Congee Village is a well-known Chinese restaurant in NYC for congee, spacious rooms equipped to hold giant dinner parties, and incongruous eye-raping decor. Okay, maybe...blinding is a better word. It's not really that bad. Just a little off, if you know what I mean. Bright, saturated colored lights shining out of every crevice, lots of red, lots of gold, a mishmash of things like that. It's far from dingy—perhaps "refined tackiness" would be a way to describe it.
I picked Congee Village for dinner about two Fridays ago in order to accommodate a large group (Olivia, Tristan, John, Paul, Lihan, and myself) and give the restaurant another shot. The first (and only) time I had eaten there was more than two years ago, an experience that I emerged from somewhat underwhelmed. I didn't get to try that many dishes and not liking congee with a burning passion (the passion that seemingly all Chinese people are born with except for myself...seriously, there are people who flip their shit about congee like it's a big bowl of molten unicorn babies, and that's totally cool because I do the same thing about many foods, just not for congee) may have had something to do with my "meh" response.
My second try was only a little bit better. I'm still underwhelmed though.
First up: boneless chicken feet in some kind of spicy Thai sauce. This was Lihan's pick—he was curious because he had never seen boneless chicken feet, nor had any of us. However, I have tried chicken feet before, which ended in epic fail, mostly me thinking, "How the heck is this appealing to anyone?" (I know a lot of people love chicken feet; you don't have to explain yourselves.)
Picking up the floppy, squid-like feet with slippery plastic chopsticks was the first hurdle to get over. Something inside me, a something located around the vicinity of my stomach, grimaced with every squishy escape of the feet. Each unsuccessful grasp was like my chopsticks' way of saying, "Don't go any further; you definitely won't like it. Hell, even I'm disgusted. Let me pick up something nicer, like those sliced lotus roots over there. STOP JABBING ME INTO THE GODDAMN FEET."
But I persevered. I had to at least try the feet before deciding I didn't like them. So I finally got one. And I bit into it. And...
...Um. It was kind of like eating overcooked squid. Cold overcooked squid. But more impervious to the chomping motion of my teeth. Admittedly, the sauce tasted good—a little sweet and spicy—but I don't think chicken feet could be dressed in anything tasty enough for me to like them. Not even molten unicorn babies.
Lihan was the only one who went back for seconds. The brave soul.
The sautéed lotus root with special bean paste sauce was inoffensive. ...I mean, I went back for seconds, thirds, and so forth. I was initially taken aback by the flavor of the bean sauce, which was sweet and cinnamon-y, reminiscent of apple pie, but it wasn't bad. Just unexpected. The lotus roots were crisp and crunchy like water chestnut. (Or water chestnut corms to be more precise. I HAS A CORM?! HEHEHE...please excuse my stupidity.)
As usual, Chinese vegetables pwn everything else. Sautéed snow pea leaves was probably my favorite dish of the night and is one of my favorite vegetables to order at a Chinese restaurant. A big pile of crispy chlorophyll in what I assumed was a garlicky sauce.
I went with the roast duck and meat ball congee to fulfill my congee requirement. I grew up only eating the type of congee (maybe common in Taiwan?) that was more like a flavorless combination of water and a few grains of rice accompanied by pickles and random meatstuffs on the side. It looked more like prison food than breakfast. This kind of congee was a thick, hearty savory porridge with bits of duck and meatball chunks floating throughout. I may not love the crap out of it, but it's definitely tasty and makes a good comfort food.
I went straight for the salted fish, chicken, and eggplant casserole. Something about eggplant and salted fish just get the salivary glands a-goin'. While the combination of tender eggplant chunks, chicken nubs, and bits of salted fish certainly didn't taste bad, no other eggplant ever tastes as good as the one from Grand Sichuan. Maybe it's because GS douses everything in mucus membrane-burning chili sauce. But I think it's more than that. GS serves fat eggplant chunks the size of giant sausages; such excess is satisfying.
