Table For Ten
My name is Daniel, and I’m addicted to buffalo tater tots. Really, the problem is with “buffalo” anything. And it’s hard to call it a problem when buffalo wing sauce so delicious.
Usually, the day after the Super Bowl I want nothing more to do with buffalo sauce or blue cheese dip for a long long time. But this year I introduced something new into the mix, and unexpectedly pushed the buffalo tots right out into next week.
That was never the plan.
So last night after getting home from the Proctor’s Bash, I cooked up a sheet of tots and whisked up a batch of buffalo sauce. I don’t know why it never occurred to me in the past to use a pinch of dry mustard to help the emulsion, but I did, and the sauce came out beautifully. And that smoked blue cheese dressing I made yesterday is slamming.
Then I proceeded to eat them alone, like an addict.
While I have no problem eating alone, there are other times when it’s more fun to eat with others. And in all the excitement around Super Bowl weekend, I neglected to share the story about bringing a bunch of bloggers to a banquet.
It feels like a million years ago, but at some point I put together a special FLB banquet at Ala Shanghai for 20 people. To make that happen, I worked closely with Lanny and his chef to assemble a series of traditional Shanghaiese dishes that delivered on a variety of flavors and textures over the course of the meal.
Man, that was a lot of fun.
For those who are less hands on, Ala Shanghai occasionally produces its own multi-course banquets. I say occasionally, because last year for the Chinese New Year, the restaurant only came up with special dishes for the holiday. However this year, the multi-course banquet returned.
When I read the menu for ten people, I was inspired to see if I could rally some of the other local food bloggers, writers, and instagrammers to join me for the feast.
In the end, we got Crumbs Around the Capital, Burnt My Fingers, I Like Food, Chopsticks Optional, Under the Copper Tree, Kimversations, capitalregioneeeats, and the_mademoiselles. Melinda has a bunch of pictures from the meal and thoughts on the experience up on her blog, so I’ll supplement that here.
What I love most about these banquets is the flow of the meal. They always start off with a variety of cold appetizers, all of which are on Ala Shanghai’s regular menu. All the same, many of these were new to those around the table.
Starting from the top right and moving clockwise, that’s spicy cabbage, marinated dough, jellyfish, aster salad with dried tofu, smoked fish, with cold sliced beef in the center.
These are delicious. The marinated dough was a favorite of many, with its almost meaty consistency and deep flavor, it’s hard to believe that these juicy tender nuggets started life as flour and water. This was also the first time a few people at the table had jellyfish, which isn’t slimy at all, and tastes more like a light and refreshing sesame noodle than anything that might have been plucked from the water.
After the appetizers comes the soup. In this case it was pork with capsella and mushrooms.
The first main dish to come out was the remarkably delicate scallop with shrimp and asparagus. And I’m glad that came out on its own, so we could appreciate the lightness of the dish.
Because once that was done, a torrent of food arrived. Fried fish with grape sauce, stewed pork shoulder in brown sauce, spicy shrimp with rice cakes, French horn mushrooms with snow peas, and a giant clay pot called “Grandma’s Bowl” which was filled with fish cake, shrimp, fish, cabbage, and mushrooms.
If that wasn’t enough, after we had some more room on the table, we were brought a whole steamed flounder. Just in case we had not eaten ourselves silly by this point, the savory part of the feast concluded with a massive mound of fried rice, and a giant platter of lo mein.
Finally, dessert arrived, and for us it was sweet soup with tiny rice balls. I’m a fan of this delicately sweet and deeply comforting dish. But I don’t have a big sweet tooth, and I love rice. Certainly, not everyone loves this. My favorite dessert at Ala Shanghai is probably the chrysanthemum jelly with goji berries. That’s always a light and refreshing way to end a heavy meal.
The range of flavors presented over the course of this meal were extraordinary. And this is something you can only do with a large group of people. Oh yeah, and the whole thing all told, came to just $35 per person.
Sure, I will occasionally go to Ala Shanghai for lunch. And I’ve been there for dinner with Mrs. Fussy. But it always feels like a tragedy to arrive with fewer than four people, because there are so many wonderful dishes to try.
Maybe one of these days, I’ll motivate once again to put together an outing for readers of the FLB. I know Steve N. is setting up a Yelp outing to sample the dim sum offerings in the relatively near future, and that will be open to anyone interested in joining.
Or, you know, you could send an email to Ala Shanghai yourself to set up a banquet all on your own. They may not be able to make the Chinese New Year specials any more, but I’m sure the crew there will have other dishes to surprise and delight the adventurous.