Taking a page from the book of the (not-of-Irish-descent) friends of mine who celebrate with gusto each St. Patrick’s Day, I’m making merry this Chinese New Year.
The Houston Chinese community is hosting numerous festivities. But for a quieter, more relaxing —but just as delicious — way to ring in the Year of the Rooster, I suggest heading to Café Chino, which, starting at 6 p.m. on January 28, will be serving a three-course prix-fixe feast ($40 not including tax and gratuity) featuring traditional holiday dishes from different regions of China.
A media preview of the dinner revealed some particular standouts. I adored many of the appetizers inspired by the “Canton Hanging Market,” like the geographically contradictory albeit wonderfully textured Peking duck, and the succulent roasted pig strips that serve as a prime example of what amazing things can happen when fire meets porcine fat. Also remarkable were the juicy pork-and-chive dumplings, whose delicate, slightly irregular casings suggested they were hand-folded rather than externally sourced.
For the second course, diners have a choice of sesame crusted flounder, soft-shell crabs with sweet tomato sauce, orange beef, jalapeño-cashew chicken, and Bird’s Nest Delight (noodles with lobster, scallops, and shrimp). Café Chino does all the aforementioned dishes well, but excels when it comes to pescetarian fare; case in point, the flounder, delightfully flaky with buttery notes tempered by nuttier inflections from the sesame seed crust.
I’m also a broken record at this point when it comes to the restaurant’s soft-shell crabs for the delectable way in which the mildly sweet and spicy chile-tomato sauce lusciously coats the lacy, crisp crust of the battered crustacean. Seriously, you may want to take an order to go.
The seasonal egg custard tarts that rounded out our dinner weren’t the best I have ever had (that honor goes to the perfect ova pastries vended by Lord Stow’s Bakery in Macau) but the flaky crust that served as a well for the light egg filling made me happy. For a moment I felt more optimistic about 2017 than I have been in a long time.