It's very tempting not to stray from the extensive regular menu at China Star, but the specials are so intriguing and uniformly delicious . . .
For lunch yesterday, we had braised short ribs with cucumbers, and squid with "fenny" wild vegetables, both from the specials page. Both were terrific. The ribs were very restorative. The squid dish was mildly spicy, with a few red peppers, but no sichuan peppercorns and not in the same family as the sichuan or capsicum chicken. I have no idea what the "fenny" vegetable was -- it's thin and brown and our waiter described it as very good for one's health. Whatever -- it's addictive.
Our appetizers were the scallion pancakes off the regular menu (I had never ordered them before -- they're good, but really only an afterthought), and steamed eggplant strips with an amazing, complex sesame and peppers sauce for dipping (which was a special). One of the women who seems to be among those in charge then came by and told us that the smoked fish appetizer on the menu goes really well with the eggplant. Sure enough, it was a perfect contrast and complement; wonderful hints of star anise in what seemed more like a Shanghai dish (but what do I know about these regional distinctions?).
The great thing about this meal was that the four sauces we had were all different, and each delicious in its own way. And that this meal was not at all similar to other great meals that I've had at CS. The diversity of tastes is fairly remarkable.
FWIW, the Sietsema effect has probably worn off, at least at lunch. The place was packed, but at least 90% of the lunch crowd was Chinese, including several large groups. At other tables, soups and stews appeared to be the dishes of choice. I think I'll need to start exploring those facets of the menu, if someone could provide some guidance.
James G.: Any way we could start a list here, as we did with Joe's Noodle House, of regular and special dishes not to be missed, and of dishes that complement one another well? Thanks