Meal report- Chow/HO-down- Beijing banquet at Chili House, Inner Richmond, 8/17

10 of us got together for a imperial banquet meal at Chili House today. Here are the dishes that we went through. I will comment later on .

Sweet apps:

Peanuts and pickled veg?

Cold cuts and appetizers:

Bitter melon with honey glaze:

Squash and scallop soup in coconut shell:

Shiu Mai:

4 Happiness dumpling:

The duck:

The wrap:

Crab against shrimp:

Mini meatballs and spinach:

Water boiled fish:

Can someone recall the name of this dish?

Lamb rib and pea sprouts:

Dongpo pork belly:

Ribs:

Chick pastry:

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Thank you sck for organizing & driving, you had excellent parking karma today! Labor intensive meal with some very interesting & tasty courses.

Philistine that I might be, I would have appreciated more savories at the beginning… Those carb heavy sweets as starters really kind of killed my appetite,
& palate, but I’m sure you noticed, I still managed to eat my way thru the rest of the cavalcade of courses!

Will try to gather my thoughts & add some comments later…

Wow… this can’t possibly be the same Chili House that occasionally delivers me overpriced MOR meals through Caviar, can it?!?

Looking forward to your feedback…

I wan’t there, but the dish you are asking about certainly looks like Beijing-style potstickers.

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I was happy for an opportunity to try the Beijing style banquet, however, my favorite dish was the water boiled fish. I can’t tell from the menu here http://www.chilihousesf.com/our-menu.aspx if it was the Fish Fillet with Flaming Chili Oil or the House Special Fish Fillet Boiled in House Spicy Sauce. I’d definitely order that again, or the lamb version. It was catfish, and the waiter admonished us to eat it right after serving, or the fish will become overcooked.

The most noticeable thing was that for so many courses, the portions were really quite large, and several meat heavy dishes showed up in the latter half, after many of us had already started to fill up. I hadn’t had cumin lamb skewers like this, these might have been braised for a bit, then lightly battered and seasoned and deep fried.

I had high hopes for the Beijing-style potstickers (the waiter gave us the Chinese name), but was a bit disappointed. They were a bit doughy, as if the wrapper that wasn’t crisped didn’t get steamed enough, and the filling was well seasoned, but I was hoping for some juices inside.

There were a lot of creative and artistic presentations of the dishes, and it was great company at lunch–hope to hear from you all about some of the other dishes! Thanks for organizing, sck.

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You’re right Gary, I remember hearing our server say that…

yes, those were Beijing-style potstickers. the server said the name in Chinese, couldn’t remember but found it at Lucky Peach’s dumpling guide: da lian huo shao 褡裢火烧, named after the shape of a long carry-bag (da lian).

I agree with tm.tm that they looked promising but the wrappers were too doughy for my taste.

And this was lunch? I sure hope nobody had to go back to work afterwards. :wink:

Thanks for report and the excellent photographic record. Looks like a great time.

My favorite dish was also the water boiled fish which the waiter indicated was indeed available on the regular menu. If there is confusion, it is 水煮魚. This dish appears at every Sichuan restaurant around the area, also in a version with beef and sometimes even shrimp. For me, this is by far the best version I have had and it will bring me back to Chili House. It seemed to be done with a lighter hand though in no way holding back on the complex spices.

I doubt that this dish actually appeared on Imperial Banquet menus. I certainly do not recall it at a lake side pavilion in Bei Hai park in Beijing in the early 1990s where a restaurant served “imperial banquets” even to parties of 2. In fact, several other dishes did not seem to me to be likely to show up at imperial bashes, including the dongpo pork, the Beijing dumplings and duck, etc.

Nonetheless, several items did have the elegance and visual splendor that spoke of such dinners and of the skill of the chef at Chlli House. Prime examples were his work with pastry such as the amazing chicks and eggs that finished the meal and the crabs that confronted the prawns in an amazing display. My other favorite item also could be imagined in such a setting, the excellent squash and corn and scallop soup in a coconut shell, slightly sweet. As one scraped off fresh coconut from the shell into the soup, there were delicate fireworks of brilliantly balanced flavor.

