It's amazing how you can sometimes be surprised by the most humble and odd places. Take Village North Restaurant. I mentioned coming across the place when checking to see what was going on in the recently closed Char House space. The sign simply said "Soft Opening Village North".
I decided to check the place out. The space is quite modern, with a nice looking bar area, private rooms, a wide open dining area.....and one of the oddest menus I've seen in a while. It was strangely diverse with everything from Jiaozi to Chuan'r (skewers) to dry pots and other Sichuan style dishes...and yes, gasp, Orange Chicken!
I must have seemed a bit of an oddity to the very, very, nice young man who waited on me. Seeing the name "North" I went straight for the Jiaozi. But confused by the menu I asked where the chefs were from. I was told that the head chef and most of the other chefs were from Dongbei! My goodness, Dongbei. Which you might know as Manchuria and a style of cuisine the Missus and I enjoy; though we'd usually have to go to the SGV to get our fix. The menu's English translations really didn't help me, but with the help of the young man, I found the dish I was looking for.
The Jiaozi arrived first. I'd ordered the basic pork and napa cabbage version. This had a real home made kind of texture to the wrappers; a bit too brittle. The filling was mostly pork; something most folks would like, but I enjoy a nice balance. The flavor was fine, perhaps a bit too salty, but not bad. I did appreciate the entire bowl of Black Vinegar I was given, no scrimping there.
Of course; it was the Suan Cai Hot Pot I was looking for. It's Meat with Pickled Cabbage in Hot Pot on the menu.
This was pretty good; the fatty pork is perfect for this type of dish as the fermented flavors of the cabbage gives everything a clean finish. This was really large; of course I took most of it home. The dish had enough salt, but was missing two things....frozen tofu and enough deep fermented tones, though I'm thinking we like things a bit stronger these days since we make our own Suan Cai. Both were added when we had the leftovers for dinner....making this perfect.
I'd enjoyed my meal enough that I tried to return a couple of times; but for some reason the place was closed.....not sure why; I guess it's still the soft-opening, breaking in period.
I drove by recently and peeked down the parking lot and found that the open sign was lit up. So I decided on grabbing some lunch. As before, the dining room was empty....the two large rooms however, were full.
This time, I decided to ask about two classic Dongbei style dishes. I found one easily on the menu; the second one I asked about.....to the same really nice young man. Guo Bao Rou, which I call the "Original Sweet-Sour Pork". I was told that the version here is "modern style" and uses ketchup. Even though I had thought of the sauce looking like the Song Shu Gui Yu we had at De Yue Lou in Suzhou, I thought why not?
This had much more "sauce" than I'm used too. The pork was sliced properly for this dish; that would be thin. The batter; I believe it's usually potato starch based, was very crisp and crunchy. But man, the strong sour and sweetness was quite a shock! It was much stronger than I recalled, having had this dish before, and I didn't care for it at first. Then, bite by bite, I started enjoying it more. I especially appreciated the nice ginger tones which helped keep the sour notes at bay. I really can't eat too much of this, so I took most of it back to the office. I kind of knew who would enjoy this..... I figured this would over power Calvin's taste buds which it did. But had a feeling that "YZ" would like this.....even though she steers toward the Shanghai - Su Cai flavors, I believed that the very forward sweet - sour tastes would be what she liked. She really enjoyed it..... Heck, if you're going to have sweet-sour pork, you might as well have the original version, right?
I needed to balance the very sweet and sour dish and ordered the dish named the "Three Treasures"; Di San Xian.
The classic stir fry of potato, eggplant, and bell peppers. This was actually properly prepared; you basically need to deep fry the potato and eggplant before adding the sauce for thickening. This version kept too much of the cooking oil and the seasoning fell a bit short, I'm used to having it a bit sweeter. This version also seemed to have black vinegar in it, which I kind of enjoyed.
Overall, while the food wasn't outstanding, it was great to reacquaint myself with these classic Chinese dishes. It may not be haute cuisine, hip, trendy, or cool....but this is timeless and traditional comfort food. I took a menu home and started grilling the Missus, looking for more Dongbei-Cai dishes and it looks like they serve jiang gutou - simmered pork bones (probably like we had here) and even La Pi - mung bean sheets on the menu. And perhaps I'll even try some of the Sichuan....because you never know......
4428 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111