by Ian McNulty
For my recent column on China Rose and its authentic Chinese menu, I sampled many more dishes than I could fit in our column space. The menu is fascinating, but offers very little in the manner of descriptions to guide the neophyte. The staff was always eager to help once we showed an interest in their traditional cooking, but their own tableside descriptions were often ambiguous as well. Imagine if you've never heard of gumbo before, much less tasted it, and you're presented with a menu listing simply "seafood gumbo." So I wanted to use this blog entry to describe more of the dishes we tried that just didn't make into the printed column.
One dish I really enjoyed but that didn't make the cut is the appetizer of steamed pork buns (pictured at right), or noodle dough filled with pork sausage. In appearance and composition, these resemble dumplings (a platonic dish at China Rose when and only when they are ordered from the Chinese menu). Yet the taste is quite different. The buns are steamed for something like a half hour, during which time the mound of pork within releases a surfeit of its juices. When you finally take a bite, the bun bursts open with this flavorful shot of pork soup.
Another intriguing appetizer was the "special tofu skin" (picture at top), which was like a loaf made of countless, broad, thin ribbons of tofu, all soaked in a sour vinegar and tasting light as air but slightly creamy. In the entrée department, the "China Rose special duck" was a deeply marinated, de-boned bird, chopped into fatty, tender, rich slivers of meat in soupy sauce with bean sprouts and red and green peppers. The "Szechwan pork with bean curd" had small bits of soft pork, big white cubes of light-as-air tofu and a very spicy sauce with red pepper. I would recommend any of these as good entry points to the Chinese menu.
On the other hand, a dish called "double-cooked pork" was much more fatty than I had expected or wanted, with great, wobbly wings of fat and pork skin attached to slim bands of meat. Someone with a yen for connective tissue would have a field day here, but I found myself building a Great Wall of discarded fat around the edge of my plate and zeroing in on the bits of lean meat and heavily spicy celery slices.
Soups from the Chinese menu are very large and are intended to be split several ways around the table, family-style. Both soups we have tried one described as seafood with bean curd (minced shrimp, a tangle of cilantro, diced tofu and sheets of egg), the other simply called vegetable soup (green Chinese cabbage, peas, mushrooms) had clear and quite bland broths, though they came to life nicely with an addition of soy sauce.
A dish called the "Cantonese seafood tofu pot" was almost a soup as well. It had shrimp, scallops, scored squid, squishy "fish balls" and strange, orange "shrimp balls," plus crawfish, with a smattering of crisp vegetables and triangles of deep fried tofu in a lightly colored, thin seafood broth.
A shrimp ball is one of those things that is just hard to describe in a sparsely worded, loosely translated menu. It was basically a Creamsicle-colored, marble-sized orb of soft, tofu-textured, shrimp-flavored matter. It also floats in broth.
Now I'm thinking maybe the menu translator was doing us a favor with the terse descriptions. When you're trying new things, sometimes it might be better to just take a bite.
- Ian McNulty