Alvin Garden – The Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine – Part I – Hunan
A couple of weeks ago I wrote of a meal at the Lower Mainland’s preeminent Hunan restaurant, Alvin Garden. This venue had been chosen as the kick-off of a series of dinners to discover the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine. Ben from Chowtimes and his team of Chinese food-lovers have set a course to more fully understand regional Chinese fare. On this day, Ben has invited several dozen of his loyal readers to begin a unique journey of culinary discovery.
As was stated in my previous post on Alvin Garden, their presentation of Hunan cuisine is uncompromising and authentic. They offer up their fare the way it was meant to be. That being said, certain elements of this evening’s menu seemed to have had the heat turned down a couple of notches…the fiery intensity I experienced a week prior wasn’t quite there. That is, of course, my personal opinion. I’m sure many fellow diners had as much heat as they could handle!
This is an amazing menu. An excellent variety of flavors, textures and cooking styles.
My main reason for quibbling about the heat was the very first dish. Last week, these Hunan Pickles (above, left) almost knocked me off my chair! Today they were categorized as “mild”. Sigh. The Spicy Dried Bean Stick with Celery (above, right) was about the same heat level but packed a whallop of flavor. This plate was a delicious, cool & crunchy start for the onslaught to come!
The Pork Heart with Five Spices (above, left) was the same as last week except it is now dipped in gold! In the week between my two meals here, this dish won Gold for best appetizer at the 2010 Chinese Restaurant Awards. It’s not my cup of oolong but neither was the Spicy Pork Ear (above, right). Although thinly sliced, these were still a tad too chewy. Perhaps someday I’ll start to appreciate the finer points of porcine organ and appendage gastronomy.
As if that Gold wasn’t good enough, Alvin Garden won the Silver in the Duck category for their Tea-smoked Duck. This was by far the most flavorful duck I’ve ever tasted. Having to share this with the other twelve folks at my table wasn’t easy!
A really cool perk was the “sponsorship” by Zhu Jiang Beer. They offered their refreshing beverage for a mere $2.50 a bottle.
The soup course wasn’t mentioned on the menu. It’s essentially a pork-based, assorted vegetable soup that, we’re told, was steeped for three hours.
The Hunan Braised Pork is pretty much my favorite dish at Alvin Garden. Check out my previous review for a description.
Chicken with Hunan Chili and Vinegar. This was another dish the lacked the fire of Hunan cuisine but made up for it in flavor. Namely, a nice vinegary tang and a good hit of ginger. As with some Hunanese food, there was a bunch of bone and not so much meat. Another dish with major boniness was the Steamed Ling Cod Head.
By the looks of things, this should be some fiery fish. The chilies are actually more on the sour side and the salty black beans offered a nice contrast. Unfortunately, the many, tiny bones make this delicious dish a bit difficult to enjoy.
Donting Boiled Fish in Chili Soup. The joke around the table was this should be called “Daunting Boiled Fish” (lol). It was, to me, the spiciest of all. Tender chunks of whitefish happily swimming in a scary bath of chili oil, laden with a mass of mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorns. This made me happy.
All told, this was one heck of a dinner…a real culinary adventure (and at $20 a head, tax & tip included, the deal of a century!!). Once Ben told me of the Eight Great Traditions I started to do a bit of my own research. It became apparent very quickly how much diversity and untapped ground there is to cover in this vast cuisine. If you’d like to explore it for yourself, I recommend these pages:
Also, here are some other blog posts on this evening’s dinner:
Chowtimes by Ben
Chowhound by fmed
Vancouver Slop by Joe
My Secret Eden by Jenny