This week marked the official kick-off for Chinese New Year, a two week festival of food and family. The annual spring celebration ushers in the promise of good fortune with steaming bowls of noodles, whole fish, sweets, citrus and other “lucky” delicacies.
This year’s star of the zodiac? The goat, an animal notorious for its appetite. (Okay, some say its the sheep, but they eat a lot too.) We say that’s good enough reason to break out of your sweet and sour pork rut and try something new at some of Sonoma County’s favorite Chinese eateries.
1. New! 5. Fried tenpura and egg puffs at Quickly: Based in Taiwan, this wacky fast-food transplant is all about the tea — be it green, black, flavored with roses, coffee, red beans or waxed gourds — supplemented with tapioca boba or grass jelly. Just dive in, because it’s all an adventure. Pair with an eye-popping menu of deep fried yummies including mini octopus, tofu, tenpura (bits of octopus inside a ball of corn-dog-like batter) and fish balls, which are pressed bits of fried fish, and not part of the fish’s, uh, reproductive anatomy. If you’re a little skeetchy about trying new flavors, go with the egg puffs. Though they look like a giant square of bubble wrap, the taste is similar to a really eggy waffle. Expect a line of hungry Santa Rosa Junior College students ahead of you. 1880 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.
2. Steamed bao, pork belly and bbq pork at G+G Market: The local grocery market is an under-the-radar gem for all things Chinese–at a great price. We’re huge fans of their steamed bao and bbq pork, available in the deli. You can also find just about any Asian ingredient, from lychee jelly to black bean paste and dried shrimp, in their extensive grocery section. You’ll walk away with plenty of food for far less than you’d pay at a restaurant. 1211 W. College Ave, Santa Rosa and 701 Sonoma Mt. Parkway, Petaluma.
3. Chicken feet, tofu skin at Hang Ah: Dim sum fans agree that this is the best dim sum in the North Bay. The menu is massive, and chances are you won’t recognize about half of the small plates. But at just $2-$4 each, its worth some experimentation. Chicken feet are exactly that. They’re a huge delicacy, and folks raised on ‘em swear by them. Personally, I’m not a fan, but I did try one. Tofu skin? Sounds gross, tastes incredible. 2130 Armory Rd, Santa Rosa.
4. Cantonese Roast Duck and Ma Po Tofu at MY Noodles: Martin Yan’s noodle shop at the Graton Casino is a hugely-overlooked restaurant with really solid (and authentic) Chinese favorites. The really like the hoisin-glazed roast duck and bite of ma pao tofu, a vegetarian specialty with brown beat sauce and spicy peppercorn oil. 288 Golf Course West Dr., Rohnert Park.
5. Hot and Sour Soup at Kirin Restaurant: I’m a recent convert to hot and sour, over my usual wonton. Filled with wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, feathery bits of egg, and a hearty kick of spice, it’s my new alternative to chicken soup for anything that ails you. 2700 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa.
6. Bakery goodies from East Wind Bakery: Just about everyone who’s been to this charming little Asian bakery has raved about the baked bao in flavors like kimchee-sausage and curried beef, along with Chinese sponge cakes, and taro buns. I’m also ga-ga for their milk bread. 3851 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa.
7. Goji Kitchen: This Pan-Asian restaurant has become a junior college-area staple because of its extensive menu of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, and also because of their dedication to fresh, often organic products and extensive vegetarian selections. Though its not exactly authentic, you’ve gotta try the walnut pineapple prawn (the best in the area, hands-down), along with clay pot rice (with the crispy rice on the bottom) and house made pot stickers with ginger garlic sauce. 1965 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.
8. Lily Kai: My favorite CHP officer is a huge fan of this out-of-the-way Petaluma restaurant, and their dim sum. And that’s not something you argue with. Top bets include Siu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), mo shu (vegetables and thinly-sliced meat with thin pancakes and hoisin sauce) and broccoli beef. 3100 Lakeville Hwy., Petaluma.