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Friday, April 17, 2009

Han Dynasty in Royersford -
A Feast for 15

We were thrilled to hear that Han Dynasty in Royersford was being reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which should garner it some well-deserved attention. A few devotees, myself included, have been spreading the word about this restaurant (and its original outpost in Exton) as much as possible, but even with the reach of the internet, we could never hope to compare to the impact of a review by Craig Laban. His reviews in The Inquirer are very widely read and respected, and introduce many people to new places every week. We're really happy that he liked Han Dynasty enough to want to write about it, and very gratified to learn that at least one element in encouraging him to check it out in the first place was our crowd's discussion of it on the food discussion board eGullet.

I wrote about my first visit to this second outpost of Han Dynasty in this earlier post, but just realized that I had failed to update this blog with documentation of a rather extravagant group dinner we threw there back around Chinese New Year's. That holiday was an excuse to get people together, but it wasn't a traditional New Years banquet, it was more just a big group of friends sharing a lot of food!

We put ourselves in the hands of Han, which is always a good plan. Just let him know what you like and don't, and let him bring you what he thinks you should have. You might be surprised, but we've found that those surprises are almost always happy ones.

Most of these dishes are available regularly at the restaurant, but a few were specials, so don't be too surprised if any given item isn't available when you go. And do check the specials menu, there are always a few new interesting things on there.

The short review of this dinner is that we liked everything. That sounds like a cop-out, like we're being undiscriminating, but I just think Han made strong selections for us that worked very well. If we had any complaints, they were circumstantial: we had a couple of vegetarians in our group and so the kitchen kindly left meat out of the green beans and the Ma Po Tofu, which made them accessible to all. This was a compromise we were willing to make, but the omnivores missed the ground pork that usually perks-up both of those dishes. And although some of the dishes packed a serious chili kick, a few of them were clearly toned down for the sake of wider appeal, again a compromise that we're willing to make when sharing among 15 people! If you go with a smaller group, it's easier to customize things to your preferences.

We started with a Fish and Pickled Vegetable Soup

Sweet Potato Cakes

Dumplings in Chile Oil

Sliced Beef and Tripe in Hot Sauce (cold)

Spicy Rabbit with Peanuts (cold)

Chengdu Style Green Bean Noodles (cold)

Shredded Chicken in Spicy Sesame Sauce (cold)

Spicy Hot Pot (with fish, shrimp, scallops, beef, noodles, tofu, vegetables, probably more treasures that I didn't manage to find...)

Sweet and Sour Fish Filet

(no, it's not always served with the carved carrot sculpture!)

Smoked Bacon with Leeks

Tea Smoked Duck in Beer Sauce

Szechuan Style Sea Bass

Eggplant Stuffed with Shrimp

Three Cup Chicken

Fish in Dry Pot

Stir-Fried String Beans

Chicken with Dry Hot Pepper

Ma Po Tofu (missing photo)

Taiwanese Sausage with Snow Peas

Deep Fried Shredded Beef

Bok Choy with Black Mushroom

Lamb with Cumin

Braised Bacon

Sesame Dumplings

As you might guess, even though there were 15 of us, we left stuffed, and carrying a decent portion of the food home with us. Even with a smaller group, you wight want to use this model: just ask Han to select a balanced array of good dishes and see what you get. If you're bringing a large group, or would like something special, call ahead, and you might find even more rare delights being presented. You certainly can ask for certain things if something catches your fancy, but you'll do much better here if you keep an open mind.

One warning though: some of these dishes are seriously hot, and others have that unique Sichuan blend of heat and tingling, numbing sensation called "Ma La." It's very attractive to many people, even addictive, but can be a bit too much for others, or at least an acquired taste. So be sure to let your server know if you want your food full-on-traditionally spicy, or if you'd like to venture in more gradually.

Personally, I've become addicted to the spice. A few dishes, like the deep-fried shredded beef pictured above have a cumulative spice level that I can barely tolerate, but I can't stop eating them, and I find myself drawn back to the restaurant specifically for those dishes. A good beer makes a pleasing companion, one with a little sweetness seems even better.

Even if you're not a fan of spicy food, there are many things on this menu for you, just ask your server. Just be a little daring and try some traditional dishes, not the same old stuff that you can find at the Americanized places everywhere. Instead of General Tso's Chicken, try the Triple Delight Chicken (AKA Three Cup Chicken). Sure, it has bones in it, but it also has tons of flavor. The Tea-Smoked Duck has deeply complex flavor and an incredible texture, whether served plain or in a beer-based sauce. The Smoked Bacon and Leek has no chili heat, and isn't quite as decadent as it seems. OK, maybe it is pretty decadent, but it's also delicious, so skip the bacon for breakfast next time and get your diet back on track.

If your group is not feeling confident enough to dive into the deep end, go ahead and order some familiar things, but get at least one or two dishes you've never had, but that sound good. But another warning: your local strip-mall Chinese take-out place might start seeming pretty blah...

Han Dynasty (2)
70 Buckwalter RD
Royersford, PA 19468

and the original:

Han Dynasty
260 N. Pottstown Pike
Exton, PA 19341

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