[San Jose] Chef Z- Yunnan Banquet

14 of us partook in a Yunnan banquet at Chef Z in San Jose tonight.

  1. Husband wife beef

  1. 绿豆粉 mung bean starch noodles

  1. 鬼火怒 Really pissed off

  1. 什锦凉米线 assorted cold Mixian noodles

  1. 瑞丽酸辣鱼 Ruili (in western Yunnan) hot and sour fish, dish from Xishuangbanna

  1. 火腿烩松茸 ham braised with matsutake

  1. 老奶洋芋 Yunnan mashed potatoes

  1. 红三剁 red three - red tomatoes, red pork, red pepper

  1. Asparagus with ham

  1. 香煎乳饼 fragrant pan fried goat cheese rubing , dish from Lijiang

  1. Fried banana

  1. Black silkie chicken soup:

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  1. Chili shrimp

  1. 大救驾

  1. Chili pork hock

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the aftermath…
Thanks again @sck for organizing.

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Thanks for doing all the work. The food was good and new to me. Since it was an area of China which I have eaten only once before I need to return to do a real judgement of the food. It was spicy but not over the top.

Oh wow, that looks like an awesome meal. What was the best highlight of the meal? I honestly don’t have a huge deal of information on Yunan cuisine (I think I saw a brief glimpse of it in that Taste of China episode) but uh

Is that one of their dessert items or something?

The only one discussed but not served was filled mochi dumplings (sweet filled). None others were offered. The banana was I was lead to believe normally not offered.

The server said that the banana was the substitute.

My favorite was the okra accompanying the hot and sour fish. It was very fresh and either raw or very lightly blanched before being cut in half, cooking a bit more from the heat of the fish. No slime and a fresh crunch–a preparation I’d never had before.

Thanks for organizing the dinner party. Overall I enjoyed the dinner but wish to try more off-menu Yunnan dishes.

Couples delight with beef - a bit numbing but not spicy hot,
Hot and Sour fish - good flavor and the true highlight was the crunchy okra
Mung Bean Starch Noodles - I like but my group thinks it should be more chewy
Ham braised with matsutake - it appeared the chef changed the menu slightly?! Our server told us that the meat was beef liver, which she had not tried. Really enjoyed the wide varieties of mushrooms but there were occasional crunch bites of sand.
Chili Shrimp was good and very fresh. However, our group was disappointed that it was not the off-menu Tea Shrimp.
Pan fried goat cheese rubing was really good but at this point i was stuffed already.

The dish we won’t order again was Really Pissed Off which was too salty for us.

On a side note, our server is an experienced restaurateur. She was the original owner of the Top Chef restaurant in the neighborhood, first opened 26 years ago. Even though she does not cook, it appears that she has a keen eye on good food.

I agree with pretty much the opinions shared so far. I loved the fish, its just really delicious with the interplay between sour and hot, even if its just a humble tilapia. I liked the idea of the okra, though I didn’t like those too okra- they were too big and fiber-ish.

The mixian was interesting- its like a dan dan mian without the heat.

The ham braised with matsutake had both ham and liver. I didn’t find the liver personally but some at our table did.

The Grandma mashed potatoes (so called because even grandma with no teeth can eat), a humble dish, was comforting even if its not a standout.

The Red three actually felt kinda Cantonese to me, even though its a Yunnan dish.

I also liked the rubing very much. The server showed us the paneer that went into the rubing, saying that that’s the closest to the Yunnan cheese that is usually used.

I also liked the fried banana too. Oddly addictive. I ate a couple.

Black silkie chicken soup was good and the chicken flavor was pronounced, though it seemed quite Cantonese, with the addition of I think oyster mushroom. @yimster said, it can only be better if its double boiled, and I agree with him.

I actually thought the dishes were not very spicy, except the Really Pissed Off dish. After that and the Husband wife beef (which was already magnitudes less spicy than Reall Pissed Off), the dishes were barely hot.

The order if the dish seemed quite odd, especially towards the end when the dishes came out seemingly with no rhyme or reason. But overall the dishes were all well-cooked.

Overall, a good meal, but like @maoliu, I would prefer even more Yunnan dishes, with the caveat that its hard for me to tell when Yunnan stops and Sichuan starts, since Yunnan dishes receive a lot of influence from their neighbors Sichuan, e.g. Yunnan has its own take of Husband Wife Beef.

Thanks to sck for organizing an interesting meal!

My faves were the Husband Wife Beef, Hot and Sour Fish, Fried Banana, and Black Silkie Chicken Soup, plus (with reservations) the Really Pissed Off, the Red Three, and the Ham Braised with Matsutake. In my first taste of the Really Pissed Off I got more chili than I wanted but also thought the flavor was excellent. I didn’t get back to it again until later in the meal when I found it both less spicy and less flavorful, presumably due to getting a different mix of ingredients. The bites of the Red Three with ample pork were very good, but overall the pork to tomato ratio was much too low for my taste and I had to separate out tomatoes to get the taste I liked. I’d like to have this again and request the chef to raise the pork ratio. My one bite of the Ham Braised with Matsutake which had a delicious piece of liver was great, but there were only a few pieces in the whole dish and otherwise it was just pretty good.

The fish was my favorite savory dish, nicely cooked with interesting spicing. The mushrooms were a nice touch. I’m a big okra fan but wasn’t impressed with the okra in the dish. It was undercooked and didn’t have very intense okra flavor. I suppose you could argue that cooking it less makes for a better texture, but if that’s why the flavor was lacking it was a poor trade-off for me. I may be biased by the rich flavors of my Mom’s wonderful okra soup where any slime gets lost in the liquid.

I too found the fried bananas addictive. I’m going to start frying them at home!

As sck noted the order of the dishes was awkward. We got most of the spiciest dishes first, which numbed my palate and made it harder to appreciate later dishes, although I guess it’s common to have spicy appetizers at the beginning. Part way through the meal the chef came out and personally served us the fried bananas, announcing that this was dessert. I assumed from his statement that we were at or near the end of the meal, so I stopped saving myself for future dishes and filled up on dishes already at the table. We still had several dishes to come and I didn’t enjoy the full potential of those dishes because I was full. I probably would have rated the Chili Shrimp highly if I’d tasted it before I was stuffed.

As for dessert coming at the end, from dim sum I have gotten used to having sweet dishes followed by savory, but that works better (for me anyway) for small bites than at a regular meal. IIRC at my many meals with Chinese companions, in Hong Kong and China as well as here, usually the sweetest dish ends the meal. Maybe they were just accommodating the gweilo at the table. What’s typical in all-Chinese groups?

Overall I wouldn’t call the meal awesome, but there were some very good dishes and it was great to share food with friends!

Thanks to @sck for organizing a very fun meal!

I’ve not eaten any of the Yunnan dishes before, and the dishes with Sichuan overlap were mostly new to me too. Recurring themes were pickled chilies, fresh (bird’s eye IIRC) chilies, and cilantro.

Going to these meet ups is always fascinating, the conversations of course, but also how to people eating the same dish can have such different viewpoints. I enjoyed the sweet and sour tilapia, but found the okra undercooked at first like @charliemyboy did. However, by the time the fish body was removed for the plate and the okra was presented with only the sauce, it had cooked a bit more, still crisp and fresh, and melded with the savory seafood flavors of the sauce, kind of like a less stewy gumbo. By the end, I was loving it and agree with the opinions of @tm.tm, who was at a different table.

I liked the 鬼火怒 Really pissed off. Ginger was the focal point.

I liked the flavor of the Yunnan ham and mushrooms together in the 火腿烩松茸 ham braised with matsutake, and agree the mushrooms should have been cleaned more of grit. I incorrectly said that the mushrooms were all black trumpets, but should have known to defer to @yimster, who said that there were mainly Chinese mushrooms.

I think I liked the Yunnan mashed potatoes more than others did. It’s more of a homestyle dish. I picked up some scorched chili flavor, and think I tasted doubanjiang in there too.

Red tomatoes, red pork, red pepper was pretty good. The combo of peppers and tomatoes is familiar from Uyghur and NW Chinese dishes, and the sauce reminded me of a popular Shaanxi noodle dish.

