August 23, 2006

shrimp fried in a mayonnaise crust can fix just about any day

I am in Cupertino, California, which is a horrifying wasteland of strip malls and concrete, and frankly the circumstances of my arriving here were more than a little frantic, with multiple cell phone calls at the same time and rental car counters without any cars and general mayhem. So it was most gratifying to finally meet up with MissLudmilla for dinner and chow down on some high-quality west coast chinese food.

Which is in and of itself a saga of some magnitude -- I'd read an article some years back in one of the food rags about a constellation of fantastically great Chinese restaurants tucked away in the strip malls of Silicon Valley, and at the time I'd thought, damn, I'd really love to eat in some of those restaurants, but when the heck will i ever be in Silicon Valley? Lo and behold, I finally get sent to a client site out here, but I can't dig up the damn article ANYWHERE. I enlisted my Bay Area food minions, and the power librarians at the Chicago Public Library, and some searches of Google and Epicurious, all to no avail. Finally I went nuclear on the situation and called up the editorial offices of Gourmet Magazine and left a message on their generic voicemail box. Within an hour, the article was on my fax machine. Hot damn.

We chose a strip mall here in Cupertino, since it had a wide selection of options and happened to be right around the corner, a bonus since we were both ravenous and it was already 8pm. After casing the place -- and deciding that I need to go to Porridge Place for lunch one of the days I am here for congee, yum -- we settled on Joy Luck Place, for two reasons. 1) it was full of chinese people who seemed happy, and 2) it served shrimps with mayonnaise and walnuts, a dish that has fascinated me with its transcendent unlikeliness since I first heard of it, though I've never had a chance to try it. (The place also serves Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, but you have to order in advance for that.)

The shrimps were awesome. Big sweet fresh shrimps, coated with mayonnaise, dusted with cornstarch and deep fried. Yum. The walnuts were only lightly sweetened, with a dusty nutty taste to them that was very pleasant, and nice with the shrimps or alone. A completely insane set of ingredients to combine, and yet it totally works. MissLudmilla said it was one of the nicest versions of the dish she'd had, more subtle and less goopily sweet than many, so bonus for us.

We also got some beef in XO sauce with enoki & button mushrooms, which was fine, some mustard green with a bland sauce and some shreds of delicious Yunnan ham, and an appetizer plate of lusciously fatty roast duck with perfectly crisped skin and a pile of slightly sweetened beans of some sort, maybe adzuki. There are all sorts of classic luxury foods on the menu, including a whole section of shark fin dishes, not least of them a $50 soup of shark fin and abalone, and the place did seem to be full of people in the market for celebratory and/or showy dishes -- we were totally out of place with our elbows on the table and casual conversation, but it was late enough in the evening that we didn't cause any trouble, and the staff pretty much started cleaning up around us as we finished up.

The shrimps are fantastic and worth the trip. The boiled spiced peanuts that arrive as amuse bouche are also pretty addictive, so watch out. The rest of the dishes were merely good, but after the wastelands of Chicago's chinese cuisine, merely good is fine eating indeed.

10893 N Wolfe Road, Cupertino

Posted by foodnerd at August 23, 2006 01:46 AM
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