(Little Saigon after the Tet parade.)
Hey guys! Happy Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, Tet, or whatever you like to call it! I'm sorry it's been two weeks since my last post. My work schedule is busier than ever, so most of what I post is written during the weekends. Sometimes I have time to write more than one, other times I miss a week entirely.
Since I get home from the office late most nights, I decided not to try putting together my usual Chinese New Year's feast. Instead, Cat and I had dinner at Crystal Jade in Irvine with a few friends. This is a fairly standard way of ushering in the new year if you can't make it home to your family. Don't worry. We honored my ancestors with incense and a nice altar loaded with goodies at home.
The latest addition to Irvine's already impressive stable of Chinese restaurants, Crystal Jade opened last year in the Quail Hill area at the corner of Sand Canyon and Quail Hill Parkway. It was a fairly daring move, given the recent closures of Chinatown, China West, and Cathay Newport. With its sleek decor, full bar, and somewhat Americanized offerings, it's clear that Crystal Jade is going after the same market; young career couples and families. They might have a shot. At the moment, they're pretty much the only game in South Irvine. Lucky for us, the food is pretty good.
Take their Fish Filet with Black Bean Sauce, which is one of Cat's favorites. The large pieces of moist catfish stir-fried in an earthy sauce made from fermented soybeans have her purring after every visit. The aromatics in this dish aren't filler. They're delicious! The crisp, sweet chunks of flash-fried bell peppers are to be relished as much as the fish. Mee-ow!
The Kung Pao Chicken, another Cat favorite, is also tasty. Toned down for American palates, Crystal Jade's version is sweeter and less spicy than the more authentic rendition offered by Hsin Hsin Shao May. However, the filler veggies are kept to a minimum, and the peanuts are plentiful. If I can't have Hsin Hsin Shao May's, this will do.
Maniacal Penguin is addicted to the Malaysian Chicken. I'm not sure how Malaysian it really is, but it reminds my of some of the great Cantonese curries I've had in the past, with generous slabs of chicken and hearty chunks of potato. My mother used to make something really similar for me when I was a child; a warm, filling, comforting dish.
Mr. Big always orders the Honey Walnut Shrimp, which is deep fried shrimp and caramelized walnuts tossed in a sauce made from honey and Chinese mayonnaise. It's really really good, but it's also very rich. I normally don't order this for myself, but when Mr. Big is in da house, I can pork away (relatively) guilt free.
If you're more of a traditionalist, like Elonweis, you might order the E-Fu Noodles Braised with Crab Meat. Shred of crab meat floating in an unctuous sauce envelope a fluffy pile of hand-made noodles and bean sprouts. It's a delicate dish with a gentle texture that slides easily down the throat.
Her brother, Alphanarf, enjoys bolder flavors. Crystal Jade's Pan-Fried Beef with XO Sauce is right up his alley. Invented in the 1980s by a Hong Kong chef, XO sauce is a luxury condiment made from high-quality cognac, fried aromatics, and dried seafood. Considered revolutionary when it was first introduced, it provides an intense, complex blast of flavor. Most good Chinese restaurants will make their own varieties of XO sauce, each specifically formulated for meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables. All of Crystal Jade's XO sauce dishes are excellent, particularly when you take the price point into consideration.
Despite whatever impression my meat-bloated ramblings may have given you, I really like my veggies. The classic combination of chilies, garlic, and string beans in Crystal Jade's Dry Sautéed String Beans sits smack dab in the center of my comfort zone. You'd be surprised at the depth of flavor they can get out of these simple ingredients.
But you guys didn't come here to read about vegetables. You came here for sexy shots of glistening, meaty food porn. Well, here ya go. Pork Chop Peking Style, with deep fried pork chops encased in a sweet and sour caramel crust. It'll set the whole table to fighting.
Happy Chinese New Year everyone! In case you're wondering how we cut from Little Saigon on Sunday to Irvine on Wednesday and back again so quickly, it might be because Maniacal Penguin can burn rubber and drift like the guys from the Fast and Furious films. Or maybe I can bend time and space like Hiro Nakamura. YATTA! YATTA ZO!
Crystal Jade - Delicious Chinese food in a nice setting. A good place to share with family and friends.
Fish Filet with Black Bean Sauce - 11.95
Kung Pao Chicken - 9.95
Malaysian Chicken - 12.95
Honey Walnut Shrimp - 16.25
E-Fu Noodles Braised with Crab Meat - 13.00
Pan-Fried Beef with XO Sauce - 14.95
Dry Sautéed String Beans - 8.95
Pork Chop Peking Style - 9.95
Crystal Jade Asian Fine Dining
6511 Quail Hill Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92603