Thursday, June 16, 2011

Worth a detour - Mission Chinese Food in Shenzhen

We are the kind of people that are quite willing to go the distance in search of good food but this one is still quite a stretch by all means. After accepting an invitation from our foodie friend j for this one-night only dinner event north of our border served by a visiting kitchen crew from Mission Chinese Food of San Francisco, I admit there was this moment when we wondered whether it's worth such a detour and hassle. With the original invitation email asking us not to publicize the event before it happened, and the address will only be provided in the morning of the event, we wondered whether this is just a cheap stunt or worse, a scam.

Anyway, we departed from Hong Kong at 4pm on this one Sunday afternoon and one long bus journey, 2 border checkpoints and a taxi ride later, we arrived at a random residential neighborhood in west of Shenzhen at an elegantly-decorated restaurant, where this special dinner event was held.

We did do a little due d beforehand trying to get a better idea what we are getting into. Mission Chinese Food is the brainchild of 2 talented restaurateurs, Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint. It's a "pop-up restaurant" housed within another old-school Chinese restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District, each shared a common dining room with separate menus and separate chefs. Since its opening in 2010, MCF has attracted quite a following with its creative (and somewhat twisted, mostly in a better way) interpretation of Americanized Chinese food, not only among local diners, but critics as well - San Francisco Chronicle named it a Top 100 Restaurant in San Francisco this year and its chef Danny Bowien a rising star. Mark Bittman of New York Times raved about it in his column.

For a good part of June, the entire kitchen crew closed down their shop in San Francisco and ventured around Asia - made their way to Tokyo, Beijing, and then Shenzhen/Hong Kong. Towards the end of their journey, they borrowed a corner of this nice restaurant in Shenzhen (owned by a family friend of theirs) and played host to this one-time event with a selected group of invited guests. Our friend J happened to receive the invitation and she's so kind to ask us (and 6 of her other friends) to join. This is how this event came along and how we ended up here. Well, a pop-up restaurant from San Francisco doing this one-time secretive pop-up dinner event in Shenzhen... hope you are still with me by now.

Anyway, our meal began soon after everyone arrived at around 6-something. The dinner started on a delightful note - the "Nobu-esque" geoduck sashimi served with a piece of ginger-infused cantaloupe and a dash of tomato-flavor is just the perfect summer appetizer I need. It set the tone of what MCF is all about - the dish is clearly Asian-inspired but with a unique, creative touch that is unlike everything we have had before. 

The sashimi's followed by steamed eggs served in a cappuccino cup. This is my favorite dish of the evening - the eggs are steamed chawanmushi-style, with chicken confit at the bottom and a thin piece of scallop and green apple on top, and they are all bathed in a superior broth infused with chrysanthemum. Refreshingly flavorful - the well-cooked confit plus the strong flavor of the broth made this a standout against the traditional version.

After that we were served with 2 main courses. The prawn dish was met with mixed comments across our table. Fresh prawns are salt-baked by the table side, and served with sauteed razor clams and mushrooms. I found it a bit uneasy to see the prawns being "buried alive" - literally - in piping hot salt bath in front of us, but I like its taste and appreciate how the chef tried to contrast the texture and flavors of prawns and razor clams. But the prawns are a little bit undercooked and some might find it a bit too salty to their liking. The duck "3-ways" is decent - duck confit was wrapped in a "money-bag" - a egg flour crepe as the wrap with pulled duck meat inside, along with seared duck breast and deep-fried duck tongue. I would probably prefer the wrapped duck confit be a bit smaller and deep-fried but overall it's still good.

Tonight's soup dish is a fish roulade wrapped with chicken liver in a ginseng broth on a bed of barley. I can't personally taste much of the ginseng flavor, and I found the fish a bit tough and less the delicacy I would expect. Nonetheless I found the combination of flavor and texture very interesting.

Two desserts were served at the end of the meal. First is a glass of sauternes infused with chrysanthemum and mango steen. I am sure wine connoisseurs may shrugged at the attempt to mess up their "heavenly drop" with extra flavorings, but we all thought this is nicely executed and well-balanced. The last course - the cornmeal cake - has more of a southern flavor (of the States, not China) than anything else. It's soaked with cognac and served with chinese pears, whipped cream and again, a hint of chrysanthemum flavor. To me, it's of just the right sweetness, and I wonder how they would match up against the sticky corncake commonly found in everyday Northern Chinese cuisine.

Yes, it's an awfully long journey home after we finished our meal, but with eye-opening food, good company and this being a one-of-a-kind experience, we felt it's worth the detour.

when? June 12 2011
where? Capistrano, Futian District, Shenzhen
menu highlights? Steamed Eggs: Scallops, Apples, Chrysanthemum

You can also check out more pics on Flickr: