Monday, October 13, 2003
Delicious, Auspicious Dining at Chinatown's "House of Fortune"
And now for something entirely different. In October, the Chicago Bailliage had an adventurous, informal, and thoroughly delightful feast with an array of great dishes that could only be duplicated in China by traveling the length and breadth of that vast country. How much easier to have them prepared for us close to home in our own Chinatown!
Luxurious ingredients and labor-intensive preparations highlighted the Chinese banquet delicacies offered by owner Charlie Huang at his renowned restaurant, House of Fortune. The Chaîne wine wizards, guided by Vice-Echanson Manfred Raiser, then matched a subtle variety of wines to these dishes, with fascinating results. Indeed, fortune smiled on the surprising and delightful pairings as diners tried different combinations of wines with their shark fin soup, five-spice beef, a seafood roll of shrimp, scallop and squid rolled in rice paper, Peking duck, fresh Dungeness crab with pea pod leaves, crispy squabs, twin lobsters with ginger and scallion, Szechuan fish, fuzzy melon (really a kind of gourd) with exotic See Gwa (a kind of squash), wheat noodles stir-fried with yellow garlic chives, and finally a dessert of the most exotic cool and crunchy soup served in a coconut shell.
Among the wines available to be matched according to one’s fancy were: Cristalino Brut Cava NV, Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc Dog Point Marlborough 2002, Murphy Goode Fumé Blanc Reserve 1997, Firestone Gewurtztraminer Santa Barbara 1994, and Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 1982. For a more traditional accompaniment, there was also Tsing Tao Beer.
Chevalier Leonard Nowak gave the toast welcoming our guests, and then festivities got off to a rousing start with a grand cold cut plate that included squid, pickled cabbage, jelly fish with sesame oil, and crispy roast suckling pig. The classic contrasts of Chinese cuisine – of colors, textures and flavors - were most notable as we enjoyed elastic, slippery jelly fish along with the crunchy skin of the roast suckling pig and then the unique “mouthfeel” of the rarely-tasted shark’s fin. Its needle-like gelatinous protuberances come from the body of the fin and have only the most subtle flavor. All our senses were stimulated by the variety of dishes, served on a Lazy Susan family-style, as we tried first one and then another wine with each dish. Some opted to pair the sparkling wine with most of their dishes, while others tried each one in turn.
We all learned more about the philosophy of Chinese cuisine with its yin (cold) and yang (hot) dishes offered with attention to balance, contrast and harmony to create the ideal menu. We learned to pop the squab head in the mouth in one delicious bite. We were intrigued by the grande finale, the soup made from white fungus, olive-sized red dates, and crunchy lotus seeds - a real first for most of us. Many of the dishes we enjoyed are thought to have healing properties and to promote beauty so that their extra expense and the difficulties of preparation are indeed worth the special effort to produce such a rare dinner. We left feeling exhilarated, educated, a bit healthier, and most grateful to House of Fortune for a night of adventure and terrific fun.