Authenticity and share-ability are two of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry, and Song provides both by bringing Chinese tapas from a noted Sichuan chef to West Hartford Center.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Center’s new restaurant – Song – specializes in Chinese tapas from a variety of regions, creating a menu that offers a delicious harmony of both traditional and unique dishes.
“Song” doesn’t actually have anything to do with music, but rather is a nod to the Song Dynasty, during which Chinese cuisine began to encompass the variety of types of foods for which it is still known today.
Located in the space formerly occupied by Labrazel Home at 74 LaSalle Rd., Song is the latest venture for Chef Xingyu Huang and his wife, Sally Zhu, co-owners of Chang Dynasty LLC’s Shu Restaurant in the Shield Street Plaza in West Hartford and in Fairfield, and Han Hot Pot Restaurant at 310 Prospect Ave. just over the line into Hartford.
Huang is from Chengdu, the capital city of the Sichuan province, and although he prepares dishes from all regions of China, the Sichaun flavors play a major role in his cooking. That’s where he attended and later taught at a culinary college, before moving to the United States.
“We want to be famous for our Chinese-style tapas,” Huang said of Song. Shu, he said, is more formal, with a focus on Sichuan-style stir-fry. Han’s focus is the hot pot, and also has a more formal feel.
“Here we have a more casual style of dining,” Huang said, with the emphasis on small plates and shareables that include dumplings, wontons, noodles, and pancakes.
Song is not your typical Chinese restaurant, and is unique in this region, Huang said. “This type of restaurant – Chinese tapas – is not only missing from West Hartford but all of the Connecticut area.” Huang said that if customers respond well, he hopes to bring the concept to other towns in the state.
Huang said he’s hoping to bring some tastes of home to Chinese natives, as well as bring a true experience of Chinese cuisine from a variety of regions to those who aren’t yet familiar with it.
One of the “must try” dishes at Song is the steamed pork buns – also called soup dumplings. The dumpling wrappers are hand-rolled and individually filled with a special mixture of pork and spices before being closed with a twist and steamed for exactly seven minutes. The dumplings aren’t served in soup – but when you break into one with chopsticks or a fork, it releases a savory soup created by the steaming process.
The scallion pancake with sliced beef is another dish that Huang highly recommends. “Everyone always comes back for that,” he said.
“Spicy beef jerky” is also a recommendation – and the moist strips of beef bathed in Sichuan spices bear no resemblance to the beef jerky one would find in a convenience store.
Braised beef noodle soup and ground pork noodle soup, which can be eaten alone as a full meal or shared, have been early favorites as well, Huang said.
Everything on the menu is made from scratch and to order – with the freshest and most authentic ingredients possible – and the authenticity extends to the decor as well.
Zhu traveled back and forth to China collecting some of the traditional pieces that grace Song’s dining room. The wood for the tabletops was specially imported from China, and offer a natural touch. The Asian lanterns and paintings were also specifically imported from China.
Beer and wine are available at Song, and patrons are also welcome to bring their own bottles of wine, and a corkage fee of $10 per bottle will be charged.
For the next several months, Huang said he will be working full time at Song, to ensure that the flavors are correct and that the chefs know what to do. Then he will share his time between all of the restaurants, where he constantly tweaks the menus and creates new dishes.
Huang has been in the United States for several decades – he’s lived in Connecticut for 19 years and prior to that was in New York City – and his skills and expertise have been recognized internationally. An Asian TV station made a documentary (with subtitles) about his Sichuan cooking that can be seen on YouTube.
All of the chefs employed at Song are from different areas of the Sichuan province. Huang said it’s important to him that they all understand the authentic flavors.
Song Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
For more information or to make a reservation, visit Song’s website or call 860-595-3099.
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