Hangzhou pt 2: Feast at 龙井草堂

Hi!! As promised, I’m back to share our epic Hangzhou eats. So, let’s get going!

Normally, nice dinner in Hangzhou mean a stop at 山外山 (shan wai shan) for some unforgettable fish head soup or the centuries old lakeside classic 楼外楼 (lou wai lou). Well, our hosts went far above and beyond and treated us to an epic meal  feast at one of Hangzhou’s most exclusive restaurants: 龙井草堂

龙井草堂 (Longjing Cao Tang)

龙井草堂 roughly translates to Longjing Straw Hall. “Straw Hall” is a euphemism for peasant hut, but this restaurant is about as peasant as Beverly  Hills.

The restaurant is a 300 year old former manor house located in a beautiful mountain garden in the heart of Longjing (tea central). Instead of the normal “show up and sit” restaurant, it consists entirely of reservation only private rooms, each with at least one specially designated server.

Food

龙井草堂 serves elevated traditional Hangzhou classics. Each dish is made from seasonal organic vegetables mostly grown on the premises and comes with a special stories. Talk about the good stuff!

Unfamiliar with Hangzhou cuisine? Don’t worry, the menus are set based on the number of people in the party, so no food regret here! With that said, let’s eat!

Starters

Fresh Soy-milk- It’s customary to start a feast with something light to stimulate the appetite. 龙井草堂 opened our appetites with a bowl of fresh soy milk. I’m not a fan of soy milk, but this bowl was something special. The nutty aroma and velvety texture was just what I needed to start the meal.

8 Types of Appetizers- No meal is complete without a cold dish or two. Well, the restaurant gave us 8 (literally one for each person). Most were good and extremely fresh, but nothing special. However, the fried ribbon fish, chili- oil okra and sugar marinated tomatoes really hit the right notes

Soups

Gold and Silver Stewed Ducks- This soup is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that impressive, but don’t be fooled. The ducks are stewed for nearly 6 hours with an incredible array of herbs and mushrooms to produce the most aromatic and delicate broth possible. Despite having been stewed for hours, the meat was incredibly tender and retained just enough of duck’s natural gaminess to enhance depth of flavor

Soft Shell Turtle and Chicken Soup- This dish is a luxury classic. Soft shelled turtle is rich with a slight touch of meat- like gaminess. The lightness of chicken transforms the distinctive flavor into a clean umami. The soup was amazing, but not too special. The flavors were on point and the meat was fresh and perfectly tender; however, it wasn’t that much better than the soup we make at home.

“No Named Hero”- “No Name Hero” is actually  carp soup. But, before the slices of carp go in,  the chef makes an incredibly rich fish broth by stewing 3-4 smaller river fish until they literally dissolve. These “no- named heroes” sacrifice their entire existence to create the incredible depth of flavor in each mind-blowing bowl (I had 3). The carp itself was beyond fresh and was not only  tender, but slightly bouncy, giving a nice texture. This was probably my favorite dish of the entire night

Meats

Stir-fried Chicken with Chestnuts- This is a very homestyle dish that the restaurant elevated by sheer quality of ingredients. Chestnuts are associated with winter, but young chestnuts are just beginning to mature now. Unlike winter chestnuts, young chestnuts are more nutty than starchy, which adds takes the natural fragrance of chicken to another level.

Braised Wild River Eels- The rivers around Zhejiang used to be teeming with delicious river eel, but these days, it’s a rare delicacy. Braising brings out the delicacy of the meat while enhancing the natural umami. This dish rocked. The meat was not only fresh and delicate but borderline silky. The sauce was thick, but not overwhelming- just perfect

Red Braised Pork with Bamboo Shoots- To be honest, I’m not a fan of red braised pork. It’s usually overwhelmingly sweet and oily. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The belly itself had quite a nice meat to fat ratio and a almost silken texture- a testament to the quality. More importantly, the flavor was perfectly balanced and the textural contrast from the bamboo shoots helped cut the sweet richness

Stir Fried River Shrimp- This is another Zhejiang classic. It’s a simple dish, but one that’s pretty much impossible to master. The key is getting the freshest prawns possible, then controlling the heat perfectly because these guys overcook in literally a second. Well, 龙井草堂 nailed both. …. and I thought Shanghai Min did a good job…..

Scallion Scrambled Egg- This is probably the most self explanatory dish on the menu- Literally scrambled eggs with some scallion. While the eggs and scallions themselves were out of this world, this dish is honestly nothing special. Like most restaurant scrambled eggs, they were WAY too oily.

Veggies

“Worth It”- This is another standout dish with a story.  The dish itself seems quite simple- lettuce hearts cooked in soup with mushrooms and shrimp. However, to get that 300g of lettuce hearts, the restaurant picks through an entire kilo of lettuce. Yeah, the dish is deemed “worth” the 70% waste rate. So, was it? Definitely. The lettuce hearts were tender but retained a bit of crunch. More importantly, they soaked up the umami- filled aromatic broth. Even my brother and his friend went back for multiple servings.

Vegetarian DongPo- DongPo red braised pork belly is a must try Zhejiang dish. So, what about the vegetarians? Well, 龙井草堂 has the answer. Vegetarian DongPo. This dish is a braised winter melon in a gravy sauce that’s sliced to look like the meaty classic. Personally, I think it tastes better. It has the same rich depth of flavor as traditional DongPo pork belly without the overwhelming oily sweetness.

Stir Fried Lilly Bulb with Ginko- Lilly bulbs are in season right now, so guess what’s on the menu. Both lilly bulbs and ginko nuts have a cooling effect, making them perfect for the heat of summer. Unfortunately, both can be quite bitter and texturally off-putting. Not this dish. The lilly bulb was light and refreshing while the ginko added a very delicious pop. This was the perfect palate cleanser after some umami overload

Dessert

Stewed Pear with Peach jelly- Stewed pears with rock sugar or a touch of honey is a classic and comforting dessert/home remedy. 龙井草堂 upgrades this family staple by adding in peach jelly (a special type of preserved sap) stewed for hours and floral extracts for a touch of luxurious fragrance. This was the perfect and light finish to a very large, satisfying meal

Yeah, that’s a lot of food!

Service and Atmosphere

Private room in a garden + private service staff= unbeatable service and atmosphere

This is definitely a restaurant worth going to whether to impress guests or to treat the family to an unforgettable Hangzhou experience. Definitely a must go

Well, that’s it for this amazing trip. Tomorrow, I head to Claremont for some last minute college visits. I’ll be back with some exciting updates! Until then, Bye!

One thought on “Hangzhou pt 2: Feast at 龙井草堂

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