In summer 2011, I ate at China Village once per a friend’s recommendation and was not super impressed (like I ever). Then it burned down in early 2012 (so did Intermezzo and a few other restaurants on Telegraph which I also visited in summer 2011…) and I hardly missed it. A few days ago, Cheryl and Eric called me up, “We’re going to that restaurant on Solano I told you about, wanna come?” I thought Cheryl told me about some dimsum place in Albany… “Sure!” Turns out it was China Village. (Now I wonder if she ever mentioned a dimsum place at all…)
Although China Village does have dimsum, it’s not a place to order dimsum. It is known for Szechuan food – spicy, oily, rich and usually a combination of all three. The menu has a gazillion items, and your experience definitely depends on what you order. Not everything is a wow (as clearly indicated by my first visit, and by names such as “classic sweet and sour pork with pineapple”[*]). Ask the waiter for recommendation.
Usually, I ask the waiters just for kicks, because 9 times out of 10 their recommendations turn out disappointing (most memorable examples: here and here). But China Village does surprise me with its service – the restaurant is fully operated by family members, the waiters remember Cheryl and Eric from their previous visits, and the chef[**] personally came out to tell us to switch order because what we wanted would be too spicy. That’s sweet. 🙂
Item #206 – 川式牛腩面 Szechuan beef stew noodle soup ($8.95). The beef is similar to the beef in niu ro mien but the broth is spicy.
Item #71 – 东坡烧鸭 Dong Bo braised duck ($16.95). Not spicy, super tender. This is what we switched into per Chef John Yao’s warning. (At the beginning, we asked for a mild #69 – 砂锅啤酒鸭 clay pot duck with beer-infused sauce – but Chef Yao said it can’t be made mild.)
Item #175 – Sauteed bitter melon with eggs ($9.95). Definitely not “restaurant-worthy item” in Asia but it’s hard to find bitter melon here (except in Vietnamese and Chinese markets) and we love bitter melons too much to pass.
Item #72 – 家常肘子 Five spice hot and spicy pork shoulder ($18.95). This one can be made not spicy. And LOOK AT THAT SIZE!!!!! The three of us could barely make a dent! SUPER tender, SUPER flavorful. I can eat it for days (and I do, with the leftovers…)
With the bill, the restaurant also gave each of us a small bowl/cup of sweet red bean soup with tapioca pearls (not the tapioca in bubble teas. These are “bot bang” in Vietnamese, but what are they called in Chinese?). It was so simple and so soothing.
This time, I can see why my friends keep going back here.
Address: China Village
1335 Solano Avenue,
Albany, CA 94706
[*] In Vietnam (and I suspect throughout Asia), not every eating establishment can be called a “restaurant”, and not every dish is worthy of being served as a restaurant item. Sweet and sour pork can be good, but it’s nowhere complex and luxurious enough to be in the same menu with, say, “five spice pork shoulder”. The chefs know that, the Chinese customers know that, and sweet and sour pork is just there for the people who don’t stray from what they have at Panda Express. So, if you go to a Chinese restaurant worthy of being called a restaurant, don’t order sweet and sour pork.
[**] The chef is quite established. I like that the “five spice” sauce for the pork shoulder actually has over 8 ingredients.
These pictures needed no editing at all, the shine and glory of the meat are their actual shine and glory. And I still can’t get over how tender that pork shoulder was. (T_T)