Celebration dining at Shuang Cheng … for under $15

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Once in a blue moon the start of the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. This is one of those unusual years when we celebrate both holidays on February 14. In looking for special ways to celebrate that won’t break the budget, I sat down with Daniel Lam of Shuang Cheng in Dinkytown and selected three delicious multi-course New Year/Valentine dining ideas from his regular menu for under $15 per person. 

Click here for more on a variety of New Year celebrations.

They include some high-end dishes that are traditionally Chinese, but not often ordered in Chinese restaurants. And, they include many lucky foods essential to Lunar New Year celebrations and considered treats for Valentine’s Day.

The first menu is for four diners starting with a choice of soup – wonton, sweet and sour, or vegetable. Next is Shuang Cheng’s light and delicious Fried Crispy Quail served on a bed of shredded lettuce with a sweet dipping sauce. The thin, crisp, salty skin perfectly complements the tender quail meat and offers a gourmet start to this special meal.

Next is an important New Year tradition, noodles for long life. Choose pan-fried noodles topped with Stir Fried Chicken and bright, green, tender Chinese Broccoli. A pancake of soft, thin noodles is quickly fried to form a crisp crust with soft noodles inside then topped with the chicken mixture. It is a meal in itself with a variety of textures and flavors.

Then the highlight of the celebration is yet another New Year good luck food, Stir Fried Lobster in Ginger and Scallion Sauce. Shuang Cheng has always been known for its outstanding fresh fish choices, especially lobster. This version offers the fresh lobster pieces stir-fried in their shell with the light ginger-scallion flavoring that enhances the sweet lobster meat without overwhelming it. Add an order of fresh Stir Fried Bok Choy, and diners will be happily satisfied with a truly special holiday meal. All five courses including steamed rice, hot tea, and fortune cookies cost $12.60 per person (plus tax and tip). And, at $16.95 per lobster, if your group wants to indulge in an extra order of this lucky food, the per-person price for the whole meal will be just $16.85 (plus tax and tip).

A menu for two can also be exceptional and reasonable. Select the Wonton Soup which features Shuang Cheng’s meat filled, tender homemade wontons (another lucky food). Then the two of you can have plenty of lucky Stir-Fried Lobster to enjoy, but this time in a rich Black Bean Sauce. Add an order of Stir-Fried Bok Choy, Mustard Greens, or Chinese Broccoli and the celebration is complete with steamed rice, hot tea and fortune cookies for $14.70 per person (plus tax and tip).

But, the most fun is to gather a group of friends and order more choices. We created another menu, this time for eight, and built it around another Shuang Cheng specialty, Peking Duck.

This gala celebration starts with Shuang Cheng’s tender, meat-filled Pan Fried Dumplings (another lucky food) and special Dipping Sauce. Follow it with Roast Duck Crispy Skin with Pancakes and another Special Sauce. Next are bowls of steaming Roast Duck Bones and Mustard Green Soup, followed by Stir Fried Shrimp (another lucky food) and Asparagus. The long-life noodle dish can be Pan Fried Noodles with Chicken and Chinese Broccoli or one of a dozen other choices. Then it’s time for the Stir-Fried Roast Duck Meat with Mixed Vegetables. The grand finale is yet another dish for good fortune throughout the year ahead, a whole Steamed Walleye with Black Bean Sauce. This eight-course banquet also includes steamed rice, hot tea, and fortune cookies at a total cost of $13.65 per person (plus tax and tip).

You will need to give Lam two hours notice for the Peking Duck, and while he does not take reservations, a call before you plan to arrive will give you an idea of how busy the restaurant is and if there will be a wait for tables. In any event, it is always good to call ahead if you are bringing a large group.

While the menus we selected were designed to provide exceptional foods on a budget, the Shuang Cheng menu is extensive and includes a dozen Dinner Soups, two dozen Hot Pots, Barbequed Duck and Pork, a whole Crispy Skin Chicken, a variety of Chef’s Specials, as well as scallops, oysters, clams, crab, and fresh fish at reasonable prices.

This year Daniel Lam celebrates his 20th year as owner and guiding force behind Shuang Cheng’s amazing menu. Born to Cantonese parents in Vietnam, Lam speaks three languages. It is clear that cooking is his primary interest as year after year he provides consistently good quality Chinese food at very reasonable prices. He has built a loyal following from University faculty and students, along with Chinese families who often fill the large round tables for family-style dining. Shuang Cheng is often on the diners’ top choice lists, and is the one Chinese restaurant I can recommend to visitors without hesitation. His menu includes Cantonese, Szechuan, and Mongolian dishes from the familiar to the unusual. Prices range from $5.49 for lunch specials Monday through Saturday, to $38 for the three-course Peking Duck dinner with most dishes in the $9-$15 range and most portions large enough to serve two or more.

Shuang Cheng is in Dinkytown at 1320 4th Street SE near the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. It is open Monday -Thursday, 11 am – 10 pm, and Friday and Saturday until 11 pm. Sundays (including February 14) hours are 4 pm – 10 pm. They accept most major credit cards. Parking is at meters on the street or one hour free parking in the Dinkytown Parking Lot on 5th Street SE. For information call 612-378-0208 or visit www. shuangchengrestaurant.com. So Happy Year of the Tiger…..Gung hay fat choy!…..and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asian culinaryarts.com.