Maybe not dating back from the days of the imperial table, but certainly very Beijing in character were many other dishes that were brought more recently to the sophisticated gourmet capital from all over the gastronomic empire. Some were very interesting and done in new ways. The Uyigur influenced lamb sticks were very meaty, probably slow cooked and then fried with more gentle spicing than we usually see for Cumin Lamb. The bitter melon thinly sliced with honey was brilliantly presented. This dish appears in smaller portions at several other local Hong Kong influenced places (Dragon Beaux is one). Very refreshing with the flavor of bitter melon appearing in a more subtle way because of its iced temperature.

The Peking Duck, served (correctly as in Beijing) with pancakes, was quite good with a marvelous home made (not really hoi sin) sauce. Little ribs marinated with mint (?) were delicious. Less exciting despite their interesting presentation flowing out of a cup of opulence and good fortune were the little meatballs which had a crispy outer layer but not much flavor and an uninteresting texture inside.

I am not sure what to say about the dong po pork. It was beautiful in appearance and more like the famous jade piece now showing at the Asian Art Museum than any other I have seen. Maybe it was by intention, this version seemed less flavorful than the soy braised Hangzhou cooking we usually get. Seemed like this was first boiled in a spiced non-soy broth and then brought together with its red sauce. Beijing style?

All in all a very fun banquet at a very reasonable cost and mostly quite excellent if not totally imperial.

As usual the company was fun and I learned a lot from them. Many thanks to sck for thinking of getting us together and organizing!

… and you are right, Tom Hilton, I did not get any work done afterwards – I had to delay by a day writing my report…

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Even from the picture they look too doughy, and also closed at the ends. The best potstickers IMHO are the Tianjin style (a.k.a. Zhonghua Road potstickers) which have a thin wrapper, are open at the ends, and, of course heavily browned to the point of blistering.

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Late report from me. I was really glad to meet the group, and that we have a group for such an elaborate meal on a weekday lunch.

Overall my thoughts were consistent with @ThomasNash and @tm.tm , I liked the water boiled fish, the grilled lamb skewer and the Peking duck the most. And the chili dip in the cold it plate. The catfish dish had a nuanced spiciness flavor. I almost didn’t notice them at first but thanks to tm.tm who pointed out the bean sprouts at the bottom that soaked up all the chili goodness from the pot.

The Uiygur lamb skewer from Western China was with lean lamb meat (whole piece, not minced) but spiced and grilled well. I have never had this type of skewer previously.

The duck was pretty lean. Still very pleasant with the sauce that ThomasNash mentioned.

Other dishes were quite pleasant- the bitter melon with a honey dressing was refreshing for a warmer summer other than the SF one, though the melon could be a bit more bitter. Soup was a bit on the sweet side. It was interesting that one could scoop the coconut meat into the soup and eat it along with the pumpkin, scallop and shrimp. The dumplings were ok, but not necessarily their forte given their Northern style cuisine.

The shrimp vs crab faceoff dish had very skilled presentation with the pastry molded in the shape of a crab, with eyes and claws, facing off the shrimp soldiers on the other side of the ‘river’. Similarly, the chick coming out of the egg shell pastry dish was crafted with flair by the pastry chef.

Not a big fan of the mini-meatball with its somewhat thick and crispy exterior. The spinach was on the salty side. Dongpo pork was very bland. Don’t remember much about the potsticker other than that I didn’t finish mine.

$45 + tax and tips for ~15 courses (dependent on how you count). Many dishes can be found on the al la carte menu. I’d be interested in exploring especially the Sichuan menu more, given the connection with Z&Y. One thought about the banquet menu was that the dishes could potentially sized more banquet size, made more delicate and the number of dishes cut down a little bit. But overall, there was a lot of variety and allow one to sample the menu relatively easily. Agree with ThomasNash that it was probably half ‘imperial’ and half ‘banquet’, for me.

What are our fellow diners’ thoughts on the meal?

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.

Just a quick question is the meal at the fix price something that we can request other dishes with a adjusted price? I would like to go with another group but would like to select some dishes I had in Beijing at the Manchu/Han dinner. Some of these dishes would maybe too out there for the American taste

You should call the restaurant and ask. I suspect they might be flexible if what you want is on their a la carte menu, and not so flexible if it is not.

Thanks I will visit them in person. I had two Manchu/Han dinners in Beijing and it was something too have.

I wonder who is at the helm currently? Chef Tong Gang Wang is now operating Dim Sum USA, a frozen dumpling, bao, and pancake venture out of Foster City, which has minimal seating but you can order things hot to go.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold