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Chowhounds at Shang Hai Taste Delight

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Ruth Lafler Feb 8, 2002 03:53 PM

In the middle of our afternoon's Taco Truck Trek, Melanie turns to me and says that she and some people she knows are having dinner at Shang Hai Taste Delight in Mountainview tonight and do I want to join them.

I think about the quantity of Mexican food I'm in the process of consuming; I think about driving from Alameda to Mountainview and back on a rainy work night. I hesitate. Then I realized I'm being offered the chance to eat Shanghainese food with people who actually know something about it and can read the Chinese menu and that there's going to be wine from Melanie's cellar to boot and said "I'm in."

The restaurant is tiny (I counted 9 tables) and unassuming in a small strip mall on El Camino in Mountainview. No decor to speak of, unless you count the long stips of paper listing the specials in Chinese. Over the time we were there (since some of the dishes were cold, food arrived almost immediately on ordering and kept coming) only a couple of other tables were occupied.

Melanie, Limster and I joined six other people (and one pre-schooler), and after Limster's lengthy consultation with the proprietress (among other issues one of the diners didn't eat pork or shellfish), we shared 13 dishes.

I have no idea what they were called in Chinese -- my notes are just descriptions of what appeared:

--Tofu skins with vegetables (Chinese name was something about yellow sparrows -- this was my favorite dish of the night)
--Steamed soy beans
--noodles with soy beans and some sort of finely diced green vegetable(s)
--a gluten dish with chunks of marinated gluten that looked like cubes of dark Russian rye and whose slightly sour note reinforced that impression -- this was my second favorite dish, I think
--Drunken chicken
--smoked whole small fish
--crispy duck
--gluten puffs and mushrooms claypot
--spare ribs in wuxi sauce
--some kind of fillet fish in a yummy (if oily) brown sauce
--eel in a brown sauce with minced garlic
--baby bok choi with mushrooms
--a noodle dish with chicken that resembled chow mein with a smoky quality

With this we had an assortment of wines -- mostly whites and mostly Reislings (Melanie pulled the Reidels out of the trunk for our delectation).

Of these dishes, the duck was a favorite, drawing raves about the way the fat had been perfectly rendered from the skin. I recall Limster liked the spareribs (although he complained that what he really wanted was the eel in the wuxi sauce -- personally I liked the sauce on the eel better).

The only two dishes I wouldn't happily order again were the baby bok choi (which wasn't bad, just ordinary) and the gluten claypot dish (the texture of the stewed gluten was not my cup of tea). The fact that I'm not fond of mushrooms didn't improve my assessment of either of these dishes.

Basically, everything was delicious and much of it completely new to me. I looked at the English menu and saw the same old "standard" American Chinese restaurant offerings. Again, to get the "good stuff" you have to either go with someone who speaks Mandarin or be willing to pester the staff into translating the Chinese menu for you. Although the older woman who waited on us appeared to speak little English, a young man in the kitchen I spoke to on the way back from the restroom was fluent and willing to answer questions (I was staring in fascination at what turned out to be gluten balls that they were stuffing with pork sausage which he told me were then to be braised in brown sauce -- I want to try those!). So just don't give up!

The bill for this feast (including the duck, which was $18) came to an astonishing $120 (including tax -- they didn't charge us corkage). With tip it came to $16 per person for the nine adults.

Shang Hai Taste Delight
855 W. El Camino (just north of Castro)
Mountainview
650-988-8820
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

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  1. r
    Rochelle RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 8, 2002 04:06 PM

    ruth,

    i just want to thank you for being so very intent in your postings. i am always sad that i haven't eaten with you! you make everything come to life.

    rochelle

    1. w
      Wendy Lai RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 8, 2002 04:23 PM

      Your favorit dish, the direct translation is called Vegetarian Yellow Sparrow. It's ususally an assortment of vegetable wrapped in bean curd sheets fried and then braised. Lots of Chinese restaurants serve it, but not all are good. But if you want to order it, just tell them the name and describe it, I think they will understand.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Wendy Lai
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        Melanie Wong RE: Wendy Lai Feb 10, 2002 02:18 PM

        This one had chopped salted mustard greens and a fine dice of tofu as a filling. The wrapping of bean curd sheets were very loooooong and needed to be cut for service.

