Monday, October 17, 2011

I Know What You're Thinking…

not more Chinese food! First all they write about is pizza. Now it’s Chinese. But Chuck’s photos of our two return visits to the Ginger Café are so good that I had to put them to use.

As our stay in San Juan Bautista got extended--and extended--and extended due to work on the truck, we needed ways to productively use this time. What better way than food?

On our first return, we again ordered from the dim sum menu starting with a repeat of the Minced Chicken Lettuce Cups. If possible, these were even better than at our meal a few days earlier. The chicken seemed moister and the seasonings seemed brighter. I do so need to learn to make these and have “Goggled” a number of recipes—most of which call for using ground chicken, turkey, or pork instead of finely chopped meat. But I don't think that ground meat would produce the same effect. I hope that I can match the Ginger Café’s approach by thinly slicing the raw chicken breasts and then freezing the strips on a plate for an hour before chopping. Sometime I’ll have to let you know how this turns out.

Next to the table was an order of Pan Fried Leek Dumplings. The kitchen takes chopped leeks and shrimp, mixes them with a small amount of pork fat (for both moisture and flavor), and then wraps this mixture in a wheat starch skin. I have never encountered anything like these anywhere else. The mild, refined, subtle, and sweet flavor of the leeks combined with the equally sweet and fresh flavor of the shrimp made for a satisfying appetizer.

Next came the Shanghai Dumplings filled with pork, ginger, and scallions. These were impeccably made with tender skins encasing the pork/ginger/scallion mixture but the accompanying soy-based dipping sauce was far too sweet for our taste.

And then came the plate that “stole the show”—the Shrimp and Calamari on Fried Crackers. The plate came with six of these tasty little morsels of goodness that represented all that I love about food. On top of the fried rice crackers sat a mix of chopped tender calamari, mint, cilantro, chilies, and onion that had been gently touched with lime juice And on top sat a picture perfect small juicy shrimp. All I can say is “WOW!”

So good were these that two days later we again ordered them as our lunch starter.

So we are back again and this time we are seated in the small and much more informal front room with its small bar and banquette along one wall. On this visit, we decided to share, along with the Shrimp and Calamari on Fried Crackers, two lunch plates which included the soup of the day—beef egg drop. Now I know that this probably looks like a bowl of dishwater but it was surprisingly flavorful with bits of beef and scallion along with egg threads in a mild beef broth. I certainly enjoyed this more than the egg drop soups we have recently encountered.

One lunch plate was the crispy chicken sautéed with sweet garlic chili sauce and garnished with chopped scallions and sesame seeds. This was a close relative to sesame chicken in which boned, battered, and deep-fried chicken pieces are dressed with a translucent, reddish-brown, semi-thick, sauce made from corn starch, vinegar, wine or Sake, chicken broth, and sugar. Well, think sesame chicken kicked up, as Emeril Lagasse would say, “notches unknown to mankind.”

And the slightly sweet flavor of my dish proved to be the perfect foil to Chuck’s—the Dry Sautéed String Bean Chicken in bean sauce. We had these last year and they still are one of my favorite renditions of this dish by which I judge the quality of any Chinese restaurant. The beans are cooked just until they are no longer raw but are still crisp and the texture is balanced by the softer tender chicken strips. The two lunch specials were the perfect combination to share and we liberally grabbed food from each others plates.

We have never had a bad meal or bad dish at this 5.0 Addie café and the Ginger Café in Gilroy, California, remains one of our favorite Asian restaurants anywhere.

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