Here's a report of this event. 4 chowhounds (Sugar04, Sharmin, SummerVillan, and I) + 3 friends descended upon NTOA and shared an interesting,delicious lunch.
Cold Platter of Smoked rabbit, 5-spiced beef, spicy bamboo shoots, Spicy crunchy stems (gong cai)
5-spiced beef is quite typical of any chinese restaurant, good but not spectacular. Bamboo shoots are fresh topped with a little chilli sauce and szechuan peppercorn. Gong Cai is the stem of some vegetable; it's very crunchy. The rabbit meat is quite lean; I would prefer a litte fat with it; it's flavor is quite mild and lost among the spices.
Stir-fried vegetables (Dou Miao)
Simple stir-fry with garlic. Quite nicely done though it's probably cooked 10-30 sec longer than it should be. Very fresh veggie, though.
Stir-fried lamb with cumin powder
Another nicely done dish of thin mutton slices and chinese veggie flavored with dried chilies, crushed red pepper and cumin sitting on top of shredded cabbage. This is probably the best dish. It's actually not very spicy and I think it's because David (the waiter) sees that our group is not entirely chinese. The version I had last week was a lot spicier; should have told the chef to bring it on!
Eggplant with 8 nuts
This is sort of interesting; my suspicion is that you will never ever taste such a dish in asia. There's a mixture of all sorts of nuts, pineapple, etc, etc. But it tasted sweet and the sauce is quite gooey; in short it's a typical misrepresentation of of chinese food in america. Do not order this dish.
Beef curry pao mor
This is another disappointment. The traditional way of eating is is for us to tear a "pita" bread into an empty bowl; thw waiter then takes that back to the kitchen where the chef then cooks the shredded bread with broth. I have seen this done for other asian customers but our dish was brough to us already cooked and ready to eat. The broth by the way is also not very rich. The only upside is that the beef cubes are actually quite tender.
This is a giant of a fish; probably 3lbs and incredibly fresh. The presentation is quite impressive; it's got to be since it is supposed to be the royal version of sweet and sour fish. Legend has it that it was first created for qianlong emperor. It's served on a 20" long platter and has been cut such that bite size pieces puffed up after 2 frying preocess. The sweet and sour sauce was not bad; probably above average compare to chinatown restaurants.
Hot candied apple
little apple pieces fried in caramel.
Overall it's a positive experience. I thought the chef americanized some of the dishes somewhat so it's really important to request for authentic flavor. The dishes are super,super-sized, we have quite a bit of leftovers. It's probably wise to order less dishes than the number of diners. Also, the laminated menu has 2 sides; 1 with only chinese characters and 1 with both chinese and english. Order from the englsih and chinese side; this is mainly szechuan dishes and it's actually their forte. So don't feel left out all all if you don' understand chinese. The chinese only menu features mainly northeastern chinese food; qingdao garden or wang's is better. The open-faced dumpling, though, is quite good.
Thank you everyone for a great lunch; we have very stimulating discussions of Boston food and cuisine from around the world. I look forward to more dinners; maybe someone will organize another event soon?