The Year of the Ox is nearly upon us. Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year (though it's celebrated by many Asian cultures), arrives on Friday, February 12, promising a fresh start and new hope for another year. At Avanti Food & Beverage, Meta Asian Kitchen owners Kenneth Wan and Doris Yuen have put together a tempting menu for the occasion.
Meta's Chinese New Year menu, available from Thursday, February 11, to Wednesday, February 17, represents both tradition and new ideas, according to the couple. The most striking item is a whole lobster, which is often served for celebratory dinners. While this isn't the first time that lobster has appeared on a Denver food-hall menu — credit goes to Rock N Lobster Roll at Edgewater Public Market — this one offers Ken's unique take on the succulent crustacean. He wok-fries the lobster and finishes it with Sichuan seasoning, giving every bite a numbing heat from the combination of chiles and Sichuan peppercorn. The lobster is presented in several pieces, making it shareable and easy to eat.
Abundance and opulence are hallmarks of food served during Chinese New Year, an occasion that often stretches out for days. The gold leaf that decorates Meta's cha siu bao buns and the five-spice churro bites represent prosperity for the coming year, and the long, uncut bok choy and seafood noodles represent health and longevity. Along with the lobster, bao and bok choy (served in a light garlic sauce), Meta is offering a Chinese Family Meal with seafood noodles made with noodles from Denver's own Kwan Sang Noodle Company; chef's fried rice with steak, chicken and cha siu pork; Chinatown dumplings filled with chicken and chives; and veggie spring rolls.
The Wans and Avanti F & B have teamed up with Jack Daniel's, so Jack Daniel's Gold, a whiskey finished in uncommon maple-wood barrels, shows up in the cha siu pork glaze, as a flambé finish for the lobster, and in the dipping sauce for the spring rolls. There's also a five-spice Old Fashioned available from Avanti's bar; it's made with rye and Jack Daniel's Gold.
The celebration also marks the two-year anniversary of Meta Asian Kitchen at Avanti, and while the pandemic has slowed down the Wans' plans somewhat, they're still looking at an expansion. Doris notes that she and Kenneth had just begun hunting for a retail space where they could open a brick-and-mortar restaurant when the pandemic hit last spring, so they scaled back a little and are now in the process of opening a delivery-only spot at CloudKitchens to expand their footprint in the metro area.
Lunar New Year celebrations will be more subdued this year, but there's still plenty of good food to be found around town, especially for takeout. For more options, see our 2020 list of the best Chinese restaurants in Denver, all of which are open for at least takeout, and many of which have limited seating indoors.
Meta Asian Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. inside Avanti Food & Beverage, 3200 Pecos Street. Reservations are recommended because of limited seating; call 720-269-4778 or visit Avanti's website to reserve a table or order food to go.
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