Village Kitchen, a Hunan cuisine Chinese restaurant recently opened in San Diego. It is the sister restaurant of Dong Ting Chun in LA and has so far garnered pretty positive reviews. After reading Kirk’s take on his multiple visits, I was quite excited to check it out.
There was a small wait when we first entered. They had a water station in the waiting area, which was much needed because the restaurant was uncomfortably warm. There was also a very distinctive smell of fermented tofu, a smell I’m used to and don’t mind, but I know that it can be off-putting to some.
The menu was a single, two-sided ordering sheet. No larger menu with photos was provided. Perhaps they’ll get to that eventually. I’d recommend you look at a few blog posts, articles, or yelp photos before dining here. Luckily, I had done my research and already knew what I wanted to try.
Mashed Eggplant and Green Chili Pepper with Century Egg
This was my favorite dish of the night. It arrived in an oversized mortar and pestle. Inside is a mix of soft eggplant, sweet green chilis and preserved egg. All of it has been mashed together to create a comforting, creamy dish. It’s mildly spicy, with some fermented black beans mixed in as well. I was surprised that I couldn’t really taste the century egg, which usually has a strong sulfuric aftertaste, but it seemed to be masked by the peppers.
Steamed Fish Head with Red Chili
This is a signature Hunan dish. The fish head is cooked with a mix of pickled and fresh peppers (I believe this restaurant uses Thai and Korean ones). The flavors were actually quite delicate and very low on the spicy scale. We enjoyed the fragrant silky tofu, a welcome break from all the other spicy dishes, and the way the noodles soaked up the broth. The fish meat lacked flavor though.
Hunan Style Lotus Roots
The lotus roots were crunchy, stir fried in a chili oil. It was a little too much heat for Mr. K, but just right for me. I really like lotus root, but it’s often flavored heavily with vinegar, which I don’t like. I thought this preparation really enhanced the subtle sweet nuttiness of lotus and really enjoyed this dish.
Traditional Stinky Tofu Stew
Despite the strong fermented odor when we entered the restaurant, I actually found the fermented flavor quite mild. The tofu is first deep fried and then simmered in a spicy broth, which allows the tofu to soak up all the flavors in the broth. I liked the flavor added to the tofu through the spicy stew, but wish that the tofu itself had a stronger fermented flavor.
Overall, we had a positive first visit. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good Chinese restaurant experience in San Diego and hopefully things will only continue to improve. We’ll definitely be back in a few months to check on how things are.