An Authentic Chinese Banquet, Straight from the HeartJune 9, 2010
By Judith Mazza, Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
The Washington area is culturally diverse and with ethnic restaurants just begging to be explored. Of course, for the Chaîne, the food has to be absolutely delicious, the best and most authentic possible. For these dining experiences, we created a new dinner category that we call, "Chaîne on the Edge". Our first ever Chaîne on the Edge dinner was held at the Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville. Spearheaded by our indomitable Bailli, Paul Haar and his wife Xiangnan Haar, they introduced the Washington Bailliage to their favorite "secret" restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, for an authentic Chinese banquet.
A tasting committee consisting of Bailli Paul Haar, Xiangnan Haar, and Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh, Vice Chargée de Missions Carol Assmann, Vice Chargée de Presse Judith Mazza and Allan Kam, met a week prior to the dinner to do the "hard work" of configuring the final menu. We tasted perhaps forty items, but "managed" to narrow it down, organizing the dinner into appetizers, first courses, second courses and desserts. Several days later, another group consisting of Bill Assman, Gastronomique Steven Lustig, Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh, Vice Echanson Bob O'Toole (Périphérique Bailliage) and Vice Chargée de Presse Judith Mazza and Allan Kam, met to finalize the beer selection, as a beer tasting was to be a part of the experience.
The response to the invitation was robust and the event quickly sold out. The restaurant was very excited about our event, arranging to have extra staff on hand. Unexpectedly, General Manager Yu Pei was taken to the hospital the day before the event. Leaving nothing to chance, she left her hospital bed on the day of the event to make sure that all was in order, and then returned to the hospital as soon as she was assured that everything was ready. She even procured small Chinese good luck tigers (this IS the "Year of the Tiger") which were placed on the table for each member. Playfully, Dame de la Chaîne Marny Gilluly and Rebecca Burka soon found new ways to display the tigers, and were followed by others.
The courses were all served family style. Tsing-tao beer was served to all as they arrived and continued through the appetizer course. Our appetizers were fascinating and delicious, as we began with crispy fungus and pickled pepper salad, lotus root salad, "Dan-Dan spicy noodles", beef tendon with hot chili sauce and anchovies with roasted peanuts and hot peppers. The room soon filled with animated conversation as Chevalier Gene Shugoll, Joan Shugoll and Vice Chargé de Missions Honoraire Jay Rosenkranz and Linda Rosenkranz renewed their acquaintance and introduced their guests Len and Shelly Blondes and Gerald and Elaine Shugoll.
Not to be outdone by the appetizers, our first courses began with a delicious light and complex seafood soup with tofu and greens, quickly followed by flounder and vegetables in fiery soup, and then a delicate flounder with Chinese greens dish, and an amazing stir fried snow pea shoots. The beer that accompanied this course was the Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian-Style India Pale Ale. Bailli Paul Haar introduced guests including his in-laws, Chevalier d’Honneur Lizhi Su and his wife, Yujie Wang. Paola and Warren Henslee soon discovered they had much in common with Dame de la Chaîne Maria Busalacchi.
Our second courses consisted of "Mapo" tofu with minced beef (absolutely the best in the Washington area), Chengdu spicy diced chicken, house-cured pork with sausage and garlic sprouts, and a tea smoked duck which was breaded and deep fried. Jon Harkavy commented to his wife, Dame de la Chaîne Louise Harkavy that he had been looking for a restaurant which made the Chengdu chicken, but until now had not been able to find it. The tea-smoked and deep fried duck was eaten with a soft house-made bun seasoned with hoisin sauce and cilantro. These amazingly elegant sandwiches were the topic of conversation as Chevalier Holcomb Thomas, Seyoung Thomas, and Joy Thomas enjoyed the contrasts in taste and texture of the bun and the duck. The house-cured pork was particularly delicious as Vice Chargée de Presse, Judith Mazza, Chevalier Tony Clifford and Allan Kam noted. Bill Assmann, resident "beer meister," introduced various beers throughout the evening. His discussion sharpened our appreciation for the varieties that we were enjoying.
As our dessert course consisting of crispy sweet taro rolls, pan-fried red bean paste cake and sesame rice balls with rice wine sauce were served, Chef Jin Pei and his staff made an appearance to a round of enthusiastic applause. Xiangnan Haar served as translator as we asked questions about how various dishes were made. She further explained that Chef Pei is the recipient of many prestigious awards in China.
It was agreed that the food served at this first Chaîne on the Edge event was the best, most authentic Chinese food that any of us had eaten in the United States. Sichuan Pavilion, a family run restaurant, modest in appearance, but vibrant and authentic, could not have done more to welcome us, or to create a banquet from the heart.