Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

February 9, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! Officially, Chinese New Year started on February 7th, and it continues on for 14 days ending with the festival of lights. Since the 1st day of Chinese New Year landed on a Thursday, a day I need to jog (still trying to train for my next marathon), I had to go run after work, and spend no time cooking for Chinese New Year. My idea for a little CNY food celebration was to head to China Chef, and get a bite to eat with Matt after I finished my workout. I had to hurry because China Chef closes at 9:30 pm, and that means closes, not last order. We got there at 8:30 pm, and Suzanne let us come in thinking that would be ok and give them enough time to close by 9:30 pm.

The evening was about ordering off the special paper menu. We got five flavored eggplant, roasted duck Hong Kong style, and Kung Po squid. I did not take a photo of the eggplant because eggplant while raw is quite stunningly beautiful, but once cooked it looks like a pile of "you know what". Well that pile of eggplant was made tasty, and a we liked it. We took some eggplant leftovers home, and Suzanne suggested that it would be good cold, like a baba ghanoush which is good eaten hot or cold. Then Suzanne suggested that the left over eggplant would make a great filling for a sandwich too.

I also ordered 1/2 of a Hong Kong style roasted duck. China Chef, as far as I know from Brentwood to Charlotte Pike, is the only place that makes their own HK style roasted duck. All others are shipped in from a place in Atlanta. Even one of the Chinese Markets has deliveries of the HK style roasted duck from Atlanta. I have purchased these in the past, they are tasty, but I have to do all the chopping (I am not good at this because I don't have a good chopping block, nor cleaver) and presentation. It is much better to have a restaurant do all for me. China Chef was happy to do that for me. This duck was much less seasoned that the factory kind from Atlanta, but it was recently made and definitely made by China Chef's chef. The skin was very crispy, and the inside bones were flavored with anise spices. It was good. Again, we took some of this home for leftovers, and I am excited to have more for lunch today!

The last dish we got should have been a fish dish, a traditional CNY dish, but I wanted the Kung Po squid again. Squid is a fish right? That is what I thought anyway. Since my 1st visit to China Chef for Kung Po squid, I have been taking a tour of some other "Chinese" restaurants in town offering Kung Po. Well, what I got at the other places was no squid, so I substituted shrimp and all were overcooked and chewy. At the other places, I also got strange a dishes with generic brown gravy that seems to be on every beef and broccoli (and definitely not spicy like Kung Po), and a lot of zucchini and bell peppers adding to a soggy content.

Anyway, I have gone back to China Chef twice to get this Kung Po squid because it is, quite frankly, the best I have had in Nashville! I have decided that China Chef is my only source of Kung Po squid from now on. I need not waste my time anywhere else.

The last little tidbit about China Chef's chef is that the chef is a She, not a he, and I have not asked her name. She is originally from Hong Kong where she was a famous cook on Hong Kong TV. Now, how she found herself in Nashville, it is unclear, and I don't know. Since she is not from the USA, she isn't the best at making the Americanized "Chinese food" because it is not Chinese food and she did not grow up with that tradition, but she kicks butt when it comes to Hong Kong style recipes! I think that is why Kung Po is the best here, because there is a modern tradition of Kung Po in Hong Kong.

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At 2/9/08, 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lannae -- How does Hong Kong style duck differ from Peking duck? When I asked last time we were there, I was simply told that it was served "on the bone". Is that the only difference or is there also a difference in preparation?

Thanks for the entry and good luck with the running (I'm training for my 3rd marathon at the moment)!!

PS - I'm pleased that you liked the eggplant!

At 2/9/08, 11:11 PM, Blogger Erica Kain said...

Would this be the wrong time to confess that I just ate at "Yan Can?"

You are helping to obliterate those questionable memories with this marvelous pictures of real Year-of-the-Rat yummy fare. Good stuff!

At 2/10/08, 9:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Pogo, the eggplant was really good :)! Good luck on training! This will be my 3rd also! Are you doing CMM? This year, I am going to try to get into the NYM lottery.

