Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bits & Morsels: Chinese New Year

Our happy and helpful waiter at Shun Lee Palace, Tom Chu, reminding us that special banquet menus are carefully composed for luck and prosperity. Shun Lee has been owned by Michael Tong for the past 40 years.
Chinese New Year celebrated four ways: Uptown, midtown, downtown, and Astoria, Queens.

Uptown: It was a very Gong Xi Fa Cai (Happy New Year) Saturday night at Doubles Club in The Sherry-Netherland in celebration of The Year of the Snake.

The Club's guiding light, Wendy Carduner, filled the ceilings with silken red macrome and Chinese red lanterns, and the room was aglow with vibrant red votive candles.

As guests arrived they were tempted by ginger margaritas and were later drawn to the 24' long 'IMPERIAL BUFFET'. Many who enjoyed the Lacquered Duck, Chinese Barbecue Pork, Spinach, Chicken and Shrimp Dim Sum, Snap Peas, Soy Beans and Pine Nuts and a sumptuous dessert table.
The 24' long 'IMPERIAL BUFFET' at Doubles.
Curried cauliflower, sesame cucumbers, sesame noodles, coconut black rice, snap peas, and more ....
Chinese dumplings.
Shrimp Dim Sum.
The sumptuous dessert table included white peach cake, banana cake, fresh fruit, cookies, and much more ...
Guests included Shanghai Social Diarist extraordinaire Jeanne Lawrence, Eleanora and Michael Kennedy, Denise and Andrew Saul, Bet and Peter Georgescu, Sheila and George Stephenson, Daisy Soros, Geoffrey Bradfield, Mark Gilbertson, Amy Hoadly, Melanie Seymour Holland, Patty and Ham Crawford, Sasha Leviant, Topper Mortimer, Lisa and Brian McCarthy, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Sasha MacNaughton, Philip Bigar, Cutty McGill (who was there to document), and the list goes on and on. The after-dinner-dancing did too!!!
Wendy Carduner with Peter and Barbara Georgescu. Geoffrey Bradfield and Jeanne Lawrence.
Barbara Georgescu, Mr. and Mrs. Garret, Daisy Soros, and Peter Georgescu.
Henry Buhl. Dahlia and Larry Leeds.
Angela Chen, Barnaby Conrad from SF, Jeanne Lawrence, Jennifer Gao, and Martha Sutherland Conrad (SF).
Michael Kennedy with Joan and John Jakobson.
Nancy Fowler and Jane Poole with friends.
John Jakobson, and Eleanora and Michael Kennedy.
Brian and Lisa McCarthy. Mary Conrad and Kari Tiedemann.
Sharon Handler Loeb, Jonathan Farkas, Yaz Hernandez, and Marjorie Reed Gordon.
Lucia Hwong Gordon and her mother. Peter and Marie-Regina Sotos.
Lisa Guida and Patty Crawford with friends.
Downtown (Erin Frankel in Chinatown reports): While the Chinese New Year is a time to reflect on the past year's virtues and fortune, for many others, it is a time to praise the heavenly bites of spare ribs and pork fried rice. In true New York fashion, many New Yorkers braved the snow to welcome the year of the snake with large, jubilant Chinese dinners on Saturday evening well into Sunday.

From top to bottom: Katz's pastrami spring rolls; Lo mein; Scallop hand roll and the pork potstickers; General Tso's chicken.
I celebrated the New Year on Saturday evening at the city's newest (and trendiest) Chinese restaurant, The General, and ended it on Sunday with the 20-year-old and counting Peking Duck House in the heart of Chinatown.

As the Bowery's sexiest Asian restaurant, The General was definitely in the running for attracting the most fashionable crowd on the eve of the New Year. The red-and-gold brocade wallpaper and candlelit lamps do make everyone look good.

With Top Chef winner Executive Chef Hung Huyn in the kitchen, EMM Group's well-orchestrated campaign of merging the best of nightlife with culinary excellence is working as planned.

On Huyn's menu you'll find all sorts of mega-twists on regional Chinese dishes, such as the the spicy scallop handroll with shallot, crispy tempura flakes with a light kabayaki sauce; the boneless BBQ Spare Ribs flavored with sesame, scallions, and a honey barbecue glaze; pork and cabbage potstickers; and even Reuben spring rolls filled with Lower East Side's staple Katz's pastrami mingled with kimchee, sweet mustard, and melted swiss and provolone cheese.

You will also find more familiar takes on American Chinese cuisine with Hung's signature fried rice with Chinese sausage, shrimp, and egg; lo mein; and a crispy General Tso's Chicken topped with broccoli and scallion in an atypically mild red chili vinegar.

The General
199 Bowery

On Sunday evening, the streets of Chinatown
were littered with remnants of fireworks, giant dragons, and orange peels (a symbol of good fortune for the New Year) from the the previous night's raucous celebration.

Scores of Chinese and American families waited on line for 45 minutes to feast at the Peking Duck House, a popular Chinatown gem rooted in simplicity, both in ambience and cuisine.

While the Chinese New Year is a time for reflection and celebration of new beginnings, it is also a holiday with a 15,000-year-history filled with superstition. And many Chinese New Year traditions involve using food to symbolize ideas, hopes, and wishes for the year ahead.
Hot and sour soup.
Pork soup.
Dumpling, spring roll, and beef.
Dumplings represent good fortune and prosperity ahead. Over the New Year, dumplings are boiled (otherwise known as jiaozi) and filled with vegetables like spring onion and cabbage, while flavored with shrimp or pork. Historically, a coin is to be concealed in preparation of one of the six dumplings. If the person who discovers it doesn't chip his/her tooth, he/she is presumed to have a lucky year.

