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Jan 6, 2002 12:28 AM

What we ordered at Shanghai Gourmet was terrible

  • w

Last night we went to Shanghai Gourmet in the Ranch 99 complex in Albany. Maybe we ordered wrong, but it was really bad. I saw a few mention on this board about this place and thought why not give it a try. I should have stuck to my ususal of going to 168, not the greatest but at least I know what I can order there that will be good.

We ordered the sea bass with bean paste, stir fried bean shoots, walnut shrimp, Shanghai pork won tons, and pan fried tofu. The only decent thing was the won tons. The most terrible was the walnut shrimp, which must had about two cups of lemon flavored mayo. The shrimp was coated in a heavy batter than drwan in the mayo sauce. When they first brought it out they even forgot the walnuts! The pan fried tofu sounded innocent enough, but it came as lightly battered and fried tofu with a brown sauce that quickly made the fried batter soggy. I am unfamiliar with the taste of the brown sauce, it's got green onions that's all I can remember. The sea bass was too oily, a pool of red oil sourrounded the fillet of fish. You can't really mess up stir fry vegetable, they didn't really, but that was also too oily.
The one good thing was te won tons. That came first, which made me believe the meal was starting out great and will continue great, boy was I wrong. Big fat won tons with generous pork and vegetable filling came in a clean light broth.

I don't know if it's table envy, but other people seems to have better food on their table. I was really looking forward to a yummy Chinese dinner that night, I was very disappointed. For three people the bill came out to $50, then we added tip. The service was good, they were very nice. I might go back again, but next time I probably will only do noodle or soup dishes.

Good thing tonight's dinner at Shalimar in the Tenderloin made up for a bad experience last night. Thanks Chowhounds for the tip on Shalimar.

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  1. Wendy, as one of Shanghai Gourmet's advocates I apologize for your poor dining experience. I bet that the restaurant is one of those places where you have to be careful to order right. As I wrote in my post, the initial menu we were offered would have definitely yielded a best-forgotten meal, but I looked around at what others were eating, got the better menu, and had a good (although not excellent meal). Future diners beware: look at the tables around you and be careful to order in their style!

    24 Replies
    1. re: rachel hope

      My sister and I speak Chinese, we communicate with the waiter in Chinese, we are ususally handed the "right" menu. And I did look around, and saw someone else's walnut shrimp looked delicious, that's why we ordered a dish otherwise we wouldn't have.

      I guess I had a bad experience there...and it was expensive $50 for three. So chances are I probably won't give it another chance.

      1. re: Wendy Lai

        We lived in Shanghai for 3 yrs and were so happy to discover Shanghai Gourmet a year ago. In my opinion the place is absolutely authentic, ie. it excels in Shanghai food (but comes up short in other Chinese preparations). The staff and the chefs are from Shanghai, and many of the customers are native Shanghainese as well. That's probably why the won ton were so good... this is a classic and well-loved Shanghai snack. Walnut shrimp and batter-coated tofu, on the other hand, are not Shanghai dishes. I wouldn't order Sichuan or northern Chinese dishes (eg. pan-fried dumplings) there either.

        Shanghai is especially known for its cold starter dishes, and these are excellent at SG (hard to find such a large selection at other Chinese restaurants) -- eg. "ma lantou" (not on the menu, sometimes they have it sometimes they don't, chopped tofu with an unidentifiable green mixed with sesame oil), shaoxing wine chicken, liangban huanggua (sweet-sour cucumber), dried tofu strips in chile oil (xiangcai gansi), dry-fried beef. Anything in the first section of the menu ... Shanghainese usually start with 5 or 6 for a group of 4 pple.
        Try a soup (not hot and sour! that's not Shanghai food). The stir-fried eel with yellow chives might sound iffy but it's delicious, and just like you'd get in Shanghai. The yuxiang rousi ("fish-flavor" pork shreds) is not fish-flavored but subtley spicy and vinegary (vinegar is another Shanghai food characteristic)and delicious. Home-style tofu in a clay pot (jiachang tofu) is right on target. We've had a couple fish that were also excellent ... try steamed rather than fried, with ginger and scallions. The soup noodles are authentic as well, especially pork with pickled vegetable and pork with mustard greens. Also fried rice cakes with greens (niangao). For a vegetable order the king of greens in Shanghai --- pea greens (doumiao). Shanghainese go nuts for them, and they are very good. Stir-fried sweet corn with pine nuts (corn is "yumi") is a mainstay of the Shanghai table, also baby bok choy with black mushrooms (Shanghai cabbage on the menu, perhaps). Fried fermented bean curd (chao dofu) is also very authentic but too stinky for my taste. Ask for translations of the dishes listed on the board outside of the restaurant, or ask a waiter for recommendations -- tell him you want only native Shanghai dishes, that you want "Shanghai jenwei" (true taste of Shanghai).

