July 31, 2021

Happy Camper Saturday

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I hadn't planned any meals out this weekend, and was feeling a little restless.  I decided to see if Big Mac had any plans, and it turned out he didn't, either.  I asked him to choose a cuisine, and I had a few places in mind when he eventually chose Zhejiang.

I would normally have defaulted to Liu Yuan Pavilion (留園雅聚), but seeing as I haven't been to Xinrongji (新榮記) in almost 3 years, I figured I would try my luck at getting a table. I put a call in this morning, fully expecting them to be completely booked, but I got pretty lucky. Someone had just cancelled, so I managed to snag a table on the same day.

It was a little late to pre-order the Peking duck, and in any case I wasn't really interested. I figured we would just see what's available when we got there.

The restaurant always starts off with some seasonal fruits on the table when the diners arrive. Tonight we had a plate of longan (龍眼), which were very fragrant with longan pollen.

These almond cookies (杏仁餅) were warm and fresh. Crumbled in the mouth easily.

Cuttlefish sausage (墨魚香腸) - this is always a good call, as the texture as well as the flavors of cuttlefish were on point. A nice touch of white pepper here.

Sweet potatoes (蜜汁紅薯) - this was still very sweet and delicious, but it didn't look nearly as stunning as the ones I saw on my first visit.  Back then the sweet potatoes were almost translucent on the outside and glistened under the lights.  Not tonight.  Pout.

Marinated cold crayfish with Chinese yellow wine (冰鎮小龍蝦) - the presentation wasn't as pretty as the way it's done at Yong Fu (甬府), but the taste is almost the same.

Signature yellow croaker thick soup with fish maw (花膠黃魚羹) - can't pass up a chance to have yellow croaker bisque here. The fish filets were, as expected, very tender... and the fish maw was pretty decent.  Very happy with this, and noted the interesting presence of almond slices.

Sautéed shredded bamboo shoots with pickled vegetables (鹹菜炒筍絲) - this wasn't my first choice of a veg dish, but it was OK. The preserved mustard (鹹菜) was salty as expected, and we've got chives and fresh, shredded bamboo along with shredded pork. This would be perfect with some steamed rice.

Deep-fried sliced pomfret with sweet and sour sauce (秘製燻鯧魚) - this was really, really good. These deep-fried filets were so light and ethereal, they just about crumbled with the lightest pressure from one's teeth. The delicate sweet and sour flavors were just about perfect. Sankala eats fish like a white girl, and this definitely hit the spot for her.

Sautéed ganba mushroom rice with homemade pork sausagss (干巴菌香腸席前炒飯) - I wanted to introduce ganbajun (干巴菌) to Big Mac, so I ordered this fairly expensive fried rice. As this is meant to be table-side service and cooked in front of us - well, in reality, somewhere else in the main dining room but certainly within our line of sight - they showed us all the ingredients before cooking started.

This was probably the best fried rice I've had in a long, long time. Sankala was very happy because it's rare these days to have rice fried from scratch (生炒) - cooked by slowing adding water to raw rice grains in a claypot over some 20 minutes or so, as opposed to the usual practice of frying steamed rice which has been left to sit overnight. The individual rice grains were chewy with tons of bite, and of course the distinctive fragrance of the fungus filled the air while the flavors added depth on the palate. In spite of the high price asked for the dish, I must confess I was pretty happy.

Tofu with salted pork (刀板香鹹肉鹽滷豆腐) - I'm glad that even though this wasn't on the menu, the kitchen could still accommodate our request. The blocks of tofu was just so full of smoky flavors of those soy beans that it would put an end to the myth that tofu is bland. Of course the daobanxiang (刀板香) salted pork was pretty tasty, too.

Double boiled Gordon Euryale seed with osmanthus sweet soup (桂花燉雞頭米) - the chewy fox nuts came with longans and lily bulbs. Pretty nice with that fragrance from osmanthus.

We brought a few bottles to help the evening pass more smoothly...

1996 Tarlant Saga, dégorgée en novembre 2004 - good acidity but also with good ripeness, yeasty nose with some Chinese licorice, marmalade, savory minerals. After two hours the nose was sooo fragrant with Chinese salted plum.

2005 Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte Hune - opened 1 hour before serving. Lots of petrol and white flowers, really fucking fragrant, along with some polyurethane and flint. Three hours later there's almost some honey and pollen, and some vanilla, too.

2015 Maison Leroy Bourgogne Rouge - nose of leather, eucalyptus, fragrant and savory. Not sweet on the nose or on the palate. One hour later this was a little metallic and smoky.

A pretty happy meal for a Saturday night, especially one that was kinda last-minute. One thing that was immediately apparent to Big Mac on his first visit was the restaurant's use of quality ingredients. You'd pay more for your meal, but you'll leave a happy camper.

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