What I had initially thought would be “fragrant pan fried goat cheese” wound up being cow milk paneer from Costco. But you know what? It was a great punctuation between the slew of spicy dishes, and the dessert and savory “mains” that followed. Paneer doesn’t have the saltiness of hallloumi cheese, but the searing and seasoning was perfect and a delicious follow up to the preceding pickled chilies.

I followed up with the chef today. I didn’t figure it out but the black silkie chicken soup with oyster mushroom WAS the steam pot chicken. That’s a picture he shared of what people use the steam pot for. I had a pretty narrow notion of what steam pot chicken was supposed to be. He had only one steam pot so he had to steam three batches of soup for us, and didnt have enough steam pot to serve the soup in.

image

He mentioned that it took quite a lot of effort to find the matsutake for the mushroom ham dish.

You know what I am going to do is I think I may just go buy some good fish and okra and ask him to re-do the fish dish again with better ingredients and see if it can come out even better.

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So the chicken was double boiled (steamed) after all!
Interesting. I wonder if a couple of the dishes were a bit different between tables, or if the psychology of our fellow diners and their compliments played a bigger role in our perceptions.
Those at the other table mentioned the Really pissed off was assertively spicy. Our table noticed it as very very salty. Perhaps this is because some were avoiding the large chunks of chilies, and got a less hot bite where other flavors stood out, but I wasn’t, and I like things fairly salty and this was definitely over the top for me, and I could feel it’s effects physically, craving and retaining water for the rest of the night.
Whether you think eating the fresh young okra almost raw is a subjective matter, though none of the okra I tasted were remotely fibrous–in fact, that was the ingredient I was most impressed by the sourcing. Most farmers’ market okra I get are older and tougher than that.
The shrimp were well cooked and seasoned, though our table was a bit disappointed that they had none of the advertised pu’er flavor. I once had a fried shrimp & fermented tea leaf dish at a Burmese restaurant in Fremont, and was hoping to compare. I had thought it was pandering to locals who love fried shrimp, but Yunnan and Myanmar share a border and I wanted to compare. My closeup of the shrimp shows flakes of something, but there was none of that distinctive pu’er flavor.
I think, having a higher ratio of women at our table, we were a bit more full when all the post-banana dishes came out. There hasn’t been much talk of the chili pork hock or rice cakes, but your aftermath reveals they were a bit more eaten at your table. I did not recognize the “chili” pork hock as such until your label, though my picture also reveals remnants of doubianjang or similar. I had but one piece, and it was a bit firmer than I would cook it, and not noticeably hot. It had a soothing brothy flavor, with some aromatics. The rice cakes were a bit different than the Shanghai versions that I’ve tried. The sauce was somewhat acidic, and the photos again reveal the presence of some chili paste that may have been present but not noticed.
And finally, the “grandma potatoes” I’d had before had some of the elements of the version I really liked–they’re not just mashed potatoes, they have some soft, mush mash and some firmer chunks for textural difference. The Z-version was less oily than the other version I tried, so a bit less flavor-packed, and didn’t seem to contain any Sichuan peppercorns.

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The quality of the fried banana was drastically different. Two of my friends shared the leftover piece from the table one and both liked it very much. But, when our batch came, it was mostly wrapper without much banana inside.

My comment won’t do the chili pork hock and rice cakes any justice as I was beyond the top full. I skipped breakfast and lunch the next day and only had a light supper.

Not that I hope for more meat, but there were thousands ???s spilling out of my head when I saw the rice cake because I assumed the “main dish” would be an entree; like turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. However, from the order of the menu, it makes sense to be a rice/noodle dish. With so much suspension, it earned a good laugh. At the dinner, I made up a story about the original of the dish. Apparently, I was right. lol

https://kknews.cc/history/zemrva.html
Basically it translated to:
At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, Wu Sangui led the Qing army to enter Kunming. With the help from the peasant uprising army, the Emperor Yongli of the Ming Dynasty ran towards the west to Tengchong. The emperor was exhausted and hungry from being on the mountain road entire day. They rested at a village and got some food, a bait block dish. After the Emperor Yongli ate, he said with great enthusiasm: “The fried bait block saved the big drive.” Since then, Tengchong fried bait has been renamed as “Great Rescue”

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Most “western mushroom” are normally available in selected Chinese herb stores in the dried form. They have Chinese names and are cheaper but not always as nice at the fresh ones. I had a list of Chinese names compare to the English names. But that was lost when my last laptop died. I still am trying to download that hard drive. It will be done one.

