Saturday, February 9, 2013

恭禧發財 Happy New Year!

Gung Hei Fat Choy!
Ancient Chinese wisdom says a snake is a good omen because it means that one's family will not starve. Not wishing to starve a group of us welcomed the Year of the Snake with a banquet of propitious dishes accompanied by an equally charmed range of wines. By the time I finished the final tenth course and drank enough wine to make the poet Li Bai (Li Po) proud, I staggered fulfilled out of the restaurant, walking beneath an almost moonless sky.

A trio of Champagnes accompanied our starters. The magnum of Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs NV was sharp and crisp, quite light, perfect to get the palate going for this feast. The next two Champs were more suitable with food. The 1996 Duval-Leroy, a Champagne house in the Cote des Blancs, had a beautiful crystalline purity with rich, nutty flavors; an elegant, classy wine. In contrast, the 1996 Lenoble Blanc de Blancs offered the broadest flavors. It struck me how fresh and youthful it still is.

Amusing Myself

Facing my wine, I did not see the dusk,
Falling blossoms have filled the folds of my clothes.
Drunk, I rise and approach the moon in the stream,
Birds are far off, people too are few

-Li Bai

The large surf clam, which occupied the entire plate, was probably my favorite dish of the night. It was a treat, steamed and flavored with ginger and scallion sauce. I enjoyed it even more with our bevy of Champagnes.

No respectable Chinese banquet should be without China's most famous dish: Peking Duck. Fat is good. As can be expected, this was delicious with the two red Burgundies.

Acquired by Maison Jadot in 1996, the venerable Chateau des Jacques is one of the great Beaujolais estates, with cellars dating back to the 16th century. Jadot revamped the cellars and, today, vinify the wines as they do in Beaune with their Cote d'Or wines. Long maceration in tanks at high temperature, punching down the caps, and pumping over as if it's a grand cru. The 2005 Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent had terrific concentration and was surprisingly youthful.

Domaine Francois Lamarche is an old Burgundy estate with some of the most glittering parcels in the heart of Vosne-Romanee. The 2003 Clos de Vougeot as one might suspect in this heatwave vintage was so dark and ripe, its flavors laced with violets and blueberries, hinting more of Syrah. There is good structure to keep aging it. I'm intrigued by how this Burgundy would evolve in 15 years.

Drinking in the Mountains

Mountain flowers open in our faces.
You and I are triply lost in wine.
I'm drunk, my friend, sleepy. Rise and go.
With your dawn lute, return, if you wish, and stay.

-Li Bai

Soup is one of the hallmarks of Cantonese cuisine. Delicacy, texture, and subtlety of flavors are prized, like in this crab and shark's fin soup.

Wrapped foods are so natural--using your hands instead of utensils--I'm sure they're one of the earliest forms of dishes. Minced squab in a lettuce cup: classic, simple Chinese; very delicious and always fun to eat.

Riesling and Gewurztraminer are always the two kinds of wine that people bring when going out for Chinese. To be honest, though I think they do go well with many Chinese dishes, I had refrained bringing them because the pairing got overdone. There are a lot of other wines out there that are beautiful to drink with Chinese food. But these days I return to these favorites. I see so many Chinese drinking almost exclusively big red wines, even with steamed fish!

A Vindication

If heaven loved not the wine,
A Wine Star would not be in heaven;
If earth loved not the wine,
The Wine Spring would not be on the earth.
Since heaven and earth love the wine,
Need a tippling mortal be ashamed?
The transparent wine, I hear,
Has the soothing virtue of a sage,
While the turgid is rich, they say,
As the fertile mind of the wise.
Both the sage and the wise were drinkers,
Why seek for peers among gods and goblins?
Three cups open the grand door to bliss;
Take a jugful, the universe is yours.
Such is the rapture of the wine,
That the sober shall never inherit.

- Li Bai

Braised abalone with black mushroom and bok choy, a holy trinity, sometimes sea cucumber is added to the medley. A dish rich in flavor and texture. It calls for the Alsatian. The rich, unctuous 2004 Domaine Ehrhart Hengst Gewurztraminer was utterly perfect with this dish.

What I also appreciated about our Chinese banquet was that the dishes were sliced and filleted ready to eat with utensils, then individually plated. I very much like this refinement, this bow to fine dining, which one rarely experiences when eating Chinese, or even at many restaurants these days. I call it the tyranny of the family style. Who wants to get just the remaining half-wing or the odd fish tail, or ruin the harmony and integrity of the dish?

The fillets of steamed black cod, sandwiched between slices of black mushroom was the most ethereal dish of the evening. It also arrived towards the end, after the seventh or eight course, when I felt like I can't possibly have any more room for another dish. And then this delicate thing comes along. And to help wash it down, the refreshing, equally ethereal 2009 Selbach-Oster Riesling Spatlese Graacher Domprobst.

 To finish the dinner, with the cold mango pudding, we drank a true California classic the fizzy, sweet Moscato Louis Martini Amabile. What a palate freshner! After ten courses I'm ready to start all over again.


Drinking, I sit,
Lost to Night
Keep falling petals
From the ground:
Get up to follow
The stream's white moon,
No sign of birds,
The humans gone

-Li Bai

Happy and fully sated, our fun little group welcoming the Year of the Snake. Gung Hei Fat Choy!

Remembering Li Po

Po in poetry is without equal;
Soaring, his thought is uncommon:
In pure freshness a Yu Kai-fu;
In surpassing excellence a Pao Ts'an-chun.
North of the Wei are spring trees;
East of the Kiang evening clouds.
 When with a jar of wine may we
Again closely argue about writing.

-Tu Fu


  1. Wish I was there
    Looks Like Ben, Mayon, Sandy, Jade and Lisa are happy!

    Jim Panfil

  2. Lovely. Looks like a grand feast! Thank you so much for posting those lovely Li Bai poems. I've copied them out as "keepers".

  3. Glad you all enjoyed the post.


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