Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shaoxing rice wine - lunching at Ming's

This is part 3 of the Shaoxing rice wine series. Click here for Part 2.

While the in-laws are staying with us, our neighbors Vicky and Wu-Chung invited us for lunch to their famous restaurant Ming's - one of the oldest in Palo Alto, named after a powerful 14-17th-century Chinese dynasty. Originally from Taiwan, which according to Vicky is a melting pot of a variety of Chinese and other Asian cuisines, she comprises her menu mainly of Cantonese recipes, but with creative touches that extend beyond, and with the modern sensibilities of organic and more health-oriented diet. With a few dishes from the menu and some "owner-only" specials, they graciously presented me with an opportunity to continue my Shaoxing wine research against a variety of flavors. I brought the 20-year aged wine by Kuaijishan company - the best one I was able to find in the Bay Area so far. It's been mellowing out open for a few days now, and we decided to serve it warm - the traditional way. Tasting it on its own rather than in a line-up with other Shaoxing wines, it seemed smoother and more refined than I remembered, with a pleasant fragrance about it. At 15%, it was also the least alcoholic of the Shaoxing wines I'd been tasting. Or perhaps I am simply getting used to the flavor...

An array of delectable dishes with a rainbow of flavors and textures were served family-style:

1) Concubine walking chicken with ginger scallion sauce (Cantonese)
2) steamed soy curd milk with fried dough (Taiwanese)
3) dumplings filled with fish and chives served on top of noodle with Cantonese XO and Sichuan chili sauce (Chinese fusion)
4) steamed egg custard with dried scallop (Shanghainese)
5) surf-and-turf pepper beef and fried scallops with onions in XO-like sauce (modified Cantonese)
6) Organic mustard greens (Shanghainese)
7) steamed cured sweet pork sausage (Cantonese)
8) cured pork belly jerky (Cantonese)
9) cured duck jerky (Cantonese)
10) chicken lettuce salad (American/Chinese fusion)
11) and finally sweetened red bean soup for desert with sesami rice balls and water lily root (Cantonese).

Even though I couldn't understand most of the Mandarin spoken, I could tell the two families hit it off rather well. A lively conversation never subsided - no topic was left unturned, from Chinese politics to Chinese history to the history of our neighborhood. (They occasionally switched to English, for my sake.) The warmth of the people and the warmth of the wine blended into a single warm feeling that kept us going for hours. Wu-Chung and baya are from the same Zhejiang province as Shaoxing, they needed no introduction to the Shaoxing wine. To them, the familiar comfortable flavor went with the food naturally. Sipping, I couldn't help but think that the wine had found its true purpose - at the table with food, in the company of good people, enjoying life and each other. Oh, and it tasted so right!

I also brought a 2005 Dumol Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, which predictably did very well with Cantonese flavors. The crowd seemed to savor both wines with about equal amount of appreciation. For them, Pinot was the acquired Western taste, rice wine - the familiar and homey. For me, rather the reverse - charmed I kept reaching for refills of the Shaoxing wine.

Needless to say, 4 hours later, stuffed and very satisfied, I could clearly see that the Shaoxing wine paired quite well with the heavier, meatier dishes, especially those with a touch of sweetness and funk.

After the meal, Vicky was nice enough to give me a tour of the kitchen at Ming's. Enormous pots where they roast meats were big enough to engulf little children. Gigantic soup pots with simmering broth, bones macerating for hours until every last ounce of flavor is extracted. Burners the size of wine barrels, rows of stations enough to feed an army. A big operation commanded by this energetic, enterprising lady.

Click here for Part 4.


Do Bianchi said...

Is that Pinot spicy in character? Is that what made it go well with the foods?

great post, great photos... I love it when blogs make me hungry! that's what it's all about, no? ;-)

Iron Chevsky said...

Jeremy, no that Pinot is pretty typical Cali (i.e. no spice, just clean concentrated juicy fruit). The cherry fruit that goes very well with Cantonese (and occasionally Shanghainese and Taiwanese) dishes, because those are not spicy. For spicy Chinese, you gotta go Riesling.

Anonymous said...

Go to Marina Supermarket Cupertino, you will find Kuaijishan 30 years Shaoxing Rice Wine, $45/Bottle for 600ml.

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