March 10, 2021

Double disappointment

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I have been wanting to open a certain bottle of wine together with Mr and Mrs Birdiegolf, and this time around it was to be Chinese food.  Yong Fu (甬府) is a place that Sankala and I like very much, and I was pretty eager to return for some familiar flavors from well-executed dishes.

As usual the manager sent me a list of the dishes before we arrived, and I didn't think too much about them as I was busy during the work day.  That would turn out to be a mistake.

The amuses bouches tonight were preserved radish with green soybeans, and deep-fried peanuts with seaweed.

Drunken mantis prawns (熟醉溏心蝦姑) - these were as good as I remembered from my first visit.  Nicely chilled, with really sweet marinade and a little "drunken" from some Chinese wine.  Huadiao (花雕), perhaps, as it would make the most sense.

Hand-shredded young bamboo shoots (手撕羊尾筍) - also very good, and reminiscent of what I had the first time with fragrant sesame oil.  Very tender.  I must have gobbled up half the plate myself.

Fish cakes with Chinese mahogany leaves (香樁魚餅) - lovely presentation, although I can't say I'm a fan of the Chinese mahogany leaves with their lightly bitter flavors.

Pickled cauliflower stems (泡制花菜梗) - pretty like last time, but the flavors weren't quite the same.  Still spicy and still sour, but tonight the balance wasn't quite right.

Geoduck in chili and pepper sauce (椒麻拌象拔蚌) - the geoduck was pretty sweet, and while I normally find the strong flavors of the shellfish a little off-putting, the spicy and numbing flavors from the sauce worked brilliantly to overcome and neutralize them.

Taro bisque Chiang-style (蔣公芋艿羹) - very, happy to have this again.  What's not to like about warm liquefied lard infused into taro mash?  The consistency was like molten lava, and so, sooo tasty!

Blanched razor clams (白灼蟶子) - OK, so here's where I kinda did a double take.  I understand that for Ningbo cuisine, great emphasis is placed on the freshness of the ingredients - especially seafood.  And I also understand that many chefs love to present the natural flavors of their ingredients as purely and as simply as possible, and blanching is certainly one way to do that.  But in my not-so-humble opinion, this was a little too simple.  What it showed was that the kitchen could source the best ingredients, without showing much skill or creativity of the chef.

Yes, there's soy sauce garnished with some diced chili for dipping, but I would argue that the soy sauce didn't do much in accentuating the natural flavors of the razor clams.  It did not serve the function of 提味.  The end result was fresh - but bland - shellfish.

Japanese Spanish mackerel with leafy mustard (雪菜明前䲠鯃) - and the problem with the last dish repeated itself here.  First of all, the individual portions of Japanese Spanish mackerel were simply too big.  It came a little overdone, but still acceptable in my book.  Mrs Birdiegolf was not happy with hers.

My problem, though, was with the taste.  No doubt the chef wanted to showcase the quality of the fish by giving us the "natural" flavors, but I would argue that the very light broth - flavored with what seemed to be only diced preserved leafy mustard (雪裡蕻), bamboo shoots and ginger - was much too bland.  Perhaps this is a matter of preference, but again, I wish something had happened in the cooking process to bring out more alluring flavors from the fish.

Worst part of this was that since Sankala eats fish like a white girl, I had to finish her portion, too.  That was extra calorie intake that I definitely didn't need.

Stir-fried pork with chili (鍋氣小炒肉) - this was much better.  The stir-fried pork - with some chewy fat and even a little bit of skin - was tasty.  The Zhangshugang chilis (樟樹港辣椒) from the town of Zhangshu (樟樹鎮) in Hunan Province were pretty damn spicy, but also tasty enough for me to keep chomping on them even though I don't handle the heat well.  Together with the slices of bamboo shoots, everything was stir-fried at high heat to deliver wok hei (鑊氣).

Stir-fried choy sum (清炒菜蕻) - once again, the ingredient sourcing was very, very good.

Dumplings with Chinese chives (韮菜水餃) - we would never dream of dining here without sampling some of these dumplings, but tonight something went very, very wrong.  Instead of the very thin and delicate wrappers we were expecting, I took one look and knew that it wasn't at all what we had been hoping for.  The dumpling skin was much more chewy than before, with a springiness that was more in line with the style from northern China.  According to the restaurant, this change in style was due to the fact that shepherd's purse was no longer in season and Chinese chives were used.  To add insult to injury, one of my dumplings was broken.

You may wonder why I'm making such a big fuss over some dumplings.  Well, these aren't your run-of-the-mill jiaozi (餃子) that go for HKD 50 for 10 dumplings.  These will cost you HKD 14 each, or almost triple what you'll shell out at dumpling restaurants.  So, yeah, I think I am entitled to be a little picky.

Hawthorn and pear drink (山楂雪梨飲) - meant to help with digestion.

A simple fruit plate came with slices of honeydew melon and cape gooseberry.

Ningbo sesame glutinous rice balls (寧波湯圓) - I didn't think much of these, but Sankala was VERY disappointed with these.  She was wondering what happened to the chef who used to make these on our previous visits...

I brought along a pretty rare bottle of wine for Mr and Mrs Birdiegolf, and I really looked forward to sharing this fantastic wine with them.

2002 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Plénitude 2 - very toasty nose.  Always smooth and lovely to drink.  Pretty lively.

1996 Sine Qua Non Omadhaun and Poltroon - roussanne and chardonnay blend, with more roussanne in the mix.  Very ripe on the nose, very oxidized... much more so than expected.  Sugar cane, honey, a little metallic, very complex nose.  Lovely, but a little too ripe and over the hill.  Not sweet on the palate, though.  About an hour after opening, kinda alcoholic with a little flint.  Disappointing as this bottle seemed a little over the hill.

2009 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge - definitely oxidized nose with a little acetone, and some savory notes under the sweetness.  After some aeration, this seemed leaner, a little more alcoholic, and somewhat bitter on the palate.  Sweet, buttery notes showed up after about 30 minutes.  Still very much alive.

This was not a terrible meal by any means, but I always come with very high expectations and when they aren't met, the disappointment stings all the more. Now I'm seriously considering cancelling my next booking...

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