        Any other places you'd recommend for this dish?

      2. l
        Larry Stein RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 8, 2002 04:57 PM

        I was one of the others last night. This may have been the first offline to combine Chowhounds and WLDGers (participants in Robin Garr's wine website discussion group). The WLDGers were myself (my wife and daughter were in attendance), Yixin Ong (who has just come out of lurkdom), Jon Cook (aka Bigdog and his girlfriend Kira) and Bill Futornick. We had just come from tasting '99 red Burgundies from Chevillon at VVW in Palo Alto.

        Here are all the wines (minus one which was a '93 Auslese from the Pfalz, didn't get the vineyard and I always forget the whole name of the producer, it's Kuprecht-?, Melanie brought this)

        NV J. Lasalle Champagne- This also came from Melanie's cellar. It had spent 2 years in there (yes, you can age non-vintage bubbly). It had developed a nice toastiness along with what I'd have to call a slightly sweet orange peel component. Very nice.

        '96 Baumard Savennieres (Loire Chenin Blanc) - If your palate is used to California whites, this is NOT the wine for you. It's almost like drinking rocks. Minerals, quartz, slate. Bracing acidity. A friend is picking up 2 bottles for me and I don't plan on opening them for at least 5 years.

        '97 Brundlmayer Steinmassel ? Riesling (Austria) - This was very good, but I was surprised by how much it had matured in 2 years. I expected a more tightly wound wine. Excellent fruit purity. Yixin took about 1/3 of a bottle home to have for breakfast.

        '00 Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese, Dr. Loosen (Old Vine Imports fuder) - Old Vine Imports is a Bay Area wine importer. I worked for them for 6 months last year between engineering jobs. Bob and Joan (husband/wife/owners) have an exclusive on all of Loosen's Graach production. This was fairly loose-knit (I'm not planning on aging mine more than 3 more years). A bit too much botrytis, but showed very nice terroir on the finish (nice spice and minerality). Now the acidity in the '99 of the same wine is terrific. It's almost like sticking your finger in a light socket (a friend's description of that wine). I'll drink the '00 before my '99.

        '96 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese, SA Prum - According to Jon who drank a bottle of this last weekend, this was a poor bottle. '96 was a high acid year in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and this wine was quite soft. Seemed a bit disjointed, too.

        Melanie's '93 Auslese - This was also softening up, but given it's age, that was fine. 2 dominant fruit descriptors: coconut and white peaches. Nice balance. Maybe a touch bitter on the finish, but that's nit-picking.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Larry Stein
          r
          Ruth Lafler RE: Larry Stein Feb 8, 2002 05:00 PM

          Thanks for the wine info, Larry.

          And thanks for introducing yourself -- I didn't want to "out" anyone who wasn't a regular here.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            m
            Melanie Wong RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 9, 2002 03:16 AM

            Larry has been posting here for a while, although not as frequently as I would like. Yixin has just come out of lurkdom.

            If you check out the discussion about Slanted Door's closing below, you'll see where I thought I wouldn't be able to do a double chowbash in one day. But I kept my options open and decided to go for it with the opportunity to have Yixin and Limster take care of the ordering, plus all those nice wines I knew would be waiting for us.

            Thanks again for coming to the rescue with make-shift ice bucket for chilling my champers and riesling for the ride down. And, riding in the ChowCruiser was a special treat!

          2. re: Larry Stein
            r
            Rochelle RE: Larry Stein Feb 8, 2002 06:08 PM

            larry,

            welcome! and thank you for your great descriptions. i especially enjoyed your thoughts on the age of the bottles and your expectations of further aging. for one who knows little about such matters i found it very helpful.

            rochelle

            1. re: Larry Stein
              m
              Melanie Wong RE: Larry Stein Feb 9, 2002 03:11 AM

              Larry, thanks for making the introductions all round! We're completely in synch on the wines. Ruth did point out a slight fishiness in the aroma of the Baumard which I described as oyster shells and she disliked. You omitted the unfortunate Chiroubles. (g)

              I'm a big advocate for aging NV Champagne. A year gives the bubbly a chance to integrate, soften some of the lean acidity, and develop a bit of toast.

