June 20, 2020

Triple birthday dinner, Ningbo edition

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Three of us had a dinner last year when we kinda celebrated our birthdays together, although the dates were as much as three weeks apart.  We had a very fun evening at Ta Vie 旅 and opened up bottles from the birth vintage of two of us.  I figured we could do the same this year.  When Hello Kitty asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, it took me a while to figure out that I wanted to check out Yong Fu (甬府).

I know that they opened here in Hong Kong a couple of months ago, and somehow I've never managed to pay them a visit in Shanghai in all these years.  Some friends have been raving about their cuisine, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to check them out.  Besides, I figured the Zhongmeister would love this place.

We were the first to arrive in our private room upstairs, so we were seated on the sofa while tea was poured for us.  In front of us were two plates of mahua (麻花) - fried dough twists which I grew up eating.  Besides the "regular" flavor, we've also got some flavored with seaweed.

Soon everyone arrived, and we sat down to dinner and waited for the series of starters to arrive.

Hand-shredded young bamboo shoots (手撕羊尾筍) - love these.  Very tender.

De-boned marinated chicken feet (去骨鳳爪) - a little spicy.  Very nice.

Pickled Japanese cabbage (泡製日本白) - this was really, really nice.  Almost milky, a little fermented, both sweet and acidic.  Some of the best pickled cabbage I've tasted in recent memory - if not ever.

Drunken mantis prawns (熟醉溏心蝦姑) - very pretty presentation.  Still raw.

Look how beautiful this is!  Flavor-wise, kinda funky with exotic spices.

Vegetarian dumplings (野菜石榴包) - very delicious, and beautiful to behold, too.

Drunken crab (招牌十八斬) - normally I wouldn't touch this with the proverbial 10-foot-pole, but tonight I decided to try it out.  Just one little piece.  Still not a fan.

Marinated celtuce (玉釵萵筍) - I grew up eating marinated celtuce at home, and this was absolutely beautiful.  Apparently soaked in Sichuan peppercorn-infused oil, the fragrance was lovely while the numbing sensation tickled the tongue.  Hello Kitty was happy.

Water chestnut bayberries (馬蹄楊梅) - apparently so-named because of their resemblance to water chesnuts.  These are pickled from trees early in the morning in Cixi (慈溪), then transported to Hong Kong on the same day in specialized plastic packaging (yes, I know, not exactly environmentally-friendly) to ensure minimal bruising.  Iced to bring the temperature down, these were refreshing, sweet, and just about perfect.

Handmade buns (手工包子) - very, very nice.  Definitely not your average steamed bun with meat filling.

Chicken with shredded ginger (姜蓉咸雞) - this was OK.  The steamed chicken itself didn't taste very special, although the layer of deep-fried shredded ginger was a little more interesting.

Taro bisque Chiang-style (蔣公芋艿羹) - this was pretty fucking amazing.  I am usually not a big taro guy, but this... made with plenty of lard... was just jaw-dropping.  The flavors of deep-fried lard is unmistakeable, and there is a reason why there's a tea light candle underneath the bowl to keep things warm.  Apparently a favorite of Chiang Kai-shek...

Miiuy croaker maw simmered with garlic (獨蒜煨鮸魚膠) - fish maw is, of course, very tender.  The garlic was delish, too.

Steamed white pomfret with rice cake (醉麩蒸白鱗鯧) - more flavors from childhood.  This is how mom cooks fish at home, and having this is really nostalgic for me.  There was a hint of spiciness in the sauce that was just right, and the fish was very silky and soft.  Given there seemed to be a scarcity of the little pebbles of soft rice cakes, we kinda had to ration them...

Those who have had a similar dish at Xin Rong Ji (新榮記) - and two of us were just there for lunch hours earlier - overwhelmingly prefer this one.

Spicy stir-fried softshell turtle (辣炒甲魚) - actually very nice, with enough of a spicy kick.

Frogs in red broth (紅湯田雞) - the broth was made with tomatoes, carrots, and fermented radish - delivering good acidity like pickled cabbage or kimchi.  Also interesting with some spicy kick.  The frog meat was very soft and tender.