Noodles, when served during the New Year, are not broken into pieces. Rather, long noodles are served, symbolizing a long life ahead.

Chicken is emblematic of the family and represents closeness and unity, as a cohesive group and rebirth.
Chicken and broccoli.
Lo mein.
Shrimp and vegetables in garlic sauce.
Vegetables are placed in nearly every dish to symbolize extra good fortune. In particular, the use of bamboo shoots for longevity and strength, lotus seeds for fertility, and black moss for wealth.

The Peking Duck.
An age-old Beijing tradition, this decadent dish is served on special occasions to symbolize conjugal fertility. The amber-red color of the duck also brings happiness and luck to the celebration ahead. If served with the head and feet on, the roasted bird also represents the Chinese New Year's loyalty to images of wholeness.

The Peking Duck House, in particular, is loved for its duck's crisp skin and moist meat, skillfully carved and placed into pancakes with scallions and rich hoisin sauce.

Peking Duck House
28 Mott St
Peking duck, ready for wraps.
Preparing Peking duck wraps.
Peking duck wrap.
Gary Wong in Astoria, Queens, reports: Chinese New Year 2013, the Year of the Snake, began on Sunday, February 10. But for most, the celebration began the night before. Chinese New Year's Eve is highlighted by a dinner which is traditionally a family (and friends of the family) affair known as the reunion dinner.

With plenty of guests descending upon the lucky hosts' home, it's a good thing they'll have likely given it the thorough ritual cleaning that is said to rid them of bad luck of the past year and usher in the good of the new year.
Tangerines. In Chinese, the word sounds like the one for "gold". The leaves symbolize longevity.
The reunion dinner is, unsurprisingly, not without some symbolism attached to it. A lot of what is consumed during that meal contain elements that are considered to bring great luck and fortune. Whole fish and whole chicken are prevalent with the former symbolizing prosperity and the latter, happiness.

The meal is also an excuse for the host to really let it all out and spare no expense such as in the use of scarce ingredients like abalone or "fat choy", a black hair-like algae (it sound worse than it actually is and the term "fat choy" means prosperity so it can't be all too bad). Pork, usually of the whole roast pig variety, is commonplace as is some kind of seafood. But it's ultimately the family's traditions, cultivated over generations, that shape the reunion dinner.
The reunion dinner meal in its entirety.
Our family's reunion dinner this year, as it has been for as long as I can remember, took place at my parents' home. It was a smaller affair than in year's past with just my parents, my brother and his girlfriend (our grandparents chose not to make the trek to an outer borough).

As the years between my childhood and the present grow larger with family members moving on to different locales, a reunion dinner at the childhood home gains greater poignancy, especially this year as this is likely my brother's last for some time (he's moving out of state in the next few months). Despite the smaller numbers this year, our parents still managed to cook up a wonderful meal that hit a lot of the elements in the traditional meal (less people equals more for the rest of us, I say).
Chopped portion of a whole roast pig.
Whole chicken.
Shrimp and broccoli.
Pork tongue, pork shank, dried shiitake mushroom, dried oysters and fat choy.
Assorted pastries and chocolates.
The next day being Chinese New Year is a chance for family members and friends to gather for a meal, especially if they missed out on dinner the previous night. It's not uncommon in Flushing (or any Chinatown) to see just about every dim sum restaurant with throngs of people waiting a lengthy amount of time to be seated. Unfortunately, that's the sort of thing that can't be helped as just about every Chinese person is looking to grab dim sum at roughly the same time. Maybe if you're lucky enough, you'll get to witness the local dragon dance troupe stop in along their appointed route; it, of course, is said to bring good luck to people.

If waiting's not your thing, then dumplings are the answer. Their shape, reminiscent of silver and gold ingots, also signify wealth and prosperity — plus, they're quite tasty. There's no shortage of places in Flushing to find dumplings, not to mention the different varieties of dumplings to be found. Sadly, the wait at some rival that of the more poplar dim sum restaurants, but at least there's options aplenty.
Chinese New Year decorations.
The wait for dim sum.
The answer: Dumplings.
And more dumplings.
Dragon Dance drummers.
The dance.
Gail Karr in midtown reports: Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night shall keep my family from our traditional Sunday night Chinese New Year's celebration at Shun Lee Palace on East 55th Street.

When Dennis, Nicky and I walked in for our 7 p.m. dinner reservation, the dining room was packed and abuzz from a high energy level of festivity.
Festive Holiday decorations at Shun Lee ...
Group Banquet in the Shun Lee Room.
Those born in "The Year of The Snake" (1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) are said to be charming in personality and elegant in dress; a sceptic and deep thinker who likes to judge by intuition. And one who is fortunate in wealth throughout life!

Firecrackers herald the New Year. Lions dance in Chinatown. Debts are paid. Family ties are renewed and ancestors remembered.

Shun Lee Palace
155 East 55th Street
Wonton chips with spicy mustard, duck sauce.
Crispy Beijing Duck pancake.
Longevity Langoustine Cantonese, Two Flavor Sea Bass.
Prosperity Szechuan Dumplings, Baby Back Rib Wuxi Style, Poached Scallop on Black bean sauce.
Venison with Roast chestnuts in a Hot Pepper Sauce.
Lobster Hong Kong Style (on bed of Crispy Noodles).
Oolong Tea and fortune cookies.