Be sure to read about the Big Dog's first encounter with Hangzhou cuisine in the July 8 entry to "What Jim Had for Dinner" diary. It set off some interesting discussion on the Outer Boroughs and International boards and brought back many memories of my visit to this "land of fish and rice" in Eastern China.
In 1983 I'd spent a few days each in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing and Yangzhou. Yangzhou had been newly open to independent tourists (vs. groups) for only a matter of weeks and was still largely untouched. To reach this small art city, we took a rickety bus ride accompanied by live chickens running around loose. Room and a generous and groaning half-board at the guesthouse was less than $10 per day for the two of us. The other Americans at our hotel were escorted by Linblad paying more than $200/day to have the same meals and lodging.
From this familiarity, I immediately perked to mentions on the LA board of Silver Wing Chinese Restaurant (1085 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino, CA 408.873.7228) specializing in Yang Chow (Yangzhou) cuisine. Apparently the restaurant had started in the southland and recently relocated to Silicon Valley. Being stuck in traffic (2 1/2 hours to move 60 miles) trying to return from a family weekend provided the perfect opportunity to take a detour off Hwy 280 for dinner here with my brother.
On Sunday - Chinese family night - we were suprised to find the restaurant only half-full with so many people milling around Cupertino Village shopping center (Ranch 99, etc.). Oh, it must be expensive, we thought. But the posted prices are what we'd expect to pay for the attractive surroundings and no more than the Cantonese dining palaces in Millbrae. Then we were concerned that the food must not be very good. Yet we were armed with local chowhound Nancy Acton's recs on a Palm, and plunged ahead. This was the right decision.
We thought the servings might be small, so ordered more than usual to give ourselves variety and volume. We had silver thread steamed buns, Yang Chow style lion's head meat balls, cat's ears noodles, fish filet in house special hot sauce, and steamed rice. Later when we tried to order the eight treasures sticky rice for dessert, we were told it would take 30 minutes, so be forewarned to place your order early.
We'd thought wrong - the servings turned out to be quite generous. The ground pork/cured meat lion's head meat balls were baseball-size and four to an order. The meat balls had not been browned or carmelized, instead they had a soft exterior from gently stewing. Served on a bed of glass noodles and napa cabbage, the brown sauce was heavy on sesame oil but delicate in every other way and not gooey. Even the color was lighter, more beige than brown and tasted of good quality reduced stock. We weren't even able to finish one meatball between the two of us. Then I noticed that the table of 8 next to us still had one left from their meal. It took two cartons to package up this dish to take home!
The most unique dish was the cat's ear noodles. Stir-fried at high heat in a well-seasoned wok, there was lots of intensity of flavor in the blend of scrambled eggs, shreds of pork, black ear fungus, fresh shitake mushrooms, Shanghai cabbage, and napa cabbage. The noodles themselves were about an inch across and looked like a thicker version of orrechetti (ear-shaped Italian pasta). The fresh dough had been well-seared and were soft yet resistant to the bite.
The fish dish seemed more Hunan to me than Yangzhou in its garlicky heat intensity. The filets were perfectly cooked and may have been tilapia judging from the texture and grain. My brother warned me to not take too much of the sauce, knowing that I flame out faster than he does. This was very spicy hot but so delicious and packed with concentrated goodness. Soon I perfected the right combo of sauce-drenched fish with a mouthful of rice and an ice water chaser to not burn out. We polished this off easily, and thought this was the best deal on the menu at $9.95.
The steamed buns were fine, except that this "appetizer" arrived after our other entrees. Personally, I think I prefer the fried version.
Total with tax and tip was less than $40 and there were enough left-overs to make two lunches for me. Well-worth it.
A number of dishes passed by that didn't seem to be on the menu, such as dong po pork, braised pork shoulder, vegetarian duck, Peking spare ribs, and tofu combinations. We'll be back to explore more from this interesting menu.
My thanks to Nancy for bringing Silver Wing to our attention.