A couple days before the start of the Year of the Rooster, our group of 20 gathered to try one of the banquet menus at Royal Feast in Millbrae.
Six cold plates were presented as a first course of appetizers. Three I had tried here before, yet now a few weeks later, the presentation and/or seasoning had been further refined to continue to improve.
Mouthwatering Steamed Chicken in Chile Sauce – Much more satisfactory this round with a thinner and less pasty saucing veering toward very complex and spicy red oil base with more crushed garlic intensity. The huang mao ji meat served off the bone was so smooth and succulent. Thin slices of Persian cucumber fanned on the plate provided some green color garnish and crunch.
Signature Pork Feet Jelly – Fourth visit to this dish and the very good became even better with a little more tang and fuller spicing.
Couples Delight – Third time for the fuqi fei pian and at last getting closer to the depth and gloves-off robust flavors that I remembered from CV, yet still very balanced firepower. Excellent texture on the honeycomb tripe and tender beef shank.
Jellyfish and Scallions – Thick and ropey shreds of very clean and translucent jellyfish marinated to a mild tang combined with the perfume and savory bite of fresh scallions. The best example I’ve had in ages.
Egg Pancake, Roe and Shrimp Roll – Very thin omelet rolled around shrimp forcemeat to create a spiral pattern once sliced into thin disks. A bit of fish roe topping made a satisfying pop in the mouth, releasing a burst of brininess. Other than that, the visuals leave a bigger impression than the actual flavor.
Cucumber Salad – Stacked like a wood pile and dressed with a mild citrusy lilt and some rounded chile warmth, the Persian cucumber made a good palate cleanser.
Tanjia abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw, beef tendon, conpoy, mushroom and quail eggs soup - When a room of 20 celebrating people goes silent as they enjoyed this dish, you can bet that it is something extraordinarily wonderful. A step up from the Braised abalone with four delicacies from the ala carte menu that I had here in December, this version also includes conpoy (dried scallop) that contributed a caramel-y sweetness to the stock. Quail eggs had soft, almost runny yolks, and the proportion of abalone seemed greater. The Tanjia stock of long boiled chicken, pork bones and shellfish was even more intense and luscious this time. My favorite dish among many strong contenders in this meal, and the choice of many others too.
Kung pao lobster – The giant beast from the deep weighed more than two pounds. Until now, I’d had no idea that Sichuan gong bao components blended with creamy tomalley could be so delectable. Remarkable precision in browning each sliver of garlic clove, searing off the chunks of sweet lobster meat in the shell and hitting the perfect degree of doneness. This was the top dish for several folks, and we extricated every edible bit by sucking on the shells and wiping the plate clean. There was even a call to order a second one. (No peanuts this night due to one diner’s allergy.)
Shrimp two-ways (dry braised whole prawns with roasted tomato sauce and buttercream prawns) – A giant, head-on prawn in a savory chile-spiked sauce that reminded me of enchilada gravy somehow, one per person rimmed the plate in spoke fashion, then in the middle, a mount of crispy creamy shrimp (fka buttercream prawns). The whole prawns were sweet, firm and langostino-like. The crispy creamy shrimp, while one of the Fresno restaurant’s most popular dishes, had not been mine due to what I considered excessive sugariness. But this example made me change my mind . . . juicy shrimp meat with a thin and crisp whiff of a crust tossed with a creamy, fruity sauce. A number of my dining companions felt this was the best dish of the night and one got a take-out order to enjoy the next day.
Chestnuts and Napa cabbage – Nicer presentation this time using the blanched hearts of the cabbage, rather than the haphazard plating at the chowdown, but somehow not quite as impactful on the palate. Maybe because the silky Tanjia stock had cooled down too much by the time I helped myself.
Water-boiled beef in hot oil – At last, a taste of one of the shuizu dishes here. I warned my dining companions that this prep style is one of the most incendiary in the Sichuan culinary armamentarium and ordered some steamed rice as an accompaniment. Then it turned out to be far less fiery than I expected. Less of a red oil puddle on the surface, but adorned with the full complement of Sichuan peppercorns, dusting of red chile flakes, crushed garlic and leeks on top. The velvety slices of beef were so tender, we thought it was probably made with filet mignon. No Chinese celery aromatics but on the bottom some braised Napa cabbage added natural sweetness and soaked up the complex juices. Though I would have liked this dish to be spicier, it was still a standout and plenty hot.
Braised swimming black bass with julienne of pork, vegetables and tofu – Whole black bass from the tank smothered with shreds of pork, wood ear, bamboo shoots and pressed tofu with meaty pan juices. While the fish was expertly timed to be barely done and firm of flesh, perhaps this had too much of a good thing with the flavor of the fish obscured by the load of toppings.
Eight treasures stuffed duck – For a $20 supplement, we upgraded from the poached duck with dumplings in consommé to this stuffed duck. The sticky rice stuffing studded with the duck liver, heart, sausage and other flavorings was tasty. However, the duck meat was a bit dry at my table and the skin was not crisp. The deboned duck seemed to have too thick a layer of meat preventing the flavorful fat from rendering into the stuffing.
Sweet walnut paste and red date soup with rice dumplings – Toned down on the sugar to be less sweet than before, a good thing. The black sesame paste-filled mochi balls (tangyuan) were such a treat.
We brought our own wines, beers, tea and desserts, and added $20 per table to the bill to cover corkage/cakeage though the staff insisted it was not necessary. It’s a small amount considering how many glasses, ice buckets and extra plates we used. I especially enjoyed some of the specialty teas that guests brought to share.
Service was smoother this time for our party of 20. Perhaps ordering the set menu helped. But also the restaurant has been staffing up and we had one server in the private dining room with us most of the time to look after our needs. At the two-month-old mark, things were tightening up in the front of the house and the kitchen’s pacing.
Photo set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie...
148 El Camino Real
Sunday-Thursday 11am to 2:30pm, 5pm to 9:30pm
Friday & Saturday 11am to 2:30pm, 5pm to 10pm
One block from the Millbrae BART station
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