There were seven of us at Zoe's, some from the neighborhood, some from further afield, someone even there for the first time. We began with appetizers, the Dan Dan Noodles, which I didn't even recognize as Dan Dan noodles because I was expecting something more like peanut butter, but these were great, and then there was this rather astonishing dish called "Chicken with Sheet Jelly" in which the jelly is cut into noodles, and served with the chicken, but what the jelly actually was we couldn't quite agree, some sort of aspic perhaps, though it held its consistency as if it really were a noodle: someone felt that if we ordered this sort of aspic in Paris it would constitute quite a fancy food; also for an appetizer was the "Bean Starch Noodle with Hot and Sour Sauce," this more definitely a noodle, and the sauce made it almost a soup so we divided the dish into soup bowls (and ate every last drop); and there was "Sweet and Sour Lotus Root," cut into elegant cross-sections, such that the shape reminded one of us of playing the boardgame "Chop Suey" back in the 1960s. . .
For main courses we ate "Glutinous Rice Beef," in which the beef was sort of encrusted with the glutinous rice, and served on slivers of cabbage with lots of hot pepper (the cabbage, when you got to it eventually, was a brilliant vegetable side, but by that time it was barely a vegetable, after its proximity with such intense beef); and there was "Stir Fried Chicken with Vinegar" (one of the milder dishes, and the vinegar somehow made it seem fresh and light), "Hot and Sour Sliced Potato with Chili Peppers" (lots of chili peppers), and "Sliced Duck with Chili and Funny Peppers"--this was a masterpiece, the duck pieces were succulent and bristling with all kinds of funny peppers that did funny, happy things to the tongue; another masterpiece was the "Double Cooked Pork" (rich bacon slices in a dense but not at all viscous sauce, the best version of this that I've had in many years); and mustard greens, the most interesting of the available vegetables (did they come from the Shaws next door? is that possible?) were cooked simply with lots of garlic, and they formed a perfect complement to the intensely peppery meat dishes; we had some disappointments: there was no cilantro to prepare the spicy cilantro and scallion salad (how could there be no cilantro? how about the Shaws next door?) and they could not prepare for us the Hubei Style Sweet Rice Pork (whatever that is, we wanted to know); and there was a magnificent dessert, the Red Bean Paste Sweet Rollwe called it a pancake, and someone said it was the best dessert from a Chinese restaurant in years; we really ate everything, nothing left on the platters, and afterwards, though everyone claimed to be full, someone was still considering ordering a dish to take out, and someone else was heard to remark, I havent had a good chicken-fried steak in ages.
What did we talk about: food in Singapore, food in San Francisco, food in Somerville. Someone was looking forward to sushi in winter when the fish will be fatter. One member of the party was only in third grade but managed to eat his share, moving his chopsticks deftly among the platters, as they circled the table (okay, I admit, it was my kid, hes good with chopsticks). There was general agreement that the meal was amazingly good, not a single dud dish, and all of them very different, and there was general amazement that the bill for seven turned out to be $76 dollars plus tip. We were all agreeing that we needed to come back often, and eat the same dishes again, and explore new ones, but someones appetite was already roving, and he remarked, I need to go out to Wangs more often.