Tonight four of us came here for dinner, and i left quite happy. We split two lion’s head meatballs, and these were super tender and textured, with meat that seemed chopped rather than ground. Nice dark sauce not too sweet or rich or thick. Things ordered from the lighter end of the color spectrum were the griddled cauliflower, the vegetable rice with pork, the stir fried rice cakes with preserved vegetable and pork, and the original wonton soup Wuxi style. Back to the deep, dark side of things were the sweet and sour spare ribs, and the half duck stewed in soy sauce Wuxi style.
My favorite were the sweet and sour spare ribs. The broad appeal of sweet and sour all grown up in a sleek, confident sauce alert with black vinegar and soy. Some of the leaner parts of the pork were a little chewy, but the fattier bites were so tender. I was initially surprised i didn’t love the duck more, but even though it was much less oily than might be expected, it was still very rich, and the star anise might have been a bit too much, almost a little musty for me. It also arrived last, so might have been too full to give it my full attention. It was a fine dish, though.
The vegetable rice with pork was a nice surprise. Is this not technically a fried rice? It was light and delicate but tasty enough on its own that i could imagine eating a lot of it with just a small compliment of something else, be it a soup or a more assertively flavored dish. And although i was in a Korean restaurant on lunar new year, i abstained from eating the traditional rice cake soup because, well, it’s not my favorite, but i love those chewy little disks when they’re stir fried, so i ordered these with the preserved vegetables and pork, and figured between that and the wonton soup i almost had a late, deconstructed Chinese version of what I neglected to eat per my own ancestry. What was interesting about the rice cakes was that the vegetables seemed to have mostly dissolved into a starchy sauce coating the disks. It almost looked like someone had dressed it in creamed spinach. It was still good, but i prefer versions i’ve had where its more obviously a stir fry, and not almost a braise. I think the soup was sort of shrugged at by the rest of the table but tonight was cold, the restaurant was not heated, and the delicate broth with the bits of seaweed almost meltingly dispersed throughout was very comforting for me. The big wontons were generously stuffed with a tender pork filling, and the small slivers of shiitake mushroom were a nice touch.
Well i think that’s everything. Oh. The cauliflower was good, with some nice browning and bit of heat from dried chilies. I just don’t get very excited about cauliflower, but this was good. I was a little bit worried about repetition in the dark brown sauced dishes. What little i know about this region and its food suggest that at least the rest of China seems to have some disdain for what it sees as a monotony of sugar and soy. But what nation with multiple, proud, distinguished regional cuisines doesn’t share this competitive eyebrow raising and head shaking? For me, I thought they had distinct differences: the meatballs seemed to have prominent but not too strong ginger flavor, the ribs had a lovely balance of acid from the vinegar, and the duck had those warm spice notes from the anise or five spice.
I would love to go back to Jiangnan Cuisine, and soon.