Glass noodles with anemones (沙蒜豆麵) - another similar offering to Xin Rong Ji.  Milky without being too heavy or salty, with a little bit of spice.  Diced Chinese celery helped perk things up a little.  The noodles were made from mung beans.  I also prefer this more delicate version.

Squid ink rice with squid (石鍋原汁小鮮魷撈飯) - this was pretty nice.  First the squid came presented in a heated stone bowl, in a sauce made with its own ink along with some chili.

Then it was plated and served over some squid ink rice.  Interesting that there were shredded onions as well as square cubes of ginger.  Very delicious, and surprising with all that kick from the chili and ginger.

Did I just get some squid cum?!

Salt-baked virgin mud crab (海鹽烤黃格蟹) - always nice.  Of course the restaurant had already removed all the gills for us.

Farmhouse-style stir-fry (農家小炒) - fava beans, button mushrooms, pork, and preserved leafy mustard (雪裏蕻).  Pretty good.

Dumplings with shepherd's purse (薺菜水餃) - DaRC has been raving about these, and it was important for the rest of us to see what the hype was all about.  Two simple-looking dumplings in a bowl.

But they were absolutely glorious!  The wrapper was so thin and delicate... just about the best I've ever had.  The filling was made with plenty of diced shepherd's purse (薺菜), bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and ground pork.

These were so amazing that many of us ended up ordering boxes of these dumplings to be picked up tomorrow.  The restaurant manager even taught us the proper way to cook them.

Frozen tofu with sour soup in clay pot (酸湯砂鍋燉凍豆腐) - I love these tofu dishes in clay pots that you get from regional cuisines from Zhejiang (浙江) and Jiangsu (江蘇) provinces, because the tofu actually tastes of soy beans and have incredible flavors.  Here the frozen tofu - which has great texture - came with pickled mustard stems (酸菜), bamboo shoots, and slices of pork.  Great acidity.

Baby Chinese cabbage in shrimp oil (蝦油娃娃菜) - that shrimp oil... sooooo sinful, sooooo tasty.

Someone arranged a 'cake' for me... in the form of eight treasure rice (八寶飯).  This one came with mashed dates, as it should.

These glutinous rice dumplings (湯圓) were filled with the most fragrant black sesame... and lard, of course!  I did wish there were more osmanthus flowers in the bowl...

More bayberries!  This time we got the Dongkui Orient Pearl bayberry (東魁楊梅), which are famous for their large size. These were good, too, but I gotta say I prefer the smaller "water chestnut" varietal.  A great way for us to finish this wonderful meal.

Plenty of wines with this crowd, and we actually were fairly civilized and left a couple of bottles unopened...

1970 Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage Collection, en magnum, dégorgée novembre 1999 - really fragrant nose, with marmalade, honey, Chinese licorice.  A little savory, and just lovely.  Picked this up from a Sotheby's auction a few years ago when this collection was released from the house.

2002 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon, en magnum - much more toasty on the nose, yeasty, nutty.  Very lovely.

2007 Arnaud Ente Meursault Les Petits Charrons, en magnum - really beautiful.  Lots of lemon citrus, and enough ripeness on the palate balanced out by good acidity.  Flinty, a little buttery.

2008 Dugat-Py Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot - pretty flinty and mineral, with sugar cane notes.

2007 Hospices de Beaune Clos de la Roche Cuvée Georges Kritter, mis en bouteille par Domaine Ponsot - very fragrant with a little cedar and beautiful fruit.

1970 Ducru-Beaucaillou, en magnum - decanted just before serving.  Nose of cigar smoke, a little green pepper, black tea, and soy sauce.

What an enjoyable evening! At the end, The Man in White T-shirt joined us for a drink after knocking off his shift.  Despite growing up with Shanghainese and Jiangsu/Zhejiang cuisine in general, this was my first taste of high end Ningbo cuisine.  Clearly very refined and delicate, with lots of attention paid to ingredient sourcing as well as delivering the highest quality.  A little surprised by the amount of spicy kick we discovered throughout our meal.  I'll definitely return for more deliciousness, and look forward to bringing the Parental Units on their next visit.

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