In a totally spur of the moment thing, our friend Pauline proposed getting together for a Chinese New Year's activity. This is the year of the rat, the year that Pauline, J and I were born. Hopefully that means something lucky will happen this year. Actually the meal in itself was lucky. A perfect Lunar New Year banquet with lion dancers, food, and red envelopes.
So the Saturday of Chinese New Year week, six of us decided to go to Hollywood East (which I lobbied hard for) to do a white elephant red envelope exchange. We've said how much we adore Hollywood East in Wheaton. Their dim sum is totally the best in the city and their dinner menu keeps up the quality. With the exception of the mayonnaise-laden honey walnut shrimp, every dish is well flavored without being overly sweet and syrupy. The service is friendly (if a bit slow). Surprisingly (especially during dim sum), there isn't a huge wait.
In a bit of luck, Hollywood East was having Lunar New Year's entertainment that night as well. In a happy bit of luck, we came in on the tail end of the lion dance. We waited in the vestibule and got to see the dance without having it disrupt our meal. As a nice touch, the lion dancers did a little dance on the street for those folks who were just arriving.
We started off with tea and the gift exchange. J and I gave lottery tickets (as they could fit in a red envelope). Our friend L also gave lottery tickets but her boyfriend J 2.0 put together a gourmet Chinese take out box with little chocolates and goodies from World Market. J 2.0 is so Martha! Rootbeer gave a gift card from Whole Foods and Pauline gave a rather naughty red envelope stuffer. Going all out, Pauline gave us all little Asian ceramic cats from the Sackler gallery gift shop. They are kind of the precursor to Hello Kitty.
And then the eating began. We ordered four appetizers - won tons, har gow, shu mai, and potstickers. While the won tons were very crab rangoonish, the dim sum style dumplings were their usual high quality. One thing about the shrimp dumplings is that they don't puree their shrimp until it becomes a paste, the taste and texture of chunks of shrimp in the shrimp filling is a really thoughtful and delicious touch.
And then came the entrees. Each of us ordered one and the dishes came from the land, sea, and air. All were wonderful. The surprise of the evening was the seafood pan fried noodle. It came out looking a bit disappointing. The array of shrimp, fish, and squid with vegetables over rice stick noodles with a clear sauce. It looked like boring city but the dish actually had a lot of flavor and the sauce was neither tasteless nor overpowering. The standouts in our six-entree meal were the crispy beef, a wonderfully light take on a General Tso's beef with a lovely sauce that didn't have a speck on cornstarch (YAY!), and the chicken with garlic sauce, a New Year's special that was spicy and earthy at the same time.
I can never come to Holly East for dinner without ordering the steamed ling fish. I discovered this dish when I took my parents and my cousins Amanda and Madeleine to Hollywood East. Both Amanda and Madeleine are foodies in their own right and Amanda asked for whole rockfish with ginger and scallions (a dish they don't have). Our server suggested the ling fish and it was a perfect choice. The ling fish is moist and tender with a very seabass texture. It was cooked with the lightest of touches, steamed with ginger, scallions, and garlic with a hint of sesame oil and soy. The flavors were subtle but profound.
And the bill with six dishes, hot tea, and four appetizers came out to $21 INCLUDING tip. It was a night of much joy and a bit of luck!