Small group at Giang-nan (chinese name, De Yue Lou). I'd only stopped by for tangyuan, the glutinous rice sweets filled with sesame paste, boiled. The menu and food looked good, so we went, and three were relative newbies to Huaiyang (Jiangsu/Zhejiang province food).
The menu is a mix of elegant banquet-ready dishes and homestyle food. Some of the great dishes from the region are missing (wuxi spareribs, west lake fish [done right], beggars chicken, ningbo goose liver or turtle w/ rock candy sauce). But they have a nice range. The names are as they appear on the menu - every chinese place has idiosyncratic english names for standard dishes - go figure.
started with "jade celery" (feicui xijin). Cold dish- celery is strung and blanched then served cold with a sesame oil dressing. This is fantastic - looks overly simple but the flavors mesh beautifully. Banquet choice.
For fun, I brought a low grade shaoxing wine (hard to fine higher grades) that they heated in the back and served in a teapot. It's strong, but a cup or two was fine with the food.Homestle choice.
First hot dish - leeks with eel (,) paste (comma is missing I think) (jiuhuang [chinese chives] shanhu - the shan is sea eel). This was a small plate with either split elvers or long shreds of eel meat cooked in a thick sauce with the aforementioned paste and then served with shredded chives. The flavors were salty, savory, sweet and dense. The eel meat was a bit more chewy and meaty than say the anago at a sushi bar. Big hit. In the middle - banquet appropriate, but also homey.
Two orders (8 each) of xlb, the kind of xiaolong bao (soup dumplings for NY'ers who might be reading) with a mixture of crab and pork along with the gelatinized soup that's all steamed together - names "crab meat and pork steamed buns (Shanghai Xiefen XiaoLongBao). Individual dipping plates brought (hate to ask for them) with the ginger, vinegar on the table is already zhenjiang black vinegar so win/win. These went fast and were delicious. DTF delicious? I liked these a whole bunch, the dough for the dumplings was very wheaten tasting, perhaps they make it fresh - but even if it is bought processed, quite good. Snack food - sometimes incl in banquets.
Order - slight mistake on my part - they have two kinds of "lion's head" (shizitou) meatballs. One variation is made with the meat and instead of using hen's eggs to hold the mass together, they use duck yolks (xiandanhuang shizitou). The other is made with crab and pork mixed (as in the xlb). One of our party is allergic to eggs so we went the other route. I was expecting a dark hongshao red cooked style which is what the one with the duck yolk is. Ours was a soup with crab meat lion's head - "Crabmeat and meatball casserole" (Xiefen ShiziTou Shaguo). It came with glass noodles on the bottom of the claypot and covered with cabbage leaves that had cooked with the meatballs. Since it wasn't the usual "red-cooked" style, the broth was clear and light, and given the richness of the other dishes (the eel and the later porkshank) it was a good cleansing taste. Worked out fine, but don't get it as your only course. Homestyle food.
Real Yangzhou fried rice - Yang chow fried rice (yangzhou chaofan). WARNING - caveat - this is pretty real. Yangzhou fried rice became so popular in China in the last century that other cuisines, esp. Canton, adopted and adapted it, and it made its way early to the US and Peru and the WEst esp in the Cantonese guise. In Canton, the dark soy (lao you) is used to flavor the rice, different meats are added and this is how you get duckfried rice, crab fried rice, pork etc. The rice is a strong flavored dish there and stands on its own - in can be a whole meal, and it doesn't always mesh with other dishes as simple steamed rice will.
Yangzhou fried rice is a much less complex tasting dish. The rice is LIGHTLY stirfried with bits of cooked pork, shrimp and cooked beaten egg. The rice is at most perfumed by the other ingredients, remains pretty bland and rice like and as such can be used in your rice bowl to eat the other dishes and absorb and complement their flavors, like regular rice. Yangzhou fried rice is to steamed rice as an olive bread or walnut bread is to regular bread; you could still use the specialty breads for a sandwich. Cantonese style "yangzhou" fried rice is to steamed rice as pizza is to regular bread. So this rice is good and use it at Giang-nan as a possible sub for steamed rice. Do not think of it as a course in itself. Appropriate to banquets or at home in a good kitchen.
Next - a highly successful dish - "minced fish with pine nut" (Songren YuMi). This is a banquet dish - delicate for the region. Here, sole meat is pulled into small pieces and I think it's seasoned and mixed with a little cornstarch. The pieces are lightly fried, they stay white, and then removed from the wok. Then pine nuts and puts of carrot and some other vegetable here are stir-fried until the nuts are toasted and the carrot is fragrant, then the fish is put back in, stir-fried and a light slurry added to make a clear sauce (not too much). Light, tasty, the seasonings in the slurry complemented the fish. Quite good, and very unlike the next dish. Banquet dish.
