Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pleasure and Pain in Royersford, PA

"Spicy Hot Pot"

OK, I caught your attention. And no, it's not the headline for a City Paper Personals ad, though I'd bet it's been used there before. Last night I was very fortunate to be able to join 14 other foodies for an outrageously deliciously incendiary repast at the new Han Dynasty restaurant (70 Buckwalter Rd, Royersford, PA, 610-792-9600), the second outpost of the very good Exton restaurant. I wrote about the Exton place and its food last year for a Chinese New Year article in a local magazine, and I think the new Royersford place is even better. We sat down to a 24-dish feast that was both notable for its scope and wonderful for its roller-coaster of flavors and textures. The dinner was organized by Jeff Towne, the co-producer and engineer for the nationally syndicated, ambient music radio show, "Echoes" heard locally on WXPN (88.5FM), but he is best known in foodie circles as Philadining, author of the Philadining Blog, and one passionate, dedicated photographer of almost everything he eats in restaurants.

En route to the restaurant, which was a near 60-mile trek for me, I stopped i nto the Royersford, PA branch of the Sly Fox Brewery and picked up three growlers of their superb beers, detailed in my post above. It was a good move. Some of the dishes we sampled needed the beer to moderate their considerable heat.
Fish in Dry Pot

The pictures I'm posting here are courtesy of Jeff and the foodie website, and are just a glimpse of what we had; you can read the entire recap, with complete photos, on this thread of egullet.

It was a roller coaster of a dinner; from the very first dish, a fish and pickled vegetable soup, our taste buds were put on alert. Great soup (cuttlefish, I think, was the fish), lip-tingling heat level. Quickly softened by some sips of Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, and the next dish, sweet potato cakes (think sweet potato latkes), thankfully mellow, sweet and greaselessly fried. Wontons in chile oil followed, a superb rendition with decent heat. I was almost too squeamish to try the Sliced beef and tripe, but I did, and it was quite good, served cold (it was actually beef TONGUE, and that limited my sample to a bite, thanks very much), and really spicy.
Smoked Bacon and Leeks

So much of the dinner was an ever moving blur of dishes, napkins wiping my ever-perspiring brow and neck, smart sips of beer and water, scoops of steamed rice (another good heat damper) and gasps of tongues a-tingling. Thankfully I was not alone in my reaction to this onslaught of spice, but I was just as astonished at the relative calm and dry brows of some of my tablemates. I could feel my lips, ferchrissakes, and they were pulsing.

There was rabbit with peanuts, a very nice sweetly spicy dish, mung bean "noodles", and cold shredded chicken in a sesame sauce. Then came the Mother of All Spicy Things, a dish simply listed on our hand-written menu as "Spicy Hot Pot" (pictured at top of this post). Damn. This. Was. Hot. All manner of beef, pork shrimp, squid, crabmeat, tofu, noodles and veggies in a ridiculously hot soupy stew. Route 113 IPA went into my glass and quickly down my throat. The hot pot was one of the spiciest things I have ever eaten, and I've eaten some serious old-school Thai food in my life.

Thankfully, Han followed the hot pot with a delicate sweet and sour fish dish that was very nice and very welcome. Equally tasty was a simple dish of smoked bacon and leeks

Sweet and Sour Fish Filets

Tea-smoked duck in a beer sauce brought back the heat, as did a whole Sechuan sea bass, blanketed in a zingy coating. Sechuan Sea Bass

Shrimp-stuffed eggplant was terrific, dark purple slices curled around chopped shrimp, as was fish in dry pot, stir-fried string beans, chicken with dry hot pepper (like tiny popcorn chicken taken to the tenth power in heat), deep-fried shredded beef (think searingly hot beef jerky), Taiwanese sausage and snowpeas, studded with garlic cloves (you wrap the sausage around a clove and pop it in your mouth, take a slurp of beer, and it's just terrific), delicate baby bok choy and black mushrooms, earthy, juicy shredded lamb with cumin (specially requested by our tablemate, Lauren), and braised bacon with scallions. The Dunkel Lager was opened for these last 4 dishes and it was an excellent companion. Especially with that braised bacon. Yes, braised bacon. Who knew?

Dessert was a mind-bender, at least for me (after 23 rollickingly good dishes, the mind was pretty much bent already): sesame dumplings, three white orbs floating in hot water. Restaurant owner Han instructed us to put each dumpling in our mouth whole, and when we bit into it, it was like a gooey, slippery, marshmellowy Reese's peanut butter cup, I swear. Totally messed with your mouth and taste memory. What a wacky way to go out.

It was a fabulous dinner start to finish, daring and dangerous and hilarious and absolutely delicious. And painful in parts. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.


okbrewer said...

YUM! Great write up RP! All those dishes sound incredible! And the beer pairings were good,too, I'm sure! Thanks for the report!

Bob R (drooling in OKC!)

pennbrew2 said...


I'd have probably come down for this if I'd have known about it.

Help me out next time you plan one of these things.


Rich said...

All of the dishes from start to finish were pretty damn incredible, Bob, and it still amazes me that the restaurant could turn out such amazing food in a relatively short period of time. The service and execution of everrything was just top-notch. Next time you come east, I will definitely get you there.

But I didnt do any of the planning, Guy; in fact, I got a last-minute invitation, from folks who hadn't seen me in a YEAR, and were pretty insistant. Luckily, I was able to get free for a few hours.