My friend Melanie is, like me, a DIY’aholic, so she appreciated my efforts for her bridal shower back in February. Earlier this month, the whole Gravy clan, including my parents, ventured down to New Orleans to make a weekend of her and her beloved’s wedding celebration.
Melanie’s family owns Trey Yuen, a Chinese restaurant in Mandeville, Louisiana, and so it made sense when her family arranged to have the rehearsal dinner there. As Melanie’s matron of honor, I felt like I knew what to expect — a casual, intimate family affair.
What I forgot was that, like most Asian-American families I know, any family affair involves not less than 100 people. In Melanie’s family’s case, it was closer to 150, I think, and her family really outdid themselves in preparing an outrageously delicious ten-course meal.
Traditional Chinese banquets always start with a cold plate, and this one had Hong Kong-style char siew (roasted pork), braised duck, cucumbers, pickled daikon and tofu
There were so many highlights to this meal that, looking back, it’s hard to pin down a favorite dish or a favorite moment. That being said, I think the fact that the meal had very “New Orleans” touches — like the scallion-topped gumbo that Melanie’s dad makes in a wok (pictured below). The link between Chinese-style soups and the gumbo we had made me wonder why using the wok hei (the aroma that embeds itself into a well-seasoned cast-iron wok) and garnishing with scallions isn’t just par for the course when it comes to making really great gumbo.
Gumbo topped with scallions had lumps of crab meat embedded inside
Another favorite moment of mine had to be when two whole fried chickens, chopped Chinese-style, arrived at our table smelling deeply of five spice and perfectly-browned, crispy chicken skin. One of the other bridesmaids, upon tasting her first bite, promptly started crying. I am not kidding. I’ve always thought I’m one of a few who can be prone to fits of extreme emotion when it comes to eating something really great, and I’m so happy whenever I discover that there are others in my midst.
Another truly, truly revelatory moment had to have been the pan-seared filet mignon with stir-friend long beans. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I’ve eaten some variation of this dish, whether dressed up as gourmet Chinese or neighborhood Thai. But what the crew at Trey Yuen did was to — and pardon my usage of a well-worn New Orleans saying — turn it up a notch. Usually the beef in this dish is some variation of thinly sliced flank steak, and at Trey Yuen they perfectly sear chunks of filet to a medium rare along with the classic black pepper sauce. The whole time I ate this dish, I kept wondering why we haven’t been doing this all along (the intellectual part of me thinks it’s probably because filet mignon and other quality cuts of beef aren’t typically available in China and other Asian countries, but still).
Of course, in such a heady, wonderful ten-course meal, it might have been easy to lose sight of why we were all there. It might have been, except that the bride and groom were so happy that it infected the room.
As well it should have.