              The Auslese was 1993 Koehler-Ruprecht Kallstadter Saumagen (which means "sow's stomach), and I noticed that Bill Mayer still has some for $35. I noted a slight note of bitter in the end, like a quinine edge. I thought it was just about where it should be at this age. Limster asked about the petrol aromas, and at the time I couldn't remember the German terminology. They would say it was edel firne, meaning attractively aging and becoming honeyed and dieselish.

              I've linked below one of my older posts on Savennieres and the debate with howler.

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1. re: Melanie Wong
                l
                Larry Stein RE: Melanie Wong Feb 9, 2002 10:43 AM

                Yes, I forgot about the Chiroubles and its volatile acidity problem. Poor Jon, he brought the 2 bottles (other was the SA Prum) that were not what they should have been.

            2. j
              jenniferfishwilson RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 8, 2002 10:27 PM

              Ruth: I nominate you, Melanie and Limster to the Chowhound Olympic Hall of Food for 8 hours of chowing down at 5 taco trucks, consuming 13 Shanghainese courses, drinking numerous bottles of MSW hand picked wines AND stopping for dessert on the way home. You deserve the gold!

              7 Replies
              1. re: jenniferfishwilson
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                Larry Stein RE: jenniferfishwilson Feb 9, 2002 01:06 AM

                Actually, the wine choices were a collaborative effort. Melanie provided the Champagne and '93 Auslese. Jon brought the '96 SA Prum, Bill -the '96 Baumard, Yixin - '97 Brundlmayer, Me - '00 Loosen.

                WLDG offlines are slightly different in that everyone brings wine (I mean, it *is* a wine website after all). I only found out that Melanie, Ruth and Limster were coming at the VVW tasting. Since WLDG offlines in the Bay Area are more wine-oriented than Chowhound ones, we've limited our restaurant choices to those places where we can bring in multiple bottles and they don't blink an eye. Our regular haunts are Slanted Door (lunch only), Chapeau! and Spiedini in Walnut Creek (I've questioned the status of my liver the next day after a Speedy's offline). Those places are used to our insanity. They've also taken place at Wild Hare and R&G Lounge.

                I certainly hope this is the first of many WLDG/Chowhound collaborations!

                1. re: Larry Stein
                  j
                  juanita pescado RE: Larry Stein Feb 9, 2002 01:36 AM

                  "Actually, the wine choices were a collaborative effort." Oops...sorry, Larry. Thanks for the correction.

                  1. re: juanita pescado
                    l
                    Larry Stein RE: juanita pescado Feb 9, 2002 10:40 AM

                    No problem. I'm well aware that at some of the Chowhound fundraisers and/or offlines, Melanie has been wine provider. Since everyone in WLDG offlines brings bottles, we all get to taste wines that we've never had or check the progress of ones we have.

                    But I'm not picky. Either way works for me. ;-)

                    1. re: Larry Stein
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                      Melanie Wong RE: Larry Stein Feb 9, 2002 12:38 PM

                      Larry, I'm always happy to drink other people's wine! Thanks to all for being so generous.

                      I've been the sole wine provider for a couple recent dinners to help raise funds for Chowhound. But you will find that others in our merry band of eaters BYO also. Here's a link to our dinner at Chapeau!

                      When's the next one? (vbg)

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  2. re: Larry Stein
                    m
                    Melanie Wong RE: Larry Stein Feb 9, 2002 03:27 AM

                    I hope this is the start of more collaborations too, Larry. Maybe you already know this, but Robin Garr, Jim Leff and I go back some 7+ years. I don't participate on WLDG, but have enjoyed many a jug with Bucko, Marshall, Robert Helms, Andy Abramson, and others. I really missed Bryan Loofbourrow at R&G Lounge post-ZAP last month. The waiters there always make mention that our 17 bottles (and those were only the empties we left behind) is still their record!

