In case you were worried that us going back to work after new year’s equates to us reverting back to hermit-style-only-cook-food-at-home mode, we’re not. Last night we were delighted to spend the evening dining on a category of food here that I like to call “Fancy Pants Sichuan” (for a complete outline of Sichuan styles go here).
Phil, myself and three other couples head over to the “wide and narrow alleys” or kuan zhai xiang zi, which is a remodeled “architecture street that houses shops, restaurants and bars. One of three streets like this in Chengdu it is often on the tourist circuit so one can experience “older China.” The interesting thing we discovered last night, unlike the other two streets, is that this tourist area houses several top-end Sichuan and Western restaurants.
Zi Fi restaruant (which has a somewhat fancy website here) was recently featured in a New York Times article about the remaking of Sichuan food. They justly described the restaurants dishes as having “pranced between tradition and modernity, pairing nontraditional [dishes] with the more traditional accompaniments.”
To dine at this restaurant one must call for reservations at least 24 hours in advanced. Costing 500 RMB a person (close to 85 USD) the restaurant surprisingly had bang for its buck. It was carefully decorated, only offered private rooms, live music, dedicated and bilingual waitstaff. I was impressed.
We started with cold appetizers, some on a tower in small ornate plates, and some fruit. Following that, each dish was brought out and explained, peking duck wraps, fish fragrant egg plant with rice cakes and sea cucumber, three kinds of beef with edible bean curd flowers, twice cooked pork with spring onions, steamed fish with two kinds of chillies and fresh ma and cod with egg whites, lotus root and mango. It was a feast.
Punctuated between a several courses was “his and hers” soup where staff served the women at the table yellow wood ear soup with egg and purple yam soup. The men got the better end of the deal with a dark broth with meat (we thought we heard turtle, but we thought it looked like chicken or some other game) and a venison soup with sticky rice and a slice of antler. The boys soups were decidedly better although we made sure to try both. Chinese beliefs in what women should or should not eat are very pronounced (for example, we should never, never be drinking cold beverages of any sort if we ever dream of having a child – the nurse at school often chides me for this). It was interesting to see this reflected in high culture cuisine as well.
Favorites of the night included a extremely spicy mala chicken cold dish, the three types of melt in your mouth beef (peppercorn and onion, mala and vegetable), and the cod with a mango that looked like a egg yolk. The three dishes represent the spectrum of cooking at this place, from home-style burn your mouth of Sichuan, to a play on modern dining with simple Sichuan flavors and preparation, to the modern whimsical and fantastic preparation of food in a innovative way (we’ve been watching top chef season 8, can you tell?).
Overall a great evening of fine dining. We were stuffed and happy with both the meal and the experience. Not sure I would go back when a fantastic home style feast costs under 10USD – but I’m glad we gave it a go.
Zi Fi is located at 27 Kuanxiangzi in Kuanzhai xiangzi. It’s phone is (86-28) 8663-3737 and remember to book at least 24 hours in advance.