The Chinese Lunar New Year may not be until January 26, but thanks to my friends Angela and Humphrey Chang (she is a cookbook author, see my post of July 27), we celebrated the Western New Year with Chinese food.
Up Route 27 we went on a frigid and windy night, to the cozy Szechuan Ace restaurant in Somerset. I reviewed them a few years ago and they are still one of the best in the area. Of special note here, besides the quality of the food, is that you can order small portions of most of the vegetable dishes. In other Chinese restaurants you have to order entrée-size portions, which often deters me from ordering vegetables.
We were a party of four, including Esther, a friend of Angela’s from her memoir writing class. Esther had not been on one of the Chang’s culinary “excursions” previously, and little dreamed what a treat awaited her, so I urged her to let our knowledgeable hosts order for us.
We started with complementary spicy marinated broccoli stems. Then we ordered two soups, mild Dumpling and pungent Seafood Hot & Sour. The little shrimp you see in the photo of the latter, are barely cooked, so nice and juicy.
I had to have a small bowl of Wonton in Hot Oil, a favorite of mine, but I was so eager that the bowl was half empty by the time I remembered to take the photo. The outstanding dumplings and wontons at Szechuan Ace are made with very thin, delicate wrappers.
Our four entrées had something for everyone. Soft, mild, tofu with baby shrimp was soothing comfort food. The Tea Smoked Duck (photo) was flavorful and ham-like from the smoking. Whole Pan Fried Flounder was quickly stripped to the bones and served (I did the honors), and the stir-fried Beef with Pickled Long Beans was extremely pungent, even before Humphrey sent it back to have more hot chilies added.
Humphrey puts me to shame in the spicy food department, but explained that just a little of this should be eaten with a whole bowl of rice, so the pickle and heat are more of a condiment to the rice.
One bite, even before the hot chilies were added, and my eyes were already watering! Woo hoo!
Lastly, back at the Chang’s house, we enjoyed champagne and delicious petit hazelnut cookies Angela, a woman of many, many talents, had made. Happy New Year!
Faith, can I say “ditto” to this article. Having had the pleasure to share the evening with you, Angela and Humphrey, I want to add my hurrahs to the food, the company, and the hospitality. I am new to your writing and I must say your photos and descriptions so aptly convey the taste and triumph of the evening. HAPPY NEW YEAR to our Chinese friends and thank you to you for synthesizing a perfect memory. Esther LaFranco
Pingback: NJ SPICE » Xin Nian Kuai Le!