The #1 house specialty - "House Special De-Greased & Braised Pork Knuckle" (De Yue [rest. name] BingTang Ti [lit. De Yue Restaurant Rock Candy Hoof]) was something we were a bit worried about - trotters? hooves? knuckles? No. It was like the pork "pump" but better. Think a huge hog ossobuco. It came out, long cooked and fragrant with star anise and soy and way-dissolved rock candy and meat cooked beyond its swinishness. The interior meat was pale and came off easily with a spoon. the skin outside wasn't at all chewy; eaten with the rice, it melted on contact with the teeth. This was a dish not-to-be-missed if you have a party of at least four. With fewer people, it will be overpowering, and not leave enough room for other tastes. One of our party took home the bone for his dog and the leftover meat for his family. Banquet dish.
Another accompaniment we got was steamed "Roll" (yinsi juan - lit. silver-thread rolls). These are a Jiangsu (and shanghai) specialty. They brought the roll cut in four but with a real Shanghai touch, a small dipping dish of warm sweetened-condensed milk, very shanghai, very 30's (or pre-liberation if you're some kinda maoist). Ate this when we were enjoying the eel. Snack food.
For dessert we ordered the "mini sweet rice ball in rice wine sauce" (Guihua Jiuniang Yuanzi - Osmanthus flower Wine Lees roundels). These were two varieties of small tangyuar, the stuffed glutinous rice balls, one was white and one was a grey-black - all stuffed with sweet black sesame paste. The "soup" was a sweet fragrant "water" and there were bits of crunchy stuff on top, perhaps peanuts, and slivers of cooked egg. I liked them - they were light and sweet and went well with either the Shaoxing wine or the tea at this point. As one of our party was allergic to eggs, we ordered two of the larger tangyuan (same dumplings only larger) sweet and served in hot water. She loved them. Banquet appropriate.
Total incl tax before tip - about $63.
306 N Garfield Ave #A-12
A note - they have two banquet menus listed as available - both will feed about 10-12 people I should think. Prices, $158, $198. I'm not going to translate them here - go and order one if you're a big party and trust them not to poison you.
Today lunch - omakase for two with Kawasaki-san at Yamakasa.
1. Ankimo - four slices, each garnished on bed of three seaweeds and some western green - nice presentation and very tasty.
2. "Butter" Halibut - if you know that Izakaya (?) style - it was halibut, enoki mushrooms and razor-thin sliced shiitake placed "en papillote" in foil in the oven with butter, sake, and seasonings. 10 minutes or so later, opend and served - Fanf*&%#$#gTASTIC. Yes not really trad sushi, more izakaya but the fish was sushi grade - so imagine.
3. O-toro sushi - longer pieces than I'd seen, he took quite a bit of time cutting them, and apparently removing membrances from them - not nakaoshi toro level work, but these were so tender and smooth and soft and delicious that you would have wanted to somehow drink them.
4. Aji-tataki (thin sliced spanish mackerel) - His is always great - with ginger and scallion and his ponzu but the fish was obviously top-notch to my taste. If you dont' like it, you probably don't like oily fish like mackerel, sardines, herring etc.
5. Hamachi-sushi, best I've had in a while. Buttery soft, not chemically afterwards, young tender should be illegal it's that good. From a different planet than store-bought.
6/A,B . One of us got a lobster meat hand roll in a version (LIGHTLY spiced mayonnaise) that I usually don't like but must say, maine lobster meat takes well to this baby. The other got snapper sushi with FRESH IN FRONT OF US ground yuzu (japanese citron, not lemon, more like a green small etrog) peel that was so intense - about .5 millimeter of it will stay on your tongue for a while. Great complement to the snapper.
7. Albacore sashimi, sliced - thinner than typical, more thickly than say halibut in the flower style sashimi presentation; with an interesting cosmopolitan sauce, scallions, ginger, chinese red chili paste, olive oil and you guess I dunno.
8. One was finished, I (obviously not finished) got one last handroll - o-toro chopped not with scallions but with takuan. Delish and lovely.
9. A little surprize afterwards - two heated shells of "Sa-Za-E" which I think are whelks. Will look it up now - consensus seems to be this list
Top shell, Turbo, Spiny Topshell, Turban Shell it says ezobora is japanese for whelk. Well, it was a like a big French Bulot, some kinda sea snail, hot tasty done.
YAMAKASA JAPANESE RESTAURANT
1900 N HIGHLAND AVE
Only Kawasaki-san is worth the omakase. He cannot always do it, lunch is better - the place is packed at dinnertime with hordes demanding spicy tuna rolls and Spider rolls and "japanese salsa". he makes them fine - he had his own place w/investors Kawa-cho which was a fave here, but he had "creative differences" with the old establishment, and a guy's gotta eat. I'm happy to have found this chef again. If you go to yamakasa and want those "modern" rolls, they're fine and enjoy yourselves at a table. If you're up for trad stuff (with enough of a touch of creativity to be interesting without getting freaky) he's one to watch for. As is Jun-ichi at Ryo which will be moving downtown soon.
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