Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fun Playing With Asian New Year Food 2011 at Siam Cafe

Just before we left for Florida, we shared a delightful Chinese New Year Dinner and Lion Dance with friends at Cleveland Asiatown's Li Wah Restaurant. Upon returning from our Florida trip, we got to enjoy another take on playing with Asian New Year food with the Northern Ohio Chapter of Slow Food at Cleveland Asiatown's own Siam Cafe.

We've been to at least three of these dinners at Siam Cafe, perhaps four. Chef-owner Michael Hong reaches into his culinary bag of tricks for auspicious dishes every time and I'll happily eat his braised ham hock once a year every year if I can get it! This year, he and his friendly staff coped with our 40-some-odd banquet diners, two large parties celebrating birthdays (one American and one Asian) and a fully packed house on a Sunday evening. And they put out the most amazing, fresh, delicious spread I've ever tasted at Siam Cafe. 

Stuffed Crab Claws

Crab Claw stuffed with Shrimp Puree and Crispy Vermicelli. I really enjoyed this incarnation of a dish Chef Hong has served to us before.

Shanghai Xiao Long Bao

Traditional Soup Dumpling in Dipping Sauce. Chef Hong favors a more sturdy wrapper and less soup in the dumpling than some Chinese chefs - and the result is toothy and delicious. The presentation was also interesting - each diner got a bowl of dipping sauce and the servers placed a first dumpling in each bowl. The quantities were sufficient for each diner to enjoy a second dumpling, but we were on our own for landing them intact in the sauce bowl.

Scallion Pancake with Char-Sui Pork

Char-Sui Barbecued Pork Wrapped with Pancake. Served with Sweet Hoisin Sauce. Another dish we've enjoyed before - done to non-greasy, chewy perfection.

Wonton Dumplings in Thai Tom Yum Soup

Spicy Thai Soup with Two types of Mushrooms and Wonton Dumplings. Here is where the menu diverged from "Chinese" to "Asian." A light, spicy broth cuddled freshly made pork and shrimp wontons, mushrooms, and scallions. 

Lobster with Golden Garlic - Maine Lobsters Stir Fried with Minced Roasted Garlic, Green & Red Peppers

This might have been the best lobster I've ever eaten. First, it was served blazing hot from the wok, coated with chunky garlic and peppers that clung tenaciously to the shells instead of falling to the plate. Second, the  kitchen had expertly cracked the crustaceans such that the meat was easily extracted. Finally, and most important, the high quality lobster meat had been cooked to the exact right point such that it melted in the mouth.

Baby Abalone & Shitake Mushroom over Mustard Greens

A staple dish at Chinese New Year due to the round, coin like shapes of the abalone and mushrooms, together with the greens which are colored as money - this is always my least favorite because I favor neither mushrooms nor abalone. I did eat some of the greens, which are often tough and bitter. These were tender and sweet, and benefited from the mushroomy sauce.

Whole Crispy Roasted Duck

Roast duck is all about the skin - and this baby delivered! Tender meat, crisp skin and a very traditional preparation equaled a lovely dish.

Michael’s Fabled New Years Only Fried Custard with Shrimp, Snow Peas & Carrots

This unique dish was the only platter other than the lobster that our table consumed to the last morsel. The custard, which probably had some tapioca or wheat starch in the filling, was wrapped in delicate pastry and fried. It gently walked the line between sweet and savory, and provided a textural foil to the crunchy vegetables and nuts, while the shrimp offered brininess.

Pla Red Pik - Fillets of Victorian Perch with Spicy Thai Tamarind Sauce

Instead of the traditional whole steamed fish, Chef Hong fried the perch and paired it with a gently spicy sauce. The combination worked well and we all enjoyed it.

Braised Ham Hock

Another Michael Hong Chinese New Year signature dish: the most delicious and tender Ham Hock, which had been slow cooked for hours (I seem to recall one year he said it cooks low and slow overnight) and served with Baby Bok Choy that still had some body to it and actually lent flavor to the dish rather than just being a garnish.

As with the duck, the skin of the pig had been artfully prepared (though not quite as crispy). If you ever have the opportunity to enjoy this dish at Siam Cafe - make sure you avail yourself!

Very Beautiful & Delicious Fried Rice

And what makes this rice so beautiful and delicious? Pork fat! Yuppers - as is traditional, this festive rice bore the unmistakable flavor and texture that comes only from frying in lard.

Traditional Noodle with Chicken - Thin Egg Noodle Stir Fried in Soy Sauce with Chicken

My only complaint about this traditional noodle dish was that the noodles had been cut fairly short- bad luck for the New Year! Bad luck or not - I couldn't stop eating it.

This was the bounty remaining on the table when the last of us cried "Uncle!" We did box it all up and distribute it around the table. 

But wait - there was still one more dish to come:

Flaky Pastry Crust Baked with Egg Custard

While Koko Bakery makes my favorite Dan Tac in the world - these jewels were mighty fine renditions of the form. We took them home; too stuffed to even consider a bite.

It was a bite worth waiting for - fresh, eggy, creamy, flaky and chewy all at the same time.

If you've skipped going to this dinner because you've seen some of the dishes before, or perhaps there were some off notes in some of the shrimp one year - you are doing yourself a disservice! We had more fun playing with the food at this year's Slow Food Asian New Year Dinner than at any previous visit  I've made to Siam Cafe - make sure that you join us next year. And in the mean time, I saw some huge, feisty dungeness crabs in  Siam Cafe's seafood tank - I think there is one there with my name on it.

Also, please visit my last blog post and leave your comment there before 10am on Tuesday March 8, 2011 to be entered into the drawing for two tickets to The Culinary Vegetable Institute's Earth to Table Dinner featuring Chef Ellis Cooley of AMP 150 next Saturday, March 12

1 comment:

  1. That looks like the tastiest way to a food coma, ever. What a feast!