If it is Chinese New Year’s in San Francisco, it is a time to celebrate. In addition to the large traditional parade, food is a big part of the celebration. And what better way to celebrate than to go to Chef Chu’s Annual Chinese New Year Feast. 2015 marked the 3rd time in joining friends there for the celebration. You may expect that such a tradition may get a bit stale after several years. Not at Chef Chu’s. We enjoy this event even though we have to drive to Los Altos (note to self: carpool next time with our San Francisco friends). Each year seems to get better and better. Consider this year’s ten-course menu:
- Sweet Treats, consisting of candied fruits and nuts;
- Whole roasted suckling pig, carved at the table and with plenty of crispy skin;
- Kabocha Squash Bisque with mushroom and vegetable-filled purse-shaped fat choy dumplings;
- Abalone Imperial, a whole, mid-sized Australian abalone in a delicate soy-based sauce with heart of mustard green, served on the half shell;
- Firecracker Chicken, seasoned, crisp-fried and tossed with salt, pepper and chili;
- New Year Jai, a medley of Chinese vegetables wrapped in thin cucumber slices;
- Prosperity Whole Fish, lightly deep-fried fillets in the chef’s imperial sauce; and
- Good Luck Duet of deserts with red bean-paste filled sesame balls suited for dipping in sweet pecan pudding.
Most are classic Chinese celebratory dishes; some are served with particular flair. Consider, for example, the whole Suckling Pig which is carried to and carved at the table; the Firecracker Chicken served with a lit sparkler and the New Year Jai, with fillets wrapped in the fried fish carcass, complete with olive slices over the eyes. Other were original creations by the chef. Although all were good, some, such as the pig, chicken, fish, lobster and especially the abalone, were standouts. Some are served family style and some are individual servings. But trust me, you won’t walk away hungry—-no way.
And then there is the irrepressible Chef Chu himself, a 72-year old that manages the kitchen and service, while still finding time to bound around the restaurant, visiting each table, and excitedly and vividly introducing each dish and engaging the patrons. And what is a feast without wine? This year’s wine was provided by Page Mill Winery. Although the winery’s representative expounded on the virtues of the Livermore Valley, the wines did not stand up to the food quality in our opinion. The ones we liked best were the 2013 Chandler Chardonnay and the 2012 Cote Vineyard Merlot (with grapes from Los Altos)—although neither will be on our shopping list. The 2012 Cabernet and the NV Lot 8 Se Decouvrir Solera Style Port were—well, let’s just say that everyone has their own ideas of wine and these were not our style. But, we also got some sad news this year. Chef Chu, a septuagenarian with more energy than the average 30 year-old, is hedging on whether he will continue this 35 year tradition. It is, after all, a lot of work to serve a 10 course meal to hundreds of people at the same time. We only hope that he finds the energy for 2016 so that we can again enjoy a delicious meal with our friends.