        A note about oil ... this is also authentic. Food in China is oily and this is why so many foreigners leave the country complaining that the food they ate "isn't like our favorite Chinese restaurant at home". The trick is to balance one or two stir-fried (and thus oily) preparations with a steamed dish (a fish perhaps), a soup that is not heavy, and cold dishes to start.
        Please consider giving SG another chance. Why go to a Shanghai restaurant and order what you might get at any other Chinese restaurant?

        1. re: foodfirst

          Thank you for the education. I knew I ordered wrong...hence the title of my thread. I wanted to like the place. I think in general I don't really know what Shanghai food is. I will give Shanghai Gourmet another chance, and I will use your suggestion.

          1. re: Wendy Lai
            Melanie Wong

            I'll echo the comments that Shanghai food in particular is oily, greasy and fatty. Also a little sweet. Coming from a Cantonese palate, I found it shocking to see the dishes of cabbage hearts presented in a deep pool of yellow rendered chicken fat the first time I visited Shanghai. The restaurants who dare to do that here are presenting the real deal.

            Ordering in Chinese restaurants is one of the greatest challenges. To survive here, most places will offer multitudes of dishes that they think American clientele expect and you know that only a few of them can be really successful. I always get recommendations for specific dishes and ask detailed questions about the preparation when I try a new place. It's just too easy to order wrong, as you unfortunately found out.


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              While we're at it on Shanghai Gourmet (which I like), are you aware that on Sunday they serve dim sum? Probably around lunch time, but the menu is on the table in Chinese, so you may have to ask the waiter. They serve those long doughnuts that are very popular.
              I thought the chicken broth was very very weak for the soups.

              1. re: Jim H.

                Interesting! Bet they have soy milk to go along with the deep-fried devils (crullers). See any congee (rice porridge)? Maybe they have some of the dumplings and little buns typical of Eastern China - anyone know? Since the xiao long bao the one time I tried the restaurant were not that great, not sure I'd put "dim sum" there high on my list.

                What do you like otherwise at Shanghai Gourmet? Accumulating a list of successes is as important as chronicling the failures.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Maybe I should start a new thread, but since you mentioned congee ... I'd like to plug Washington Street Bakery in SF Chinatown where the congee tastes just like in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Yum! (Shanghai-style congee, IMO, is too watery).

                  1. re: foodfirst

                    Pls. start a new thread, this one is getting tangled. There are plenty of fans of jook (congee) on this board. To show you that we are on the same page, here's a link to my old post on one of my favorite jook places.


          2. re: foodfirst
            Melanie Wong

            Great post! I hope we'll hear more from you. From my one visit there, I can recommend the vegetarian duck. One caution though, it sits in a pool of thick brown oil, so it's not for everyone's taste.

            I don't know that I would generalize that food in China is oily. Certainly the Chinese prefer their meats fattier than here, but I think that the Shanghainese are unique in their fondness for fat and oil.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I respectfully disagree ... I've found that, as served on the mainland at least, most Chinese food is quite oily (certainly oilier than one finds it outside of China) with the huge exception of Cantonese food. Pools of oil, chili-laden and otherwise, on serving plates are the standard in Sichuan (Sichuan hot pot's "broth" is actually a vat of oil with dried chiles and various other items floating in it! and Sichuanese dunk their boiled dumplings in la jiao -- chili oil -- with no soy or vinegar added). Oiliness is normal in the north as well. I have to admit that the oil seems to add something that's missing from most Chinese food in the states ... but it's too heavy for everyday.
              That wasn't necessarily the case 20 yrs ago when meat and oil were still expensive to the average Chinese ... and a meat-veggie dish ordered in a small, privately-run restaurant would consist mostly of veggie and have, at most, 1/8-1/4 pound meat.

              1. re: foodfirst

                There I go with those Cantonese blinders again. (g) My time in China has been limited to Eastern China, Guangzhou and Beijing.

            2. re: foodfirst

              While we're on the subject of how strategize and order at Shanghai Gourmet, I thought I'd add my 2 cents about ordering in general.

              foodfirst is absolutely right on the money about sticking to Shanghainese dishes at a Shanghainese place. It's important to recognize that Chinese food isn't one big monolithic cuisine. It's highly regionalized, just like French or Italian (some argue more so). (and I would be utterly grateful if someone could share their expertise on regional specialities from other cultures and countries). Thus, the best bets are always the regional dishes that reflects the restaurant's regional style, because a chef trained in one style might feel like a fish out of water when trying to cook in dishes from elsewhere.

