first, thanks to sck for organizing and for the wonderful photos to get this thread started! Our visit was inspired by a piece by Jonathan Kauffman about the banquet.
The banquet is certainly value-for-money at $45 for 15 dishes, most of which are quite labor-intensive (and we were stuffed by the end). But the strong visual presentation was often not backed up by a matching depth of flavor. What seemed the favorite wasn’t any of the more beautiful dishes, rather the straightforwardly presented but very tasty water-boiling fish (available on the regular Sichuan menu).
The opening plate of sweet-paste appetizers was an interesting twist, but probably too starchy a start (as rwcfoodie said). My favorite of that plate was the date-paste diamonds topped with pine-nuts.
The thinly sliced chilled bittermelon, drizzled with honey and sesame, was really interesting and new to me. Other hounds had had it before, though not as nicely presented (the slices rolled into rings rather than long expanse here).
I wasn’t that taken with the scallop soup served in a fresh coconut; striking presentation of course, but the taste to me was mainly a bland sweetness and thickish consistency.
The 4-happiness dumplings, although a classic type, were new to me. They look very attractive with four contrasting colors, and had a mild but pleasant taste. The four fillings are finely minced egg yolk, carrot, bell pepper, and black fungus (according to this site).
The Peking duck was done to a good standard, and the house-made sauce was a nice touch. it was served with thin pancakes, which is the authentic way per ThomasNash; some hounds speculated on why some establishments (usually Cantonese) instead use steamed buns, and one recalled a place that used Mexican tortillas!
The “crab army vs shrimp army” platter was a stunning display. The shrimp in their horseradish mayonnaise were not bad; but I was a bit disappointed that the very skillfully crafted crab-shaped pastries didn’t have any evident crabmeat or crab taste.
The meatballs and spinach balls were another lovely presentation, streaming out of a cup with the character for good fortune on it. But as others have said, the meatballs were nothing special in terms of taste or texture. They did have a unusual crispy outer surface but that wasn’t enough to make them interesting. The Beijing-style potstickers were too doughy, as mentioned up-thread.
The water-boiling catfish with beansprouts was really good as already mentioned. Our head server encouraged us to take home the abundance of dry-roasted peppers (which are added to give superb flavor, but then removed from the pot at the table, to make it easier to eat) and we took him up on that!
I completely agree with ThomasNash that the dongpo pork was beautiful, a contrast in color between the square array of red/pink pork and the ring of green broccoli, but the pork and its sauce were surprisingly bland given the nice appearance.
The cumin lamb skewers were not bad, but could have used more spice. The baby spareribs were another wonderfully arranged dish, the rib chunks holding up vertical sprigs of mint; but I thought they were rather chewy and the seasoning muddled.
The dessert of pastry chicks in their opened shells was another tour-de-force of handiwork. But here again, taste took a backseat, nothing very special about the chicks (filled with bean paste); and the shells, while technically edible, tasted like sweet starchy plastic.
It was a fun meal, and the portions were generous (echoing tm.tm). The skill and artistry of the food presentation was impressive; if they can apply some of that same ingenuity into upping the flavor side of the equation, this banquet would be truly outstanding.