Well, at least that's what I think the name of the restaurant is.... the Missus mentioned the name quickly in passing on Her way out the door.
We already had a pretty full day, from a good-sized breakfast, then a trip to the Forbidden City, followed by some "snacks" on Huguosi Street. But the day wasn't over yet.... Mr Li was to pick us up for a Banquet Dinner at 530pm. I'll tell you this much, folks in Beijing and QingDao seemed to be punctual, I mean punctual, impressively punctual considering the traffic and other diversions. 530 meant 530, and the Missus and I both appreciated, and admired that.
At 530 exactly, Mr Li met us in the hotel lobby. We hopped into the minivan, and Mr Li's wife, ever impeccably dressed was picked up a block away. This was to be a reunion of my Mother In-Law's friends and colleagues.... and we were to meet kindred souls along the way.
By the name, this restaurant specialized in Jiangnan Cuisine, referring to the area immediately South of the Yangtze River. At it's most basic level a combination of "Su Cai" (Jiangsu Cuisine) and "Zhe Cai" (Zhejiang Cuisine).
Among those attending was Mr Doo and his wife, a gentle, kindly soul, my MIL was in her element. For us, meeting Mr Doo's Son and Daughter In-Law was to be a fateful meeting indeed.... you see, they are both food lovers to the millionth degree. I do mean to the millionth degree..... we're talking about people who are born and raised in Beijing, but don't know the street names.... they navigate and get their bearings using restaurants as their reference point! This was to come to play a bit later on in our travels. They are also of the same generation as the Missus, so there was much in common especially the humor.... I could tell that descriptions and references were all so important... it was not only the joke, but how it was presented in almost a poetic manner that was key. Laughter is contagious so they say..... and I found myself laughing, even though I understand almost no Mandarin!
Everything started with drinks.... here it was a very thick Date based drink, and Shaoxing, very nice Shaoxing that was slightly warmed. You dropped in a preserved plum (i.e. cracked seed), which made it even smoother.
Now here a funny thing happened.... my MIL told me to go ahead and start taking photos of the food as it arrived! To this day and moment, I'm not sure what it was, and how it was explained.... but it just seemed that I'd arrived at Food Blogger's Nirvana. The Servers were instructed to place the dishes in front of me; everyone waited until I snapped a photo before eating.... I can't really explain it, but I am indebted..... and this was not to be the last time this happened! Was China really the land of a billion foodies???? There's a kind of pride associated with knowing "the good stuff", and appreciation is... well, appreciated.... And I appreciated the graciousness of everyone as well.
I'm sure you're now waiting for the details, and I'm going to oblige as best I'm able. But I'm sure that most regular readers understand; I'm not a food writer, I'm a food eater. Secondly, and this may, or may not be surprising.... I take no notes. My memory, and my photos are my notes. I've never taken notes on anything I've posted on.... like I've said many times, I can never remember where I parked my car in the morning.... but I can recall what I ate, and where I ate it, five, and even ten years ago. But this was a challenge..... over the course of the trip we attended a total of seven banquets, not including the huge tasting menu in Nanjing and the Dumpling "banquet" in Xi'an. In this case, it seemed that the high points are what we remember of this 21 course extravaganza.....
The Xi Hu Duck (aka West Lake Duck):
This was called "Mountain Vegetable with Beancurd":
In reality, I have no idea what type of vegetable this was.... but it was delicious. Mildly sweet and bitter, this was the flavor of wild greens to the "nth" factor. In fact, when we traveled to Hangzhou and Suzhou we made sure to order this when we saw it on the menu. Still it was never as good as this.
Tianmu Dried Bamboo.
Okay.... everyone knows what this is, right?
Yes, it's roast pork...... but man, this was good, among the best I've ever had. The skin was thin and crisp, with nary the impression of oiliness, nor greasiness. The pork belly melted, and I mean melted in your mouth. I really didn't need the housemade sauce, and especially didn't need any help from the bowl of sugar provided.
And yet, it wasn't the memorable item of the night.... which was for me, the Jiangnan Carp.
I've done many posts on what I call "Suzhou Smoked Fish".... where the fish is first marinated then fried. I've found that there are two types, one that is fried then marinated for a good period of time, it is what I usually encounter, served as a "cold dish". Another is slightly marinated, fried, and served with almost a glaze a la minute like this...... which was one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip!
The Longjing Shrimp (i.e. Dragon Well Shrimp) a specialty of Hangzhou really didn't inspire us.
The Missus really loved the Hangzhou boiled bean curd strip....
Actually, the Missus, even with Her moratorium on chicken loved the soup.... ahem, chicken broth....supreme chicken broth.
The Prawn Lion's Head.
There were, of course a few dishes that didn't impress as much...mainly the beef dishes.
By no means bad, but they didn't "shine" quite as much.
And those that I found kinda odd.... like the sweet corn fritters with "sprinkles"..... which actually wasn't too bad:
I even enjoyed the "medicinal soup":
I really enjoyed the flavor...... I ended up drinking the Missus's bowl.... which came with its little own heating element as well. The soup was mild and cleansing, without anything overpowering.
The whole steamed fish came out soon thereafter as well.
One of the items I loved...... the "Mashed Taro in Pumpkin Shell".
Okay...... to some clean, the first thing I thought was, "wow..... poi!" And yet, it was not..... but it was tasty all the same. With the mild sweetness of the pumpkin, along with the savory attachment of the pinenuts, there was a tongue-coating goodness I enjoyed. In fact by this time, everybody had hit their limit.... but I was still going.
And yet..... there are the dishes that I don't remember.... these are captured in photos:
Moist, but without "soup".
And of course, the end was signaled with fruit.... in this case the watermelon was tasted like.... well watermelon..... which is not always the case here in the US.
In end.... if I'm to sum this up like the end of semester term paper, I can easily say; of all the wonderful banquets we had..... this was the most refined. And we met some wonderful folks as well!
It was also an introduction to the "social fiber", what we call the "ties that bind", you know.... that easy familiarity that is often described as "it is like we just were here yesterday." It was in full display here......