Olivia requested this mei fun dish, the exact one of which I can't recall. Er. Well. It's not very interesting, but it tastes good! Rice noodles are my favorite kind of noodle—I'd go for mei fun anytime.
John wanted this crab casserole, something that I'd never get on my own will because I was born with an inability to eat shellfish. At least, straight from the shell. I can poke and prod at the thick exoskeleton container all I want and only successfully extract a sliver of meat the width of a toothpick. This is probably because I keep choosing the meatless parts of the animals, but I'm also blaming it on inescapable fate.
We finished off with sweet potato pancakes, which I would propose renaming as "sticky, gelatinous sweet potato pucks" for greater accuracy. I guess that name isn't as appealing as "pancakes" though. This dessert didn't taste bad (although I would've liked it more if it were sweeter)—it just wasn't what we were expecting. Judging from the heavy mochi-like texture, I assume they were made from glutinous rice flour. This doesn't qualify as a "must try," unless you're curious enough.
Here's photographic evidence that I didn't eat everything on my own. Look, multiple stomachs! That's all my friends are for. Sacs of extra digestive fluids.
Near the end of our meal the flat screen TV at the end of the room suddenly sprang into life...by the magic of karaoke. A cake was brought out to the adjoining table and for a brief moment we were serenaded to a wordless twinkle of the "Happy Birthday Song" accompanied by some incongruous video recording. Now you know what to do for your next birthday! UHH YEAH!!
We headed to Sugar Sweet Sunshine for a hit of sugar. I was actually too full by this point to eat a cupcake. Yeah, I know, I know; your disappointment is deafening. I got a wee bite out of Tristan's pistachio cupcake, but mostly watched everyone else eat their heavily frosted cake chunks with gusto as I lolled about in my chair, weighed down by too much Chinese food.
Hurricane Popcorn is awesomer than normal microwave popcorn because it comes with a pack of rice cracker-mochi-nori seasoning and its own giant shaking bag. After popping the corn, you dump it in the bag with the seasoning before adding...
...the BUTTAH! Not butter. Buttah. Or "butter." For it was made of soybean oil, artificial flavor, and beta carotene. That's not the worst ingredient list I've ever seen, but it turns off a lot of people. We tried it because Kathy would break up our friendship if I refused—I replaced the butter with olive oil a few years ago when she first sent me a Hawaiian food care package and I think that thoughtless action ripped out a bit of her soul. Not using the "butter" causes much pain.
Sadly, I must admit that it would've been better with real butter. ...Okay, that's not very surprising, but I think admitting that must tear a little bit more out of Kathy's soul. I AM SORRY, KATHY! WE LUV YOU, REALLY! The popcorn was awesome. Tristan licked the bowl clean
Attack of the Meme
Christina tagged me for a "five random facts" survey. Since my blog is where memes come to die, I'm not going to tag anyone. Hell, I had trouble thinking of five things that weren't as boring as, "I have a toenail clipper."
...On that note, please enjoy!
- I woke up at 1PM this morning. I went to bed at 5AM if that makes it any more acceptable. On weekday nights I usually get about 5 hours of sleep. Everyone is surprised that I don't drown myself in coffee every morning. I pretty much pass out during my morning and evening commute.
- I only just started listening to Neutral Milk Hotel. I know I'm 10 years late; my 12 year old mind just wasn't ready for them. This happens sometimes.
- I have a melodica that I don't use. I have a handful of instruments that I fail to use on even the most sporadic basis, mostly because I'm blogging/editing photos/working/staring at the computer, but I picked the melodica because I rarely get to use that word. Melodicaaa.
- I was on a basketball team in 7th grade. Mostly because of peer pressure, not because I had any skill. Most of my best friends were in it and since you didn't have to actually be good to join the team, we all did it for fun. ...And got the crap beat out of us, except for my one friend who was actually the most athletic girl in our grade and made the rest of us look like we were physically disabled.
- I've never had a pet. But I've amassed an impressive collection of stuffed animals over the years.