If you "like" my Facebook page then you may be familiar with the Meatball News Network. MNN was founded in Rome on January 3rd, not by me but by Joe and Fred. These friends of mine were traveling together, you see, and decided it might be fun to share the trip with others by shipping to me the photos and videos of their favorite Roman restaurants and meals.
It was a lot of fun, actually. But by January 12th, MNN had gone black, the result of its only two correspondents returning to their respective homes in New York.
When the idea was floated that we get together and swap stories of the trip, I suggested what to me seemed an appropriate venue: Maialino, the Roman-style restaurant in Manhattan's Gramercy Park Hotel.
My friends had an entirely different idea. Turns out they had had quite enough cacio e pepe and gnocchi and fried artichokes and Roman-style pizza, at least for a while.
And so on Sunday I found myself at a place called Palace Dumpling, not in the city but about 70 miles to the north, in Wappingers Falls, NY, along the Hudson River. The MNN team was not alone, either. Seated at the six or eight tables which had been joined together were 20 people who, like me, had traveled some distance for the occasion, it being to celebrate Chinese New Year: the Year of the Dragon.
Joe and his lovely wife Joel had got together with Chef Jenny at the Palace Dumpling to plan an elaborate banquet, the likes of which I had not seen before. In all, the chef prepared more than 22 different dishes for our group, virtually none of them found on the menu.
It was an amazing thing to witness, really. Chinese cuisine may not be the subject of this blog, but I'm betting you'd like to see what went on, and so here are just some of the highlights.
Cold meat platters of ham, chicken and sausage started things off nice and slow.
Lamb and scallion dumplings, one of four kinds we sampled. They don't call this place Palace Dumpling for nothing. Amazing.
Cold cellophane noodle "salad" with carrots, cucumbers, pressed tofu and a light sesame dressing.
Five-spice braised beef with hardboiled eggs.
Fresh noodles with meat sauce.
Braised fatty pork. I done died and gone to China!
Tender squid with garlic chives.
Stir-fried vegetables including eggplant, peppers and potatoes.
Stewed fish in red chili oil. Zounds!
Salt-fried shrimp, served in the shell.
Spicy pepper pork.
Caramelized sweet potatoes with peanuts. A real standout.
Whole fried fish in sweet and spicy sauce.
Puffy fried sweet dough, for dessert.
Joe even found a Chinese Riesling — with a dragon on the label no less.
And what Chinese banquet is complete without an Italian liquer?
Oranges for good luck and little windup dragons.
And the (now defunct?) Meatball News Network team.
Never did hear much about the Rome trip, so I'm hoping another MNN "reunion" is in the works.