they were there. (GOOD)
Poet Dong-Po Braised Pork: Thick rectangles of fantastic, luxurious long-stewed pork in a thick savory sauce. Looked streaked like belly, but apparently is a part of the leg. I loved this dish. OUTSTANDING MINUS
Xiaolong Bao: Yes, the much-discussed soup dumplings, with the almost melt-in-your-mouth thin wrapper and the burst of soup inside. Texturally perfect, I wished for just a bit more flavor for the filling. I have perhaps been spoiled by a remarkable version done seasonally by Wu Kong restaurant in Kowloon that uses the incredibly flavorful Shanghai Hairy Crab roe. VERY GOOD PLUS
Hang Zhou Crispy Whole Fish: A very impressively presented whole fried fish. Tangy, savory, crunchy, sweet, just great. EXCELLENT
The dishes got ahead of me at this point. The only note I have on the crab is Super crab, very rich. At least its an accurate sketchy note, I remember it was topnotch. I seem to have missed a couple more dishes. That should be a clue that the food was so good that I just lost motivation to take further notes, lest I miss out on a dish.
At the end, there was Yimsters 25 year old Pu-Erh with Chrysanthemum, more assertive than the younger stuff, and more captivating, in the way that a special old wine is. Thanks so much for bringing these wonderful teas.
And a dessert: Battered-and-fried bananas with a sweet sauce that hardened as it cooled. Ive had this sort of dish several times, and this is the best I can remember, just sweet enough, never cloying, and with a very crunchy coating.
Let me apologize to my fellow diner, whose name I should remember after two meals, who kindly brought some deliciously fresh, melt-in-the-mouth Halvah, a Middle Eastern candy made of ground sesame seeds, with chunks of pistachio. Worlds away from the hard junky version sold like candy bars in convenience stores.
Food this good is always unexpected. After an evening of eating stuff with some pretty heavy, often sweet sauces, I should have felt overwhelmed and overstuffed. Instead, I just felt the quiet satisfaction that comes after a really, really good meal. My compliments to the Chef!
To all of you who were there, I really enjoyed sharing a table and conversing with you. Thanks to Yimster and Grow_power for organizing and menu planning, and to all, thanks for making it a great evening!