              Here are additional Shanghainese favorites of mine to add to the already thorough list in foodfirst's post:

              - any eel dish (I'm a huge fan of eel in general)
              - vegetarian goose or chicken
              - chicken and wonton soup
              - shanghai style fried noodles (thick, almost knobby - noodles, slightly wet, with strips of pork and cabbage)
              - smoked fish
              - a peasant's dish: lion's head (large meatballs - may be braised or served in a soupy casserole)
              - wuxi spareribs (Melanie just mentioned this recently)

              1. re: Limster

                How about dongpo pork, xiao long bao, kaofu, and gluten dishes for the list?

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Yep they should all be on there too!

                  I did wonder a bit about dongpo pork - I thoughtit might have been Szechuan, but am not very sure - I've gotten mostly at little sichuan and haven't seen that at the shanghainese places.

                  1. re: Limster

                    Limster, I know little about Sichuan or Shanghai food so don't have a definitive response. The one time I had dong po pork was at a Shanghai restaurant, and I've seen it on the menu at two other Shanghai restaurants and one Yangzhou place.

                    1. re: Limster

                      Dongpo pork is technically a Sichuan dish (poet Su Dongpo was from Sichuan).
                      Forgot to mention another wonderful Shanghai cold dish, which SG does well ... dried tofu skins stuffed with mushrooms (not deep-fried). "Dofu pi" is tofu skin.

                      1. re: foodfirst

                        Hummn, I know it's kinda late to join the discussion. But, I just have to put my two pences on Dongpo Pork. Su Dongpo, the great poet originally from Sichuan, was the governor at Hangzhou (Sudi was named after him in the West Lake). Dongpo Pork, the legend goes, was a dish originated on the barges on the Grand Canal where only small stoves were available to slow cook the pork. I have no idea why it was named after Governor Su. Maybe he discovered it? Anyway, enough trivia. My point is, it's not a Sichuan dish!

                        1. re: tingting

                          Love this kind of trivia! Thanks, Tingting. Can't believe you were in is tough for post-docs, isn't it? (vbg)

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            The dinning expenses in London was tough for post-docs.. :-) It's great to be back! Visited Berkeley Bowl immediately just to smell the fresh vegies.. ;)

                            BTW, Great China in Berkeley makes excellent Dongpo Pork--depending on whehter you'll like it half-fat, half lean... Yumm. My last dinning expereince there was hilarious--6 tables of people were waiting outside by 4:50 and everyone rushed in when the door opened at 5. Weekend rushhour. :)

                          2. re: tingting

                            Sorry! But any Sichuanese will claim that it is! (we lived in Chengdu)

                            1. re: foodirst

                              Looks like we've come to a Suzhou (where Tingting's from) vs. Chengdu standoff!

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                It's more like Jiang1 Zhe4 vs Sichuan. ;)

                            2. re: tingting

                              Governor Su was a poet, gourmet chef, winemaker(he actually wrote down many of his recipes) besides being an good-hearted human being. He believed in eating well to promote healthy and contented life. For example, he loves pork, but also loves bamboos; he was especially happy to find that bamboo not only taste good, but takes away some of the fat from the pork, and therefore a perfect combination in more ways than one. He loved making honey wine, bamboo leave wine..

                              Having twice governed HangZhou, he liked the place so much that he believed he was from HangZhou in a previous life. The HangZhou people loved him so much, that they're unhappy when reminded that Governor Su was borned in Sichuan.

                              Unfortunately for Governor Su, he was demoted several times,(from politicians who are jealous of his abilities) and have had to travel to lesser regions to his job posts. He has been to Hai-Nang island, at one point. Nevertheless, wherever he goes, he wins the people's heart, and needless to say, contributed to the region's culinary repertoire.

                              There's a cookbook(compilation)out called "Dong Po Tsai and Dong Po shiao tse" where just the Dong Po Pork dish has 6 regional variations: Huang Zhou, Hang Zhou, Shou Zhou, Yang Zhou, Chiang Si Yong Sio, and Yunnan Da Li.
                              As for the Sichuan region there's a dish called "Dong Po Pork Shoulder" .

                              Everyone loves Su Dong Po.

                              1. re: HLing

                                Interesting! Thanks so much for settling this one. Any other famous dishes in his repetoire?