Where Soul Food Meets Soul Train
On March 3, ASNC held the latest in its long-running Off the Menu dinner series: an all-Hakka feast with the globe-trotting chef Martin Yan and Hakka chef/writer Linda Lau Anusasananan. Linda’s prize-winning The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from around the World was the inspiration for the sold-out dinner, which featured both classic dishes and contemporary renditions of Hakka cuisine. Martin’s restaurant, M.Y. China, was the generous host of the one-of-a-kind evening.
The dinner started with a melt-in your-mouth Hakka classic: impossibly tender Pork Belly and preserved Mui Choi (mustard greens), served in individual clay pots. These were followed by an unusual take on bitter melon: usually served cooked and stuffed, the melon was blanched, chilled, sliced paper thin, and served with a wasabi-cream sauce. The dish served as a bracing, elegant palate cleanser after the meat explosion of the pork belly.
The rest of the dinner was family style, with each dish served on heaping platters. First came a classically prepared Salt-Baked Chicken, a labor-intensive, multi-day endeavor that is rarely offered in U.S. restaurants. I’ve had chicken that was more tender–-the roast chicken at San Francisco’s Zuni Café sets the standard–-but never one with more flavor. Each mouthful brought a concentrated chicken goodness that was, yes, salty -- each chicken is cooked in ten pounds of rock salt -- but in a smooth, powerful, umami-rich way that made it the evening’s standout. The M.Y. China team took no shortcuts on this famous dish and it showed.
The chicken was followed by a spicy, crowd-pleasing Cumin Kobe Beef–the creation of Hakka chefs from India who incorporated local spices into their Hakka traditions-and delicate Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with a Chinese wine sauce.
M.Y. China ended the meal with Almond Royale with Ginger Syrup – not Hakka, but a sophisticated take on a Chinese classic.
Wines were donated by Hanson Li of the Hina Group and the two-Michelin-starred Saison Restaurant, with a 2010 Barrel Club Estate Syrah the audience favorite. Donated Tito’s Handmade Vodka was used to make the Hakka Blossom, a one-night-only signature cocktail for the dinner.
By the end of the evening, what had started as a fairly staid dinner morphed into a party. Guests abandoned their seats to mingle with new friends, exchange numbers, and take group photos with the irrepressible Chef Yan at the center. M.Y. China’s line chefs, led by Executive Chef Tony Wu, came out from the kitchen with their hand-pulled noodles. The party closed -– as all parties should –- as the line chefs, led by Chef Wu, turned the space into a dance floor, dancing and stretching their hand-pulled noodles to the beat of Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”