After we got back to the Bay Area, Claire and Sean dropped us off at my godparents house, which was about 20 minutes away from their apartment. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with my godparents for dinner before our flight from SF back to Newark. I hadn’t seen my godmother since our wedding in May 2008, and my godfather since the last time we were in California, in October 2005. They graciously arranged for us to have a New Years banquet dinner at a Chinese restaurant near their home called Zen Peninsula.
The restaurant was a pretty big and grand space, perfect for large banquets and wedding parties. It was decorated in similar style to restaurants in NYC Chinatown such as Jing Fong and the Golden Unicorn. There were 10 of us dining altogether so we had a big round table with a lazy susan in the middle. The meal started off in typical Chinese banquet fashion, with a platter of assorted meats sliced into small pieces. There was juicy bbq pork, slices of either pork or duck (Josh and I couldn’t agree on it but I still think it was pork) with super crispy skin on top, compacted tofu skin, and jellyfish.
A little taste of everything - jellyfish, compacted tofu skin, roast pork or duck with super crackly skin, and bbq pork
Funny story about jellyfish – if you’ve never tried it, it kind of looks like long, thick rice noodles, and has sort of a gelatinous, crunchy texture. For our wedding rehearsal dinner, we had a big banquet at Jing Fong where our meal started off with a similar platter of meats surrounding a huge pile of jellyfish. Most of Josh’s family and friends had never eaten or seen jellyfish before so they all thought it was noodles or some sort of vegetable, and gobbled up the entire serving. It was only later when they found out they had eaten jellyfish that they denied liking it, but the empty platter doesn’t lie!
Back to our dinner at Zen Peninsula, our next course was shark fin soup. It was served in a mild, clean-tasting, yet rich soup. The pieces of shark fin had a soft, loose texture, a bit similar to shreds of scallop or stingray.
Shark fin soup
Next was one of my favorites, peking duck. The pieces of duck were served with soft steam buns, scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.
Peking duck in a steamed bun
I was shocked when I saw the size of lobster in the following course. It was huge! It must have been at least five pounds, and was chopped up into large pieces that were battered with salt and pepper and deep fried. The meat was still moist and tender.
Giant lobster head
We also had a large dungeness crab that was battered and deep fried. I snagged one of the legs, which was sweet and flavorful.
Fried dungeness crab
A dish of vegetables followed, filled with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, tofu skin, and what I think were ginko seeds. They’re the yellow round things and had a soft texture and a mild nutty flavor.
Then we had a big platter of poached chicken surrounded by a bitter green vegetable. It was a simple dish but the meat had a very concentrated and deep chicken flavor.
Poached chicken with a bitter green vegetable
Next we had even more lobster, this time in a ginger scallion sauce.
Lobster in ginger scallion sauce
Then fried rice with pork and shrimp.
Pork and shrimp fried rice
Our last savory course was something that I’ve never had before, a braised lamb dish in a hot pot with assorted vegetables. The lamb wasn’t very gamey but the whole dish and a really interesting and complex flavor that was kind of hard to describe. Our waiter would come by every so often to reheat the pot and add in a few more vegetables.
Braised lamb in a hot pot
For dessert, we had mango pudding, which was the best mango pudding that I’ve ever tasted. It was like a thick and rich jello consistency, and the mango flavor was really intense. It actually did taste like mangoes, which surprised me since most other mango puddings have an artificial taste to them.
Delicious mango pudding
Then we had some Chinese petit fours, which were a small roasted bun with a sweet paste filling, a square of mochi covered in coconut, and a small, dense almond cookie.
Roasted bun with sweet paste, mochi covered in coconut, almond cookie
Last but not least, we had a traditional New Year dessert, nian gao, which is like a sticky crepe made with rice flour and was filled with crushed peanuts. It was sweet and salty with lots of interesting texture to it.
Sticky dessert crepe with crushed peanuts
After the feast, I went to look at the fish tanks in the front that held some of the fresh seafood we had eaten during our meal. There was a tank full of ginormous lobsters.
Ginormous lobster in a tank full of ginormous lobsters
And one with huge dungeness crabs.
King crabs with super long legs.
Live king crabs
Some freaky and scary looking eels.
Scary looking eel
And some giant prawns that were bigger than my hand.
Overall I really enjoyed the banquet meal that we had at Zen Peninsula. The food was delivered at an even pace, and all of the dishes were hot and freshly prepared. Seafood is obviously one of their specialties, based on the dishes we had and the large tanks they had out front. My favorite courses of the evening were the two lobster courses (who doesn’t love good lobster?) and the peking duck. The best part of the meal, however, was being able to catch up with my godparents. I get to see them so rarely and each time is a wonderful treat. I feel so honored and thankful that they held off on their New Years banquet for a few days because they knew that Josh and I would be in town that weekend. It was a great end to a really great trip.
1180 El Camino Real