Thursday, August 10, 2006

Table for Four, Please

Before I left for Hong Kong on 7/31, Dino had called me to say that he was going to be working at a restaurant (English name is roughly "Chrysanthemum") in San Zhi for about 10 days in August, and he wanted to make sure we'd come have dinner there while he was cooking. His fiancee, Carrie, works at this restaurant, and she and Dino have become friends of the owners, a Taiwanese gentleman with a Japanese wife (or vice versa, I can't recall). Dino had cooked some of his Italian specialities for them, and they liked it so much they asked him to run the restaurant while they were on holiday in Japan.

The announcement sign basically says that from 8/1 through 8/12 the restaurant would be under the control of China Blue's Italian drummer, Dino, who would be cooking Italian food and not to pass up the opportunity to eat it!

Dino started cooking while I was in Hong Kong. Among the first guests to partake of the wonders of Chef Dino were Wu Bai, Da Mao, and Xiao Zhu. Dino reports that they were suitably impressed with the fare. He said Wu Bai was so cute, first looking at the English side of the menu, then flipping it to the Chinese side. He jokingly ordered three of everything on the Chinese side, flipped back to the English, and began to order three of everything from that side. Then Dino had to tell him both sides were the same. ;-) Natari, Charlene, Betty, Xiao Niu, Shun, and PJ also made a trip there (and it takes over an hour from Taipei, you know!). I had, of course, whined about being left out, and Nat had promised we'd go when I got back from Hong Kong. And Tuesday night, we went.

Nat made reservations, because she said Dino found it difficult to handle a big crowd and wanted to limit the number of diners in order to better serve them. It was totally cool - we got there a little after 8:00 p.m., and we were the only ones in the restaurant! Dino greeted us with his customary kiss on the cheek and led us inside.

The restaurant is quite charming, with a balcony facing the ocean (but since it was typhoon weather, we ate inside). One of Dino and Carrie's neighbors was playing waitress that evening, while Dino and Carrie handled the kitchen.

There were only four dishes on the menu - Spaghetti and Meatballs (which had been handmade by Dino that very day), Pumpkin Pasta with Pesca (a type of fish), Dino's Famous Eggplant Parmesan, and Meatball Sub. Dino said he also had two other dishes, one of pork fillets rolled around onions and spices and then pan sauteed, and a spicy-sauce pasta dish. The meal included garlic bread, salad, and choice of beverage, and for dessert - Dinomisu! OK, so it doesn't resemble tiramisu, but it was really tasty, and I'm going to try to talk Dino out of the recipe (he owes me, as you will see below). I'd baked a Kahlua cake on Saturday, and I brought along pieces for Dino, Carrie, Charlene, and Xiu Chun. Nat has to wait for hers, because I didn't know Xiu Chun was coming along, and I hadn't brought enough.

Xiu Chun and I went for the spaghetti and meatballs, Nat ordered the pumpkin pasta but requested meatballs in place of the fish, and Charlene decided to try the pork with a side of spaghetti sans meatballs. Dino kindly gave us a couple of the pork rolls to try, free of charge. I was tickled when Carrie told me Dino was using my recipe for the garlic bread. I still laugh when I remember him calling me to ask me how I made it - it's so simple! Soften a couple cubes of real butter, use a garlic press to squish up a whole bunch of fresh garlic, mix it all together, slather it on the French bread, sprinkle the top with some Parmesan (fresh grated is best, but Kraft will do), and stick it in the oven until it's hot.

Let me say a little about Dino's spaghetti sauce. He learned how to cook from watching his grandmother when he was a child. Dino is, as he told us, FBI - full-blooded Italian. Me, I'm only one-quarter Italian, and although I consider that I make my sauce from scratch, I can't come close to Dino's masterpiece. Why? Because he really makes it from scratch! I use canned tomatoes and cook it all day, because that's how Mom taught me, but Dino actually starts with fresh tomatoes. He said he used four kinds in this sauce, cooking them up with garlic, onions, and green pepper before adding the tomato paste and tomato sauce near the end to thicken it up. And the meatballs, painstakingly rolled by hand, were the perfect complement.

The salad (thankfully) came with Italian dressing and not the ever-present Thousand Island that the Taiwanese love so much. It had chunks of what I think was pumpkin and also some jelly-like cubes that Nat said came from a plant. And lettuce, Chinese cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes, naturally!

After everyone was served, Dino and Carrie joined us around the table, chatting and joking. Dino said the new CD is going to be just fabulous, so we're all anxious for it to be released. They've been doing some recording, and the word is a September release, but I think it might take longer. This CD will be in Mandarin, no Taiwanese songs.

Dino is such a funny, entertaining guy, and he was dancing around the restaurant singing along with the music that was playing, making us all laugh, even getting Carrie to join him briefly. I wish we had more opportunities to just hang around with him, because we always have so much fun when he's around. I like Xiao Zhu and Da Mao, too, but they're a little more reserved than Dino and not so much at ease being friends with the fans. And although Dino has told us that Wu Bai is really a fun guy, I just can't imagine him being as silly as Dino. But, maybe he is - not that I'll ever find out!

It was around 10:00 p.m. when we finally left for the hour-long ride home (well, shorter for me, because I live so close to San Zhi). It was raining but still quite warm, the incoming typhoon having done nothing to relieve the heat. Nat dropped Xiu Chun off at Zhuwei station so she could get the bus back to Lu Zhou, and I got car-to-door drop-off service, which I appreciated because of the rain.

So, I guess if Dino ever gets tired of being a big rock and roll star, he can quit and open a restaurant. I'm sure he'll have good business if he does. Truly though, I'm hoping that day is far, far in the future, because I can't imagine not having him on stage, wailing on those drums.

Complete set of photos can be found here: Dino Does Dinner

1 comment:

Ranger Steve said...

The big question: Did they offer forks, or did people eat with chopsticks??? I bet it was nice to get a Dad's Rootbeer, let alone ANY beverage, with your meal!