Sunday, December 28

li jia cai restaurant - appropriating hutongs!


i have had my eye on this restaurant ever since i heard about it from toomuchfood.

in planning my trip to beijing, i called my mom months ahead of time to ask her to make a reservation and get all the details about this place.  though we didn't end up making a reservation until the last minute, we still got in easily for lunch.  

li jia cai serves "chinese aristocrat cuisine." i've seen negative reviews about this place charging too much and targeting foreign tourists, but i didn't care.  i marched in there fully aware of my cultural appropriation of old beijing hutongs (indeed, this was confirmed by the fact that the minute we drove into the alleys, the rickshaw drivers literally started chasing us because they were dying for business.  they charge a certain price to give "hutong tours," where they take you through all the alleys and talk about all the old hutongs).

here's a pic of all the rickshaws lined up, freezing outside in hopes of getting some tourists.

after some confusion, we finally made our way to the narrow alley where the entrance was.  we stepped through a brightly painted round, green doorway into a tiny courtyard.  not exactly a siheyuan, which i have yet to visit, but very quaint.


once in the courtyard our server led us to a very modest room on the left. it was small and plain, with bare walls and white tablecloths. a large electronic heater hung above the table, blasting hot air in my face. throughout the course of the meal, i would see servers bustling outside this window, bringing in food continuously.

the menu here is prix fixe, with prices ranging from about 200 yuan to 2000 yuan (~30 USD to 300 USD). i thought everything kind of just got weird after about the 500 yuan set (example: shark fin something or abalone other or sea cucumbers!), so i chose the 330 yuan set. each set comes with 7 or 8 cold dishes and quite a few hot dishes (5? i lost count). everything is portioned per person (so for example, for spare ribs, we got 4 so there was 1 for each person). i like this a lot because i love being able to taste a little bit of everything without getting overwhelmingly full. still, towards the end i thought i would die if one more dish came.


cold appetizers - serving size for 4 people. starting with the green blob thing at the top and going clockwise, these are:  1) tofu - looks like avocado but it's not! this was kind of like a mushy preserved tofu, salty and seasoned nicely. called "jade tofu." yum. 2) lettuce root. i don't remember eating this because i was too busy with everything else 3) i know, this doesn't look very pleasant, but it was so delicious...another one of those tofu dishes - made from the course bits that are leftover in tofu production  4) this cute little dish is actually delicate slices of cabbage root coiled together with horseradish dressing 5) i love cold chicken dishes and this one was great - the sauce on top was kind of sweet/sour but not overwhelming 6) disgusting. i took a bite of this and had to spit it out because there was cilantro hidden inside.  there's nothing special about this one anyway! just some shredded carrots. 7) in the middle we have sliced pork - what can i say? i love pork.


here's a close up of this delicious chicken.


beef fried in a light batter. really tasty and reminded me of beef jerky, except wrapped in fried yumminess.


fried dough cut into cubes. crispy when you bite into it but nice and chewy later.


i love this dish. meat and veggies are sandwiched between two pieces of lotus root and then battered and fried. you dip this in soy sauce.


this dish was beautifully presented but unfortunately cilantro struck again. it's a tiny cup of egg custard, kept warm by the large cup/device propping it up (hot water inside).


these braised pork ribs were sooo juicy and tender - i wish i had more!


lightly fried scallops. surprisingly good! the green stuff around it is salty, fried seaweed. oily and crispy - delicious.  we also had chicken fried in the same batter. kind of boring so i'm not posting that one.

sea cucumber. ew. after all these years, i finally succumbed to trying one. i only took a small bite. it was crunchy, chewy, and slimy at the same time. kind of tasteless, but really not worth going through the texture for this.


this dish was one of my favorites of the meal.  it's so simple but the flavors were so powerful that this is now one of the most memorable dishes of the set.  first you are given a juicy piece of fatty pork sitting in light broth with cabbage.  then you mix some rice into the dish, along with soy sauce to taste.  i slurped this down and ate the pork practically in one bite.


another savory dish: stir fried eggplant with ground pork. this is a classic chinese dish, and it was really great here without being overwhelmingly oily.




shrimp! (the little cubes on top are like tiny french fries, except crispier and better - i love little details like this.)


delicious lightly fried fish.

DSC_0475 i didn't know we'd be getting beijing duck too. AUGH! i couldn't imagine eating this at this point. but i did. their duck is cooked differently. instead of the usual beijing duck roasting method, they first roast it and then finish it off by lightly frying the duck. this made the duck extra crispy outside but still tender inside. it was delicious!


a few "dessert" items. candied walnuts and berries.


...and then we finally rolled ourselves out of the restaurant.

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