Now, about Peking, and Hong Kong Style... I am not 100% clear, and it sounds like you got an answer that was fairly typical of a Chinese mom - technically correct, fewest words and not helpful. This is my guess: the Peking duck isn't as highly spiced, and there is a specific way the duck is prepared - air dried, skin separated from the duck, spiced, brick oven roasted while hanging (so no rack marks on the duck) and carved (17 specific cuts per side?) and then the crispy skin and meat is wrapped in either a steamed white bun (bao bun) or a crepe with hoisin. The duck bones are then taken to make a specific soup. I think there were other dishes with other parts of the duck, like the fat and the head, but I am not sure. I think Peking service was a specific way one king liked his duck served.

My other guess is that Hong Kong style duck is also air dried, a bunch of pin holes stuck into the skin to allow the fat to fry the skin during cooking and drip out during cooking, brined in spices including star anise, slow roasted (skin not separated from the duck) and then cut up with the bone.

Those are my guesses. I just don't know enough history of duck.

Hi Cheb's Mom, I could totally be happy with a Yan Can here. Pei Wei is the best fast food Chinese in Nashville. Sad but true. Another funny thing about Yan Can. I took a beginner's Chinese class with a woman from China. I asked her about some cooking techniques, and she said she would bring me the best Chinese cookbook during the next class. She showed up with Yan Can Cook! Seriously, there are recipes in there that are real Chinese and really good!

At 2/10/08, 12:43 PM, Blogger Hazza said...

How do you determine how good a Kung Po sauce is? I usually compare it to the esquire Kitchen chain of restaurants in Malaysia, which is famous for their kung po chicken and cashew nut dish. For me, the closest you can get to that at home is Yeo's Kung Po sauce.

At 2/10/08, 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Lannae! Yes, I'm signed up for CMM and hope to improve my pace a bit this year. I have a couple of friends who have run the NYM over the past few years and both raved about how much fun it was to do! Good luck and thanks for the explanation. I'll try the Hong Kong style next time for comparison...

At 2/12/08, 8:39 AM, Blogger Eric and Katie said...

Lannae: We'll have to try China Chef soon. I think Katie would enjoy the eggplant.

At 2/12/08, 5:10 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Hazza, to explain why this Kung Po is better than others is that there is no sauce, and the ingredients are ginger, garlic, scallion, red peppers, salt, and oil. The flavor is a nice spicy combination of those fresh ingredients. At all of the other restaurants I went to they all used a manufactured brown gravy that was provided to them by the same food delivery service. It is a bad brown flavorless gravy. That is how I determined China Chef was the best in town. :)

Hi Pogo, thanks for stopping in. The Roasted Duck I had at Golden Coast this past weekend was more flavorful than China Chefs. The Roasted Duck at Wang's Market (north of Germantown at 1309 3rd Ave North) on Fridays and Saturdays are good, but they order them from Atlanta, and you have to re-heat and chop it yourself.

Hello E and K, please do try China Chef and ask for the secret paper menu. I suspect if you ask Suzanne for recommendations of real authentic vegetarian dishes, she would be happy to recommend one or 2.

At 3/5/08, 9:18 AM, Blogger cooknengr said...

Can't have squid on CNY...kena 炒尤魚later.

At 3/5/08, 10:33 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Uht-oh. now what do I do?

At 4/26/08, 10:56 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I heard China Chef recently closed their Bell Rd location. Anybody know if the rumors of them reopening downtown is true? Also, is there another more authentic style chinese restaurant in Nashville?

At 4/27/08, 10:14 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Dkan1, I have heard about the closing too. A sad affair if you ask me. I have no word yet about what they owners are going to do about a new China Chef. When I ate here for Chinese New Year, the owner did say something about the cook (the Hong Kong woman who used to be a TV cook on morning TV in Hong Kong) was thinking about striving out on her own. I await news too. I will be sure to post info as I hear it.

At 2/6/09, 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone have any news of China Chef reopening yet? I really miss their duck and sweet and sour fish!


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