Before Carlisle was a cool town littered with foodie-esque restaurants, there was the California Café, a small French restaurant built inside of an old firehouse on Pomfret Street. It was where my mom took me for lunch on days she’d let me play hooky from school, and it’s where my very first boyfriend took me on our very first date. In all the years that I went there to eat, I always got one of two things: one of their decadent, perfectly crusted slices of quiche, or their exorbitantly flavorful Chinese Chicken Salad.
I was so sad the day that my mom told me they were permanently closing their doors in 2011. Would I really never be able to have their quiche or Chinese Chicken Salad again? I know it may seem strange, but it felt as though some of my most wonderful memories would disappear with the restaurant. That’s the thing when you love food: you so closely correlate them to memories and occasions and most importantly, people. You never have one without the other. Most of the time, it’s the best thing about food. But other times, it’s physically heart-wrenching. (As an example, I will spend the rest of my life trying to replicate my great-grandmother’s recipe for her Christmas cookie pressed cookies. If I ever get it right, it’ll be like she was right there with me in the kitchen all along.)
So, when my mom told me she had gotten her hands on the recipe for my favorite salad – the original recipe from the family who passed it along to the owners of the California Café – I felt a sense of relief, and a welcome excitement for all the things I knew it would remind me of.
I’ve had the recipe since May, but it wasn’t until today that I decided to tackle this dish in my own kitchen. Armed with a lengthy list of ingredients, both regular and slightly obscure, I hit the grocery store.
Ingredients: 1 Package Vermicelli / ½ Cup Shredded Cucumber / 1-2 Cups Cooked + Shredded Chicken / 1 Tablespoon Minced Scallions / Hot & Sour Dressing Ingredients: 4 Tablespoons Chunky Peanut Butter / 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce / 4 Teaspoons Vinegar / 1 Tablespoon Hot Red Pepper Oil* / 1 Teaspoon Cayenne* / ½ Teaspoon Black Pepper / 1 Teaspoon Sugar / 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil / 2 Teaspoon Peanut Oil / 1 Teaspoon Minced Fresh Ginger / 1 Tablespoon Minced Scallions / 1 Tablespoon White Wine or Vermouth / 1 Teaspoon Hot Mustard / 1-2 Cups Chicken Broth
*Using these suggested quantities will give you an extraaaaa spicy dish. Adjust according to your taste preference, or enjoy your dinner with a glass of milk to wash out the fire occurring on your taste buds. Can’t say I didn’t warn ya. (I learned the hard way.)
Directions: Cook the vermicelli according to the directions on the package. / Combine all ingredients necessary for the Hot & Sour Dressing, and cook over low heat. / Marinade the shredded chicken in some of the Hot & Sour Dressing for as long or as little as you’d like. / Layer the vermicelli, shredded cucumber and chicken onto your plate. / Top with Hot & Sour Dressing and minced scallions. / Serve warm or cold – California Café served it cold, I ate it warm – with a cool glass of Riesling. / Enjoy. And then call your mom to reminisce.