Noodles and food that truly “warm the heart” : dimsum.
We’re at Summer Palace today, the favorite restaurant of my friend, O. “Here, I always feel like it’s home,” he tells me, his eyes already lit in anticipation. I notice that he looks tired but the prospect of a good meal is already easing his mental load.
The first thing we see is guest Chef Sun Yi Li manning a table at the far end, kneading a lengthy piece of dough. We don’t know him personally, but his life sized picture is outside, heralding the restaurant’s pulled noodle festival, La Mien: The Ancient Art of Chinese Noodles.
Once settled at a table, I greedily scan both the pulled noodle and dimsum menu. When I ask him what he’d like, O replies wearily, “Lor, can you be the one to order? I don’t want to think.” It’s a task I consider my pleasure. Nancy Farm, Summer Palace’s outlet manager, passes by our table. Seeing that we’re ordering dimsum, she recommends the Beef Noodles. “The noodles can be served dry or in soup,” she informs us.
As O and I nibble away gingerly at the xiao long bao, our first course, we’re transfixed by Chef Sun Yi Li. He’s deftly handling a rather ordinary looking stretch of dough: he folds it, twists it, and pulls it. This he does a number of times, the process creating a structure of dough fibers that in turn, doubles the number of noodles created. It’s a mesmerizing, awe-inspiring process. This is the Chinese art of la mien (also la mian), hand-pulled noodles made using a flexible dough.
The beef noodles that O and I enjoy are almost bouncy, al dente but different. Each toothsome tangle is coated with a mélange of ingredients, every chopstick-ful proffers up strips of sirloin beef and shiitake mushrooms. It satisfies on all levels. Other noodle dishes available include those flavored with beef, seafood, and even abalone.
The scallop and shrimp dumplings are like little presents. Opaque discs of scallop, juicy and tasting like the sea, are hoisted on back of morsels of steamed shrimp, the lot of which is then wrapped in an almost translucent rice wrapper. The pristine package is stained gloriously with a single green leaf and minute pearls of orange roe.
O’s spirits are uplifted, a happy effect of good food. “Oh, maybe all I need is sleep!” He chuckles, reverting to his usual talkative self. I, on the other hand, am rendered speechless after one bite of the mango-shrimp rolls. Nancy’s recommendation as well, this is a dish whose ingredients are relatively straightforward but when cooked in conjunction, result in a taste difficult to understand and too easy to love. Each bite yields shrimps cooked a breath from doneness followed by dices of mango. It’s an oozing, juicy, pleasure on the palate enclosed in a flaky, shaggy wrapper, much unlike anything I’ve tasted before.
Then there’s this little pumpkin I spy sitting on the plate. Yes, it’s a garnish but because I’m enamored with pumpkins, I bite into it. Fully expecting something vile in return, I’m pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be a rice dumpling, similar to mochi but not sweet. I give O the other half, watching as his eyes change from quizzical to excited recognition. “My god, I used to just ignore these things!” He exclaims.
Dessert are sweet potato pastries made with layers of overlapping pastry dough. Each shell pocked with black sesame seeds possesses a treasure of mashed sweet potato yielding wafts of steam and a sweet that’s not too sweet but soothes soul and galvanizes spirit.
La Mien: The Ancient Art of Chinese Noodles
November 14-25, 2010
Lunch at Summer Palace, Dinner at HEAT as part of the dinner buffet. (I highly recommend lunch).
EDSA Shangri-La, Manila.
For reservations, 633.8888 ext. 2777 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.