Tonight we returned to Palo Altos Su Hong, site of 2002s end of year chowdown. ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]) Well, I went back because I was craving the crab xiao long bao, but we still did the chowish thing and sampled more of the Chinese menu. David, the owner/manager, was on hand to help translate the Chinese menu and describe the dishes.
A delicious amuse bouche was presented along with our menus. This was a cold tumble of chopped pickled long beans mixed with chili flakes, thin shreds of sautéed pork and some whole salted black beans. The flavors were a wonderful interplay of sour, salty, fermented, and spicy against the crunchy texture of the firm long beans.
The kao fu had been one of my favorites of the cold plates at our chowdown, and we ordered it again. However, this was a different preparation. The cubes of gluten were smaller, and coated with a rich, slightly sweet, creamy brown sauce (maybe brown bean?) with sesame oil highlights. Thick and soft wood ears and chunks of black mushroom were also mixed in. William liked this version better (smooth and velvety), whereas I preferred the alcoholic touch of the earlier versions Shaoxing wine marinade. Even so, I still liked the kao fu, although it was too rich to eat much of it and we had most of it packed to take home.
Next up were the crab/pork little steamed dumplings. The wrappers were as tender and thin as in my memory. These seemed to have a little less fresh crab and more delicate pork in the filling than I remembered from a year ago. Yet, theyre still exemplary and the standard to beat in this area.
The seasonal offerings included a few dishes with ji cai aka wild vegetable, shepherds purse or what David called Chinese spinach. The scientific name is _Capsella bursa-pastoris_. We chose the combination with winter bamboo shoots for our vegetable dish. We were both impressed with the quantity of ji cai used, and it was chopped less finely so that we could really taste the green leafy vegetable, instead of it just being an accent. William was really taken by the pearly white, tender oval slices of winter bamboo. He commented that this must be panda bears favorite time of year. (g) I was more taken by the quality of the fried gluten. Delicately browned, the balls had been cut in half exposing the spongy white interior to soak up the sauce and pack more flavor in each bite. The texture of the soft gluten reminded William of bamboo pith and he mused that this might be one of the culinary puns that the Chinese are so fond of in mimicking a complimentary ingredient in the dish. The clear sauce was a slightly thickened chicken stock that added extra depth and unity to the dish.
Last dish was hong shao-style, a large tail of carp braised with a thick brown sauce and garnished with a blizzard of fresh ginger and cilantro leaves. This was undeniably delicious, but was excruciatingly difficult to try to eat. Before he recommended it to us, David asked if we were good at working the fish bones. When I nodded, he asked again, are you very confident? I responded more emphatically this time. After eating this fish, we think that some written release of liability or some proof of customer skill level might be in order! Carp has many sharp and pointy bones with treacherous barbs at the end. Some were about 2 long, others only 1/4 long, and some the size of small seeds. They seemed almost random and were not easily spotted. The deboning methodology that evolved went as follows. We would serve ourselves a one-inch square piece of flesh, pulled off the larger skeleton, to be placed on the flat plate and not on the rice in our bowl. Wed break up the flesh, almost mash it, and carefully inspect by sight and also by feel with the tip of the bamboo chopsticks to find and remove the bones (ranging from five to eight). After this step, the bits of fish would go in the mouth and be carefully rolled over the tongue trying to find more stray bones (and there would still be some) before chewing and swallowing. The whole exercise was incredibly draining and mentally exhausting. We left about a third of our fish behind. Still, I had more than three dozen bones on my plate that Id removed from the small pieces I ate, and there were many more left on the serving platter. The buttery flesh of the fresh water fish was delicate and non-greasy, and the sauce was complex and well-balanced. The skin had a muddy taste, so we stripped it off. Again, I loved the taste of this dish, but dont think I want to work this hard again for my food.
Remembering the pleas from some of the non-Chinese chowhounds for David to consider translating the Chinese menu, there has been some progress made along those lines. The specials board, in English, now posts some of the typical Shanghainese dishes. Tonight it featured Little steamed dumplings (xiao long bao), Wuxi spareribs, Lions head meatballs (described as Chinese meatloaf), and a couple seafood dishes. The website (http://www.suhongeatery.com) has the Chinese menu on-line for those who have a friend who can translate for them.