May 31, 2009

Shanghai surprise

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A bunch of local foodies gathered tonight at a Shanghainese private kitchen. We had never been to Gong Guan (公舘), but it looked interesting enough. I don't usually go to Chinese private kitchens, but it's fun to do it once in a while with a group of people.

First we popped open a bottle of white. The 2005 Bannockburn Chardonnay was not bad at all. Nose of lemon citrus, honey and butter. A little ripe on the palate with a "hot" and long, spicy finish. Quite a big wine on the palate.

We began with a series of cold starters, as is traditional for a Shanghainese meal. These were all rolled out at the same time, making our task of tasting them a bit tougher.

Jellyfish with zucchini in sesame seed oil - the jellyfish came in thick cuts, making it slightly chewier than normal. The combination with strips of zucchini was interesting, as it's not a traditional ingredient in Shanghainese cuisine.

Eggplant with pork floss (豬香茄子) - this is another interesting combination. The sauce was sweet and there were sesame seeds sprinkled on top. Pretty decent.

Cucumber in sesame paste (麻醬黃瓜) - at first glance this was nothing but some strips of cucumber that came with some regular sesame paste. But there's actually some honey mustard mixed in with the sesame paste, giving it an extra dimension and a slight kick.

Cold tofu (涼拌豆腐) - this is the traditional block of tofu that is drenche in soy sauce and topped with bonito shavings and spring onions. Pretty ho-hum.

Stir-fried gluten with mushrooms (烤麩) - the classic Shanghainese starter, but the taste of star anise is a bit more prominent here.

Before we had a chance to go through all the starters, the staff put a bowl of soup in front of us. This was tofu and fish maw soup, with egg drop and spring onions as garnish. Everything was diced up and the fish maw (花膠) makes for an interesting texture.

As there were still lots of food on the table, we asked that the kitchen slow down a bit so we could have enough time to properly enjoy our food. This was met with the unfortunate response in the negative. As this was Sunday night, the chef wanted to finish cooking all the dishes so that s/he could go home! So the lesson is...don't come on a Sunday, and start your dinner earlier!

I brought my last bottle of 2005 Guigal La Doriane. I wanted to give this wine one last try, but it still wasn't what I wanted out of a Condrieu. Color was golden and indicated advanced age, but the wine is less than 4 years old. Nose of straw, paraffin, a bit burnt and clearly oxidized. A little spicy and ripe on the palate, but surprisingly not sweet and a little metallic. Waaaay too ripe for a Viognier. What happened to the crispy freshness, and beautiful floral notes I was supposed to get out of this wine?

The traditional ham in honey (蜜汁火腿) came with a twist. Instead of the ham being soaked in a puddle of honey-based sauce, it was the deep-fried tofu skin that had a coating of osmanthus honey. Not bad.

The steamed fresh abalone sat on top of a block of radish, with a generous sprinkling of dried scallops. The usual chewy texture applies for the abalone, but the crunchy dried scallops made it even more interesting. And I really liked the pairing with radish...the flavor was light.

Sweet and sour chicken with Chinese crullers was absolutely divine, and my favorite dish of the evening. We were thinking that the chicken was local and free range, and it was drenched in this wonderful sweet and sour sauce made from Chinkiang vinegar (鎮江醋). This is the vinegar that I grew up on, and it is so fragrant. Totally awesome!

The deep-fried yellow croaker was pretty disappointing. The fish was sliced and diced into little cubes and then deep-fried. It came with lots of deep-fried chillies, garlic and some water bamboo (茭白筍). The only flavors really came from the garnish, and they actually had the gall to put a plate of sauce on the side that was based on fish sauce...

The 2003 Kirwan was a surprise. Nose of lovely tangerine on top of classic smoky and brett notes. The wine is still young but the tannins are already very silky on the tongue.

The braised fatty layered pork came with preserved plums and Chinese hawthorn (山楂). This was really soft and melts in your mouth. Lovely combination of sweetness and the acidity from the plum and hawthorn. Very nice.

Stir-fried mung bean flat noodles (粉皮) was really good, and came with mushrooms, dried shrimps, ham, bamboo shoots and sesame. Love the soy sauce flavoring and the texture.

Stir-fried Chinese cabbage with wolfberries and bamboo tips was a nice way to finish. Very refreshing and palate-cleansing.

The dessert was glutinous rice balls with fermented rice and coix seed. The soup was flavored with ginger sauce and the traditional osmanthus sauce. Kinda different.

This was a really enjoyable dinner. Other than the yellow croaker, most of the dishes were very, very good with a few clear winners. I look forward to coming back with another group of friends...

1 comment:

Lambda said...

When is lunch club going there?


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