                    I had left open our attending dependent on how much cerveza we'd consume with our taco trek. Since we'd had no alcohol for lunch, we were in fine shape for the field trip to the peninsula to join you.

                    Btw, I forgot to ask, how were the 99 Chevillons?

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
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                      yixin RE: Melanie Wong Feb 9, 2002 01:12 PM

                      Thanks for a great time - Limster's Mandarin is much better than mine, so it was a good thing we had him around ;-)

                      The '99 Chevillons were pretty good, definite house style (on the elegant side of NSG, I felt), but with striking differences across sites. Both the Bourgogne and villages-level NSG were really good at their quality level, and I was impressed by the Bousselots (not the corked samples we had, though) as well as the Roncières (albeit closed aromatically, but texturally very impressive). I'm still waiting to see if anyone has the Pruliers, which was the standout of a barrel tasting last year.

                      The Bründlmayer snapped back into citrussy focus after some air, although the Koehler-Ruprecht was starting to slide on the second day.

                      yixin.

                      1. re: yixin
                        m
                        Melanie Wong RE: yixin Feb 9, 2002 07:30 PM

                        Thank YOU, Yixin, for organizing this and inviting me along (however reluctant I may have been about another meal in a busy Thursday).

                        While Vaucrains has been my favorite of the Chevillons in previous vintages, a friend who has many in the cellar says that the Roncières has aged the best (for 15-20 years) and he does not hesitate to buy them from cellar sales. The Bründlmayer was lovely, thanks again for sharing.

                2. m
                  Melanie Wong RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 9, 2002 02:56 AM

                  Ruth, splendid write-up! Your new Palm toy is paying off well for chow duty. I’ve added below the phonetics and intonation for each of the dishes with pricing and a few comments. Gotta help Rochelle with her Mandarin lessons and this will assist those who have copies of the translated menu identify the dishes.

                  su4 huang2 que4, $6.50 (long and tender skins stuffed with a dice of bean curd and pickled veggies)--Tofu skins with vegetables (Chinese name was something about yellow sparrows -- this was my favorite dish of the night)
                  xiang2 zao1 mao2 dou4, $3.95 (the familiar edamame of sushi bars)--Steamed soy beans
                  xue3 cai4 bai3 ye4 mao2 dou4, $6.50 (actually tofu strips and not noodles) --noodles with soy beans and some sort of finely diced green vegetable(s)
                  kao3 fu2, $4.25 (fried protein sponges that gushed an intense winey and sweet marinade)--a gluten dish with chunks of marinated gluten that looked like cubes of dark Russian rye and whose slightly sour note reinforced that impression -- this was my second favorite dish, I think
                  san2 huang2 zui4 ji1, $4.25 (half a small poached chicken with a rice wine marinade) --Drunken chicken
                  shang4 hai3 xun1 yu2, $6.99--smoked whole small fish
                  xiang1 su1 ya1, $17.99 for whole (duck chicharones!)--crispy duck
                  xiang1 gu1 mian4 jin1 bao4, $6.50 (weakest dish on the table) --gluten puffs and mushrooms claypot
                  wu2 xi1 pai2 gu3, $7.95--spare ribs in wuxi sauce
                  can’t identify which dish this is on the menu (fish was overcooked for my taste, loved the sauce) --some kind of fillet fish in a yummy (if oily) brown sauce
                  shong1 bao4 shan4 bei4, $10.95 (wide and thick slices of deep-fried crispy eel) --eel in a brown sauce with minced garlic
                  not on menu--baby bok choi with mushrooms
                  shang4 hai3 chao3 cu1 mian4, $5.95 (irregular cut noodles usually served with pork strips and spinach) --a noodle dish with chicken that resembled chow mein with a smoky quality

                  It was just last week that I met and cajoled Yixin to come out of lurkdom, he posted for the first time a couple days ago, and as he said, “I can’t believe I’m in the car with you going out for dessert.” When Limster started speaking with the proprietress in Mandarin, it dawned on me that I’d not heard him say anything in Chinese nor had we chopsticked together. I’m glad that we had a chance to show him something of the Peninsula before he leaves us for Boston.

