Fish slsjrf

Start the New Year with a whole fish.

Image: Wyatt Dowling

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.

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The "Canton Hanging Market," not hanging anymore.

Image: Wyatt Dowling

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.

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Egg custard tarts are a sweet start to the Year of the Rooster.

Image: Wyatt Dowling

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.

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