It was held, according to the company's established tradition, at a downtown restaurant called L'Orchidée De Chine (China's Orchid). Since the company had expanded so much this past year, the party took up the entire second floor of the establishment, which included a dining area and a section for the "players": roulette, blackjack, and poker.
My husband and I shared a table with his co-worker Mark and his wife Anne, an older couple of Eastern European descent from their accent, although they spoke both English and French fluently. We had some really nice discussions before the first courses of the meal arrived.
And what a meal. This was no run-of-the-mill buffet that most people are used to. It was a multiple course traditional Chinese feast that was served in small portions over several hours. I'm usually a light eater and I was grateful for the spacing out of the courses; I haven't eaten that much food in a very long time. (In fact I wasn't even hungry for breakfast the next morning.)
The flavours alternated between spicy and sweet so as to not overwhelm the palate, along with helpings of steamed rice and fried noodles on the side. There were even steamed vegetable plates available for those who were vegetarian. The menu was as follows:
Soup (choice of won-ton or hot-and-sour)
Crispy Duck in Pancake (it was more like a thin crepe)
Chicken Lettuce Wrap
Vegetable Spring Roll
Steamed Sea Bass in Ginger and Scallion
Salt and Pepper Crispy Shrimp
Pan Fried Noodles with Vegetables
Beef with Oriental Basil
(Veg. option Spiced String Beans)
General Tao Chicken
(Veg. option Steamed Eggplant)
Szechuan Pepper Chicken with Crispy Spinach
Moka Ice Cream Cake
Fortune Cookie with Coffee or Tea
Every course was delicious. The hot-and-sour soup was spicy but not overly so, and pleasantly warming. Although my husband is not fond of seafood, even he enjoyed the sea bass which was delicately flavoured and just melted in the mouth. The crispy shrimp was deceiving: the spices hit only after you take a bite or two, and I was forced to wait for the rice to show up so I could clear my palate before continuing.
I can't say I had a particular favourite because it was all so good. And throughout the meal, there was laughter and noise. At the start, employees were given envelopes of "Monopoly money" they could use to bid on secret gifts or play at the aforementioned gambling tables. Among the gifts was hidden the joke gift of a Palm Pilot case, left over from a large stash the company had inherited from a past client. The person who ended up getting it had bid a substantial amount of his "money".
The meal finally ended at around 11:30 PM, at which point many left. Those who remained were invited to talk, dance, or try their luck at the gambling tables. While I walked around and socialized, hubby sat at the blackjack table. Supposedly people who stayed until 2 AM would be eligible for another special prize, but we didn't see the outcome of that because we left at 12:30 AM. (After all, we had a young one at home who was being taken care of by our teenaged niece.)
It was one of the best holiday parties that I'd been to for a long time. The biggest laugh (and irony) of the evening was that the prize my husband bid on and won turned out to be a mini beer-making kit - and neither of us drink much.