                  Linked below are the earlier posts for this restaurant.

                  Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Melanie Wong
                    l
                    Limster RE: Melanie Wong Feb 9, 2002 07:33 AM

                    I knew there was much good stuff in the Chinese department south of SF. This just reaffirmed that belief. Always felt handicapped somewhat by my inability to operate a car. Many thanks to you and Ruth for the rides. :)

                  2. l
                    Limster RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 9, 2002 03:19 AM

                    Great report!

                    Have to confess that I regretted not asking them for wuxi crispy eel -- it wasn't on the menu or on the wall -- but I suspect that it might not be too hard for them to cook it up.

                    We skipped a lot of typical Shanghainese pork dishes -- dumplings (xiao long bao) and lion's head meatballs (a peasant's dish and a favorite comfort of mine). It made for a good opportunity to try other dishes. I should confess that I usually end up ordering the same things at Shanghainese places because I don't eat them often enough -- but that makes for boring choices on my part. So this was a wonderful chance to explore a bit more. The duck was excellent -- I recall Melanie saying that it was a great value at only $18. A lot of credit should go to the proprietess, who recommended most of our favorite dishes, including the duck, fish and eel. I was glad for the chance to brush up my Mandarin, which is rustier than it should be.

                    The smoked fish wasn't as popular, but it actually grew on me. The noodle dish came up short -- I was hoping for thicker cut and somewhat knobby noodles which are typical for this dish and we ended up with a regular rounded type of noodle instead.

                    In retrospect, I should have asked for pea shoots, but they might not be in season (info anyone?) -- didn't see that anywhere, menu or walls.

                    The dark rye-ish gluten is kao fu, which was debated a bit several months ago on the NY board, I believe. This one was nice and firm, good texture. Melanie prefers this version, but I kinda like the one at Sweet Temptations more for their heavier hint of star anise and their softer gluten -- it's definitely a matter of personal preferences here.

                    I'm thinking of another Chinese place for a future Chowhound outing, maybe in a couple of weeks from now. More chance to practice my Mandarin.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Limster
                      m
                      Melanie Wong RE: Limster Feb 9, 2002 03:33 AM

                      I really liked the duck too. The taste was simple and straightforward, duck cooked in fat. Mostly a textural thing, it really did remind me of duck carnitas or chicharrones.

                      With this being my 4th dinner at the restaurant, I'm getting the sense that fresh veggies are not the forte here. The bok choy were overly mature, I thought.

                      Here's a link to our prior kao fu discussion.

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong
                        s
                        Samo RE: Melanie Wong Feb 17, 2002 06:54 PM

                        Pea shoots (aka dou miao) are in season, and the sautéed ones served me last week at Din Tai Feng were terrific. Come south some time and we'll have a Chinese feast in the San Gabriel Valley to rival what you had on the El Camino.

                        1. re: Samo
                          m
                          Melanie Wong RE: Samo Mar 5, 2002 02:50 AM

                          That would be wonderful, Samo! Again you invoke the name of the saintly Din Tai Feng, and I'm feeling so guilty for sneaking in and out of LA a few months ago...

                    2. b
                      Bill Futornick RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 9, 2002 02:49 PM

                      As the last member of the group to report in, I want to thank everyone for a fabulous evening. I have been an inconsistent lurker in the past, devoting more time to my WLDG habit, but promise to be more active in future.

                      Thanks to everyone for the food and wine notes- I don't think I could add anything else that would be enlightening.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bill Futornick
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                        Melanie Wong RE: Bill Futornick Feb 9, 2002 07:32 PM

                        Bill, thanks for sharing the 96 Baumard. It has been a workhorse of a wine since release and will provide mucho drinking pleasure for the next 10 years.

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