I enjoy this meals the thing I found lacking in the order we were served the dishes. The spacing of hot and spicy dishes with mild and cooling dishes would have made the meal better.

Last night I had guests from out of town and we had a meal at Royal Feast and Chef Liu spacing of hot, mild and sweet dishes was prefect. After they leave I will try to post that meal. My guest was so impress we will return to have our farewell meal. After that pre-order meal I will try to post both meals.

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Very interesting. I didn’t have any opportunity to look up the story behind the dishes with non-food names. Glad to know the historical background behind that dish. This remind me of another dish with a similar story that you’d know well- Poon choi- albeit its a Song emperor fleeing the Mongols to what is now Hong Kong.

For me, I really held back eating towards the beginning and middle of the meal so I actually had to eat more of the rubing and fried banana and rice to fill up at the end. But its hard to figure out if I should eat more or less when the server didn’t know how many dishes were left.

So at the end, its just right for me.

After recovering from this meal and host visitors from overseas at Royal Feast here is something I see after reflecting on these two meals.

Chef Z has skill but he a one man kitchen with limited resources. His spacing of hot, mild and sweet dishes is not just right. He has too many spicy dishes up front had dessert before the meal was done. Lastly normally fish is served last so you know the meal is done.

The spacing at Royal Feast was done much better. Chef Luu has a bigger staff both in the kitchen and out front. He served hot dishes spaced with mild dishes and he was able to use more than one spice or pepper to make you taste buds dance around mouth so that not area gets overload. Next week or so after our guest leave I will try to post this meal. It should be noted that I was not able to call ahead so it was off the menu mostly.

I for one will come back to Chef Z back I would plan the menu better. This while good was too all over the board.

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I suspect the order of dishes- spicy first- may have something to do with cultural, climate differences and preferences between Yunnan and Bay Area. Yunnan gets more rain and is more humid, and there is a preference for spicy dishes, just like at neighboring provinces.

If you look at the origin of the Really Pissed Off dish, its a dish invented on the spot by a chef for a village mayor. The story goes that the hardworking mayor always visits villagers and try to solve their problems. One Saturday, the mayor finally was done visiting the villagers way after sunset and returned to his government residence to eat. The chef didn’t save food for the mayor because he didn’t think the mayor would be out working during the weekend, and had to come up with something on the spot. The dish he quickly came up with wasn’t spicy enough for the mayor, so he added something spicy to the dish. Its still not spicy enough and the chef got a bit frustrated and uttered ‘鬼火怒’, a common phrase in Yunnan, which I took the liberty for the purpose of this banquet to translate to ‘Really Pissed Off’. He finally mixed a bunch of chile, chile oil, chili powder together and its finally spicy enough for the mayor.

So the dish is definitely a cold dish and should be served towards the beginning of the meal. We can of course wonder why its served with husband wife dish (another cold dish), and why the banana were in the middle of the meal.

Royal Feast presumably does this type of banquet regularly, whereas the chef at Chef Z only does this for his Yunnan pals much more informally and casually. So that may be a reason behind the ordering.

For those interested in the varied cuisine of Yunnan, local writer Georgia Freedman has a cookbook coming out soon.

I agree it is my personal taste in the pacing of the dishes. I had dishes in eatery in the East Bay when they served a crab tofu dish in the middle of spicy dishes and I found that dish tasteless. I then tried it after I had finished the meal and had a sweet dish and found it flavorful when my taste bud were not on overload. Being Cantonese I grew up with that type of food and had to learn to eat spicy later in life. My ideal meal is start mild and work my way up the taste ladder. Later I have been traveling to Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and China which has expanded my food knowledge. Since I do not speak anything but Chinese I do not know where I am going in most countries I can not share my what I am eating.

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

― Jonathan Gold