To be honest, I was barely there for this dinner at Madame Pang on New Year’s Eve, at the brink of the new decade. I arrived at the finish line for 2019 like an out-of-shape long-distance runner, dry-heaving but with a smile plastered across my face for show. “We made it!” 2019 was a busy year for both of us.
On my end, I started the year freshly back from 2 months of traveling (Budapest, Balaton, Copenhagen, Jonkoping, Stockholm, Boston, New York), followed by Christmas in Angouleme and New Year’s in Alsace and Germany. After that, the wedding planning kicked into high gear for a civil wedding with the nuclear family in Cauderon in May, a religious wedding in a vineyard near the Balaton, Hungary for roughly 95 guests in August. Along the way, I scrambled back and forth from Paris for documents, Toulouse for Catholic training (a hell of a challenge for an atheist like myself), and Hungary to motivate my motley crew of wedding service providers. Flights, hotels and meals were coordinated through multi-tabbed spreadsheets and through hundreds of emails back and forth. Fonts were carefully chosen, invites sent to 12 different countries, a wedding website, an international wedding registry and an online survey constructed, menus drafted – all in three different languages.
In April I took a break during my lovely bachelorette trip to Mallorca. In May I graduated as valedictorian with my MBA and was promoted to a CDI contract at work. And after the wedding was over, the Thank You cards designed, printed and sent, the 300 photos edited and the whole crazy experience emotionally digested, the apartment work began. Because somewhere in the midst of all that wedding planning craze, we had (apparently?) also purchased an apartment in Bordeaux. There were walls demolished and others built, ceilings isolated, six windows replaced. There were original parquet floors liberated from disgusting carpet, a kitchen designed from scratch, two bathrooms outfitted with tile, shower, toilet. And after 3 days of Christmas in Angouleme and 36 hours suffering through the feverish “gastritis” that seems to plague the city of Bordeaux every year at this time, we had 3 days to pack up the past 2.5 years of our lives and move it down the street to the new place. We popped the last bottle of our wedding Cremant in the empty old apartment and just a few hours after dropping off the key, we were en route to dinner at Madame Pang. Honestly, we both deserve trophies for even finding something nice to wear amidst all the mess.
I had chosen Madame Pang because it was one of the first restaurants I had wanted to visit upon moving to Bordeaux. I had since been several times for cocktails, but had never gotten to sample their “French-ified dim sum” and I had been left curious. So in the spirit of ending this crazy year on a special note, I made a reservation for their New Year’s Eve fixed menu, which included three drinks and many different rounds of food. Unfortunately, the spouse and I were too modest to fully take advantage of this feast and missed out on their signature crispy chicken and takoyaki. Service on this night was horrendous, no doubt because the restaurant had hired outside servers who were clearly unfamiliar with the concept and menu. Our first round came after almost an hour and a half of waiting, likely not a reflection on the restaurant’s usual front-of-house performance, but unpleasant enough to ruin most of the evening for two people really just looking to chill and enjoy a night out after a lot of hard work. And to make matters worse, I had forgotten my camera at home. Anyway…
The drinks were tasty. Ben got some kind of gin tonic, and I a cocktail with gin, almond milk, citrus juice and foamy egg whites, doused with a kind of golden powder for festive flair. A solid hour after receiving our welcome cocktail and after three or four reminders to our waiter, we finally received our welcome snacks as well. Unfortunately we had no aperitif to enjoy these decorative little amuse-bouche plate with, and the surprise of the presentation had already been shattered, as literally everyone around us had gotten their food before us. (We had been the first to arrive for the 9pm seating). There was some kind of sesame cracker served with creamy tarama, prawn chips with a “Thai hummus” and a Sichuan style biscuit with parmesan. I was too pissed off to take a picture of this course and too hungry to even really look at it before inhaling it. Next came the Chinoiseries “chapter” of the dinner, for which we actually had the right to four choices. Unfortunately, since the menu wasn’t explained correctly, we only ordered two.
First came the Tempura Automnale, a selection of battered and fried autumn vegetables – eggplant, green pepper, sweet potato – with a piquant Tentsuyu dipping sauce from dashi, mirin and soy. Overall this dish was fine, although slightly heavy and the portion size way too large for a fried appetizer.
