Monday, February 11, 2008

樂趣演奏用食物 for Chinese New Year

Though I am not Chinese, I am a huge fan of Chinese food and culture. Every year about this time, as the Lunar New Year approaches, I make certain to attend at least one Lion Dance. The legend says that if one attends a Lion Dance and feeds Lucky Money to the Lion, it drives away evil spirits and brings you good luck. Well, I will take all of the luck that I can get!

So last night, we attended a Chinese New Year celebration at C&Y Restaurant. Now, my report on the food and festivities must be tempered by the reality that even the venerable Li Wah did not do a formal CNY banquet this year, because, as reported in the local paper, they have not been well attended in recent years. There is always the tension in Cleveland's Asiatown restaurants between serving the Asian community, and the non-Asian community, which often have different expectations of the food. Add to that C&Y's role as the "Christmas Story Museum" restaurant, and you can understand how many different expectations they are trying to satisfy.

C&Y this night offered only a "set" menu (bad sign - no Chinese characters on it). I asked about ordering off the regular menu, and was told I could not. Meanwhile, I noticed several tables that had Asian patrons and were allowed to order off of the menu. The table to my left had a fabulous feast - had not two of our guests been relatively non-adventurous, I would have told the waiter "we'll have what they are having".

This brings to mind the recent New York Times article about "Authentic Chinese" versus Americanized. As it turned out, I must say that the Americanized Chinese food that we were limited to was very enjoyable, if a bit too sweet for my taste. I just wish it had been my choice! And, we were served a lot of food for $20 a person, and for a lot of people, that is the most important consideration. We saw a lot of non-Asian families very happily consuming their meals. So, understand that my comments below are not intended as criticism of C&Y, but simply a reaction to the reality that I did not get to have any authentic Chinese dishes with my Lion Dance at Chinese New Year this year, which is something I would have liked.

The Lion Dance was just wonderful! It's kind of like a Seder - even though you know it by heart and the routine is always the same - it still brings fun and excitement.

C&Y is currently my favorite Asiatown restaurant, largely because of their wonderful dim sum. We started with a party of nine, but three people had to cancel. Bob and I slowly worked our way along the snowy, icy roadways to pick up his two friends who don't drive. He thought our reservation was for 6pm when it was actually for 6:30pm, so we were very early. Oh well - lots of time to kill - why not drink?

When we visited China in 1999, we sampled lots of Chinese beer and liquor, but no wine that I can recall. So when I saw that C&Y had real Chinese Rice Wine, I just had to try it. The stuff that is sold in the Asian grocery stores is loaded with extra salt, to comply with legalities concerning retailing of alcoholic products without a license. And it is inferior tasting anyway.

So - given the opportunity to try real Shaohsing Rice Wine - we ordered a bottle:

It is, without question, an acquired taste. With a strong scent of rice, and an almost sherry-like consistency and flavor (dry sherry - there was no sweetness), it leaves a long aftertaste at the back of the throat. I actually preferred the aftertaste to the "foretaste", partially due to the strong smell. Having tasted this wine, though, I finally understand why, in Chinese cooking, there is no true substitute for it - it is distinctly different from American sherry, and far superior to the Shaohsing Wine sold in the Asian groceries. We did take a lot of it home, but it will not go to waste!

So - time to lequ wannong yong shiwu (play with your food)!

The Ubiquitous Chicken Corn Soup (Shantung)

We were warned before we journeyed to China 9 years ago that we would be fed a constant diet of this soup, and the warning was true! It tastes good, however, so I can't really complain. But C&Y makes so many more interesting soups!

Next, 2 platters of appetizers were brought to the table:

"Oyster Spring Roll"

I didn't taste any oyster in these sizzling hot and crispy morsels, but I did taste mushroom - perhaps they meant "Oyster Mushroom"?? Despite the pedestrian nature of the rolls - they were exquisitely fresh.

BBQ Sparerib

And now, the parade of overly sweet sauces began. But again, I must point out - these ribs tasted good! The meat was perfectly cooked, and the BBQ flavor wasn't totally overwhelmed by the sweet.

Time for the entrees:

Steak with Black Pepper Sauce and Asparagus

Hong Kong style Black Pepper Sauce is a favorite of mine - I almost don't care what they put it on! This was a very tasty treatment of that favorite.

Imperial Chicken

A spicy chicken stir fry, with lots of garlic. It was tasty.

Fried Flounder Filet

From the description, we expected this to be a whole filet, and not "fish nuggets". The fish was exquisitely fresh, and there were some small shrimp in there, too. The sauce had some heat - but again, suffered from too much sweet and goo.

Corned Beef Fried Rice

This fried rice had no meat or seafood that I could detect. It was the one dish I found unpalatable - I am very fussy about fried rice after eating it in China. In fact, the only place in Cleveland that has ever served me fried rice worth eating is Siam Cafe. So I asked the server for a small bowl of white rice, which he brought.

Szechuan Style Eggplant

This dish was expertly prepared, and tasty.

Honey-Pepper Fried Pork Chop

This is as Americanized as Chinese food gets - but notwithstanding the overly sweet sauce - it was a fine hunk of pork and very tasty. Mine even had a bone - anathema for the Western diner, but expected by the Eastern diner.

Jumbo Spicy Shrimp

To be fair - even the dishes served to the tables that were allowed to order off the menu had American broccoli on them. And the simple steamed vegetable was refreshing after the deep fried and heavily sauced items we'd already eaten. The shrimp was ok, for frozen shrimp, redolent of pepper. Still - I'd have rather have had the lobster that the next table got!

As Chinese New Year dinners go, I really missed the noodle course and whole steamed fish and Jellyfish, and I was surprised to see that the fresh fish/seafood tanks were nearly empty, with just a few finfish and no shellfish. But the main attraction tonight was the Lion Dance, and the Kwans have brought in all generations of their family to keep this tradition alive in Cleveland.

Gong xi fa cai, Mr. Lion!

Making Him Work For It

The lady toying with the Lion's Lucky Money envelope, and her table, were the lucky recipients of the authentic Chinese meal I've been mentioning.

Drums and Cymbals Provide the Backdrop

The Youngest Generations Participate

I only caught the back of the baby Lion - its appearance was very brief!

Lettuce and Two Oranges, Lucky Money Envelope

The final portion of the ritual has the Lion struggling and climbing to take down the oranges, which represent wealth (gold), which he then throws to lucky audience members. It is good luck to catch an orange thrown by the Lion. The Lion then chews up the lettuce, which represents money, and showers it down on the audience (well, not really) to bring them money in the New Year.

The Lion Takes a Bow and Well Deserved Rest

All in all, despite the treacherous weather and the limited menu, we had a wonderful time welcoming the Lunar New Year with a table of good friends, C&Y Restaurant and the Kwans.

1 comment:

  1. Nancy, I am back to talking about you on my blog. Actually, I was commented on the NYT article. Great picts here.