Friday, October 16, 2009

What Would Chairman Mao Say?

I've been going to Noodle Shop/Mao Family Cooking for lunch every now and then. But I could never order the specialties because it's too much for myself. So I organized a Chowdown there and boy, the restaurant did not disappoint! One of the better Chinese meals I've had as of late. And they serve really "different" things than the usual playlist seen in Bay Area Chinese joints.
Every dish except for two of the cold apps were on the big English/Chinese menu. It's really not one of those places where all the "good" stuff is written in Chinese on the walls. As for English speaking proficiency, when I've been here by myself, they presumed I didn't speak Chinese and the English interchange here was fine. They also do give a lot of guidance on what their specialties are. You just have to let them know if you're okay with spicy and a bit adventurous. Plus, they have a screen with pics of their best dishes. Just point and say you want "that!"
My favourite dishes were the Mao's pork belly, the fish head, and the duck soup. The pork belly is head and shoulders above the sickly sweet brown sauce versions we've been having at Chowdowns at Shanghainese restaurants around the Bay Area the last several years. I know, there is an inherent stylistic/flavour profile difference, but this version just feels more nuanced and complex even though it's supposed to be pure peasant (albeit peasant on a holiday) fare. Stuffing a hunk of this meat into a steaming mini-mantou and each bite was pure bliss. The richness of the fat against the light, Q-ness of the bun. The fish head was very delicate fare... the silken cheek meat contrasted with some collagen. I also liked the duck broth in contrast to the other dishes as it was mellow with entirely different kind of spice (white pepper) that kicked in a couple of seconds after you take a sip. But really, there were no real misses in this meal. Every dish could have easily been the star dish at a restaurant with lesser technical skill. Lots of the dishes we ordered were pretty spicy, but none were in the "spice for spice sake" vein. Meaning, there was complexity and layering of taste - not just dump a bunch of chilies in to burn out your taste receptors type cooking.
Wonder if the Chairman would have approved?

Marinated seaweed
Szchewan style cold jelly
Husband Wife slices
Five Spice Beef Tendon
Cucumber with garlic
Fish and chive dumpling
Mao's Red Cooked Pork Belly
Sauteed kong hsing tsai
Chili dry fried chicken wings
Duck casserole soup
Chili fish head
Numbing pork kidney

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