Flaming Pu Pu Platter: The source of many a childhood jokes, the pu pu platter is a glee-inducing treat. Sure, it’s most fried bits of deliciousness that will have you on the treadmill and extra two hours this week, but that flickering blue flame and sizzling beef skewers are so worth it. Ting Hau, 717 4th Street, Santa Rosa, 545-5204.
Peking Duck: Served since imperial days, this Chinese delicacy of crispy duck skin and meat served with plum sauce is the country’s national dish. Unlike imposter dishes like General Tsao chicken (rarely found outside the US), restaurants take pride in getting this dish right. Upmarket spots like Gary Chu’s (611 5th Street
Santa Rosa, 526-5840) require 24 hours notice to make the dish, but you can get Peking duck with just a thirty minute wait at Hang Ah Dim Sum and a smaller plate of sliced duck a la cart. 2130 Armory Rd, Santa Rosa, (707) 576-7873.
One of twelve animal signs of the Chinese Zodiac, of you were born in a rabbit year (2011, 1999, ’87, ’75, ’63, ’51, ’39), you’re keen, wise, non-confrontational, tranquil and considerate, but perhaps a bit fragile. Celebrity rabbits include Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Jane Seymore and Kate Winslet.
What do certain foods mean?
Whole Fish: Abundance
Dried Bean Curd: Wealth and Happiness
Egg Roll: Good Fortune
Citrus: Wealth and sweet abundance
Coconut: Career Advancement
Bok Choy: Health
Number 8: Luck
Pork = Wealth
Red Envelope: Lucky Money
Circle: Family gathering, health and good fortune
Noodles: Intentionally made to be extra long, they represent long life.
Dim Sum & Chicken Feet: Santa Rosa’s Hang Ah is also a top spot for dim sum — small plates of steamed buns, dumplings and bites of meat or tofu. It’s a dive into sometimes uncharted waters, where descriptions and pictures don’t always match up to expectations. Rice Noodle Roll with Flour Crispy is a sort of fried sweet dough wrapped in slippery noodles. Crispy Shrimp Ball: A shrimp meatball wrapped in a tangle of fried noodles. Plates fringe from a meager $2.50 to $4.50 each, so it’s worth taking a few chances — like chicken claws in black bean sauce — a fibrous yet gelatinous treat you’ll either love or have nightmares about for weeks. 2130 Armory Rd, Santa Rosa, (707) 576-7873.
Hot and Sour Soup: Everyone has a favorite neighborhood spot serving up this kitchen-sink brew of tart broth, mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, chile paste and green onions. It’s a warming way to start the meal and frankly, a good gauge of the quality of the meal to come. Best bets: Kirin, 2700 Yulupa Avenue # 3, Santa Rosa, 525-1957 and China Star, 2101 W College Ave # A, Santa Rosa, 526-0888.
Chinese Buffets: I’m not a person who gets excited about facing down 100-plus items sitting in steam trays. But I can get behind the idea of feeding lots of people for a low, low price. So if you’re headed for the buffets, top marks go to Gourmet Garden Buffet, 100 S. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 778.3899; the always popular Fou Zhou II in downtown Santa Rosa with its dizzying 150 or so item spread and King Buffet, 595 Rohnert Park Expy W, Rohnert Park, 588-8383, where you can often find whole crab legs and other fresh seafood.
If there’s a go-to favorite Chinese restaurant in Santa Rosa, it’s China Room,500 Mission Blvd, Santa Rosa, 539-5570, Despite a ho-hum interior, the menu is extensive, with standard Chinese-American fare with Sweet & Sour everything, Moo shu, fried rice, walnut prawns,General Tso chicken, orange beef, hot pots as well as more intriguing daily specials featuring with seasonal veggies, curries and seafood.
In Petaluma, it’s Lilly Kai, where locals nibble on bbq spare ribs, homemade pot stickers and moo she and broccoli beef with relish. 3100 Lakeville Hwy, Petaluma, 782-1132.
Under the radar: Headed up by the former owner of China Room, Fresh China’s menu is heavy on organics, seasonal vegetables and advertises its use of local Rocky Range chicken.. 284 Coddingtown Mall, Santa Rosa, 707.527.6444.