March 01, 2006

moon palace & making friends

There don't seem to be too many food bloggers in Chicago, for whatever reason, but one whose blog I like a lot does live here, or at least occasionally she lives here, and last week I reached out of my usual reclusive misanthropic shell and met up with my first real live food blogger, Cindy from foodmigration. She's awesome, and we made friends (yay!), and selflessly *ahem* explored the shanghainese offerings of Moon Palace, the only place I've been able to dig up that has anything on the menu remotely resembling what I've gotten used to at Wing's in Boston.

We had xiao long bao, soup dumplings, which were delicious -- they are bigger than usual, with a thicker wrapping, and with way more meat than soup, so they're not in contention with top-notch soup dumplings, but they taste good and frankly a tasty nonstandard soup dumpling is better than no soup dumpling at all. Cindy'd never had any xiao long bao, and she loved these, so I can't wait for her to get out to California and have soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles. (WATCH OUT: The link plays music. Sigh.) She in for a TREAT. :-)

The dumplings were the starter, along with some spare ribs steamed in spicy black bean sauce wrapped in a lotus leaf -- good, but in no way spicy. We were distracted by trying to get to know each other and cross-examine the menu at the same time, but eventually we got ourselves sorted out enough to order more dishes.

We'd heard that Moon Palace had a braised pork shoulder, and from the photos on LTHforum it looked a lot like the dish at Wing's that I call Pork As Big As Your Head. We ordered that, which Moon Palace calls braised pork thigh, along with rice cakes with pickled vegetable and bamboo shoots, and some clearly fried shrimp. The shrimp weren't on the menu, and I had to try and explain what I wanted because I couldn't remember the chinese words for it, but once we had established that the dish i was after was a) free of vegetables, b) not spicy, c) sauteed, and d) in a clear sauce, they knew what I wanted and told me i could have it. Yay! Cindy'd never had rice cakes, either, so I was thrilled to share my love for the chewy white pucks of joy, along with my recipe for cooking them with kimchi. Heh. The pucks here were delish, in a yummy dish of pickled salty veg, bamboo shoot slices, and pork, because no vegetarian dish is complete without pork, right? And the clearly fried shrimp were good too. The shrimps are regular shrimp, bigger than the special type of shrimp that you get on a good day at Wing's and every day at Mandarin Chateau, and the sauce is somehow thicker and more visible, but I ain't complaining -- they were yummy. Tallasiandude says that I've been spoiled by starting out with the creme de la creme of the dish, and that most other versions of clearly fried shrimps come with that thicker sauce.

And the pork as big as your head? Perhaps not quite as big as my head, and it didn't fall off the bone as soon as you glance at it sideways, but it was succulent and fatty and full of that lovely brown savory sauce, and we both liked it very much. Cindy had just made a big pot of veal stock and wasn't up for more along the same lines, so I took the bone home and am going to make soup out of it, probably this weekend. (which i did - here's a picture of it:)

pork mushroom noodle soup

So it still remains to be seen if Moon Palace passes the tallasiandude test, but so far it's the best there is in these parts, and I will definitely go back -- sometimes a girl just has to have soup dumplings and rice pucks and a big braised brown pork shoulder. And it's nice to have a new friend in Chicago. :-)

[photos are coming -- camera pictures are hard b/c sometimes my download tool doesn't work, and i am too cheap to pay 25 cents or whatever per picture.]

Posted by foodnerd at March 1, 2006 06:13 PM
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