We also ordered the Crab Cakes, which were excellent. Super dense little balls of lump crab and some kind of beschemel-type binding agent were seasoned with fresh coriander, coated in panko crumbs, then fried until golden brown. A slightly spicy, nutty little sauce was served alongside it, providing plenty of flavor.
The first of four dishes we tried from the “Classic Dim Sum” list was the Har Gau. A very thin, translucent dough wrapped over a shrimp filling in the shape of a pleated bonnet. This is a traditional dumpling I’ve had several times in Hong Kong, and one that I’ve learned is used as a kind of measuring stick to test the skill of dim sum chefs. It’s all about balance when it comes to Har Gau. The skin must be super thin, but still hold the filling and not break when picked up with chopsticks. The skin should not stick to the paper or other dumplings. The shrimp inside should be cooked to juicy perfection, and the thing should be the perfect bite size – not too big, not too small. This one was beautiful, garnished with a dash of confit lemon peel, herbs and white sesame for an extra boost of flavor.
Next came something called Yu Dan, similar to a classic Shumai but with a minced fish filling instead of shrimp. These dense little bouchées were doused in a smoky, salty and very creamy beurre blanc, which hydrated the thing and added a ton of flavor. And over the top, a bit of black caviar gave the dish an extra marine touch. Just a tad too dense and filling for my taste, but otherwise a very nicely flavored, Westernized dim sum dish.
While the Yu Dan rebelled against tradition only ever-so-slightly with its touch of dairy in the sauce, the Pékinoise staged an outright revolution. These Peking ravioli (a.k.a. guo tie) were quite doughy and a tad too dry, stuffed with a very mildly sweet filling of pork and cabbage, then steamed to a tender bite. They were covered with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, which solidified into a crispy lattice after some time in the broiler. A bit of fresh scallion came sprinkled over for color. This is a good option for Western dim-sum-first-timers who need a touch of something familiar to ease them into the dazzling world of textures this very special cuisine has to offer. For me, dim sum combined with any kind of dairy is a sacrilege. But then again, we are in France.
The most “purist” of these dishes was the Char Siu Bao, a kind of steamed dumpling stuffed with barbecued pork and one of my favorite snacks during the time I spent in Hong Kong. I do prefer when the buns are kind of free-form in shape and not perfect balls as the ones at Pang, though the “charred” Chinese characters gracing the surface were a nice touch. In terms of texture, the bao was nice and airy, with just a slight chew to it. The lacquered pork was perfectly tender and very nicely seasoned. There was also plenty of the sweet, sour and smoky sauce to hydrate each bite, resulting in a perfectly moist, juicy texture throughout.
From the Chick & Delicious menu, we chose again the Har Gau, this time topped with Sturia Oscietra caviar, harvested from local sturgeon. This was really rather nice, a more traditional version of the shrimp dumpling and more delicate in flavor.
And finally, my favorite of the night: the Teochew. This is a weird little brown thing, very earthy all around. A slippery, cool little pocket with a paper-thin external skin of translucent dough, stuffed with a sumptuous, and very intensely flavored, juicy filling of cep mushrooms. The thing was dusted generously with shaved black truffle and tender crumbles of roasted chestnut, which added a pleasant nuttiness and natural sweetness to each bite. I’d go back to Madame Pang just for Teochew + a cocktail.
The dessert course was imaginative and exciting, sweet French classics with a Pan-Asian twist. There was a kind of chewy chocolate mochi with a black sesame cream spilled over it, miniature (kefir?) lime pies topped with toasted swirls of merengue, and a kind of floral (jasmine?) sorbet sprinkled with dried flower petals. My favorite was the dense and moist financier made with matcha tea, a glossy, smooth layer of white chocolate frosting the surface. I also loved the creamy coconut-flavored sago pudding with its delicious and piquant mango puree. My favorite kind of dessert, not too sweet. Fusion ideas that actually make sense, executed to perfection.
The parts of the Madame Pang experience that I liked, I really liked. Most of the dishes were great, the cocktails stellar, and the dining room glowing with that kind of chic, fresh vibe of a restaurant in its prime. I do regret having gone there for the first time as overwhelmed and tired as I was, since I didn’t really get to appreciate dinner to the fullest. It was also not the best idea to choose New Year’s Eve, as service was (what I’m quite sure is) uncharacteristically terrible. But this is a place to which I will be returning soon, under much calmer conditions, for a cocktail and the crispy chicken, or a steamer of fresh dim sum.