Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy New Year, indeed! Chinese Southern Belle mother and daughter duo Natalie and Margaret Keng team up to present a very special Chinese New Year; a beautiful offering at the Canton House Chinese Restaurant. Located in the heart of Atlanta I was instantly reminded of being home in Northern California. Buford Hwy is a multi-ethnic community in Atlanta with several authentic and traditional Asian and Latin restaurants a perfect location for this wonderful event. Walking into Canton House, feelings of warmth and unity filled the atmosphere. Beautiful crystal chandeliers and the stage encompassing the 2012 Chinese New Year Zodiac Water Dragon with bright red backdrop set the tone for the evening. Round family table seating allowed the opportunity to greet unfamiliar faces and open discussion for the festivities about to take place. As Natalie Keng approached the stage and began to speak I soon realized that we would not only feed our bellies but our minds and hearts. An emphasis was placed on family, good health and new beginnings. Providing the guests with literature about Chinese New Year traditions and practices and Chinese Regional Specialties Natalie and Margaret Kengs comedic history class was now in session! These ladies touched on Chinese social status and why certain dishes are served during this time of year. Mini language lessons were taught. I can now greet people in Chinese and I can write basic words and phrases!
Lets eat, but where do I start? Eleven course dinner that’s where! The offering began with “Prosperous” Sizzling Rice Soup. Usually not a huge fan of Sizzling Rice Soup and I’m still not one, but what I liked most about this version is that the rice remained crunchy and that the broth was nice and light. Following were Handmade “Golden” Dumplings & Potstickers and Cantonese-style Seasoned Hotpot with Stuffed Tofu, Mushroom and Eggplant for “Prosperity.” I can really appreciate when a dish is prepared just the way it is supposed to be prepared and this is exactly what was achieved with the next course, Spicy Szechuan Beef with Fresh Chiles and Peppers. The spice was allowed to shine through with this dish, no holding back. The pungent aroma and beautiful colors of red and green from the scallion, jalapeño and red chile pepper deemed this plate a standout.
*Year of the Dragon* Fresh Lobsters with Ginger and Scallion uniquely prepared, the lobster had a breaded-like texture over the shelling which reminded me of the spicy-sweet General Tso glazing that usually goes over chicken.
Traditional Lotus Root with Chinese Sausage and Preserved Vegetables was exceptional. Such a gorgeous plant and when cooked has the texture and flavor of water chestnuts crunchy, light and earthy. Packed with flavor and nutrients. Wood mushrooms, snap peas, celery, fresh peppers and Chinese pork sausage were used to compliment, nice notes but the lotus shined on its own. This was a first for me and definitely will not be a last.
Steamed Whole Fish was prepared for “Abundance.” “Don’t flip the fish!” A fisherman’s tale of not flipping the boat is how this saying came to be. Careful instructions were provided on how to properly partake of the fish. First eating the top and then lifting the bone from the tail end to keep the fish intact. The cheek and the head are parts of the fish presented to the guest of honor in Chinese culture. Steaming the fish kept it incredibly juicy and tender and thankfully was not muddled with seasoning; I could actually taste the fresh fish.
My highlight of the night! Sesame Balls with Sweet Red Beans and traditional candies for a “Sweet Life” Sweet! What a treat. I had no idea what to expect regarding this dessert, so pleasantly surprised. If you can imagine a bunch of Boston Baked Beans crushed and rolled into a perfectly fried donut then viola you have Sesame Balls. I needed two more plates of these. The beans were sweetened to perfection giving the essence of sweet instead of savory but not overpowered with sugar. Lightly fried balls, not greasy or heavily oiled and the sesames added great crunch.
If the cuisine was not enough maybe the parting gifts will suffice. Trivia games awarded attendees with small prices following a correct answer. I was one of the lucky ones answering, “What does Dim Sum mean?” My answer, “Touched Heart!” Awesome touches to the closing of the evening were Margaret’s Calligraphy prints provided to guests to take home as keepsakes and each guest was blessed with a baby bamboo plant and take home and nurture. A room filled with full bellies, good spirits and smiling faces! Chinese New Year Chinese Southern Belle style was a true success! Zhù fú (blessings)
Please do not forget to visit www.chinesesouthernbelle.com and www.whatscookingroz.blogspot.com
Also when you are in town don’t forget to stop by
Canton House Chinese Restaurant 4825 Buford Hwy Atlanta, Ga 30341
Photos from the event including those pictured above provided by www.calvinevansphotography.com