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Shanghai Dining Notes - Hatsuhana, Xien Yue Hien, Micasa, Zen, Simply Thai, M on the Bund, Wang Bao He, Azul

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meg944 Oct 22, 2006 06:50 PM

From my husband's emails home......

Hatsuhana, House 9, 3911 Hongmei Lu, a Japanese
place. Interesting time getting there - the taxi dropped us off at the address, where there was a tunnel leading to a courtyard with a half dozen restaurants and (legitimate) massage parlors in it. We wandered to the back and could not find our restaurant, but did find three guys who spoke English. One had an idea where it might be - access was from the outside of the courtyard - and he led us to it. Turns out he owns a tapas place in the courtyard that just opened - we are going back tomorrow both because we love tapas and out of gratitude for helping us out.

Hatsuhana has an all you can eat and drink deal for $22/person. They definitely lost money tonight - we ate like locusts! We had, more or less in this order:
squash and red bean gratis appetizer
cold sake - three or four bottles - quite good
bottled water - 6
eel handroll and flying fish roe handroll - both quite good
shrimp fried dumplings - just OK
chicken kidneys - not very good - too tough
tempura sampler - good
mackerel sashimi - good, and FANTASTIC presentation - on a bowl of ice the size of large grains of sand
eel sushi - good
shrimp sushi - OK, a bit limp
oyster "sashimi" - essentially oyster on the half shell, served with soy sauce. Fantastic! So good we ordered two more. The only disappointment was that there was not a lot of juice in the shell - arguably the best part. Still, the oyster was great - huge and tasty.
roast sablefish - amazingly good! So good we ordered another one
salmon sashimi - ordered by mistake. Still, quite good.
chicken kidneys - tried to order chicken liver, got kidneys again by mistake
shochu and water - OK. Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit, tasted similar to whisky. This was our first time trying it, and we weren't crazy about it.
roast spawn - fantastic! Also far and away our favorite title of the night. Roast crab roe, I think.
salmon roe handroll - a little funky, not so good
fried butter clam - good. But how bad can something called "fried" and "butter" be?
broiled squid - poor; way too chewy
roast garlic - fantastic (again, how can you go wrong)
And finally... roast Yellowfin tuna head (actually only one side). FANTASTIC. Amazing amount of meat on it, all tender and flavorful. Lens of the eye was better than I thought it might be - interesting texture (chewy, but in a good way) and flavor.
Actually, not finally - as if that weren't enough, with the bill, they brought us some egg custard with a mild coffee syrup (quite good) and some tea.

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Up late, off to brunch at Xien Yue Hien (Huashan Lu 849). Chowhound says it is a good place for dim sum... in retrospect, we disagree. Food was OK, but we didn't see anything on the menu or at anyone else's table reminiscent of the array of small tasty dishes typical of dim sum (perhaps they only offer it on weekends). Plus the interior of the place looked remarkably like an Olive Garden, although the grounds were fantastic - a very beautiful garden. Signs everywhere told us that restaurant guests are not allowed to walk the paths, however.

Shrimp dumplings and noodles that were nearly impossible eat elegantly (tough to bite through) in soup. Quite good, even when you miscalculate the amount of chili oil to add by a factor of three or so. Breaded and fried cabbage with a sweet fruit sauce on the side - way better than it sounds. Crab dumplings - quite good (how can you go wrong!). Mango pudding (not very good - typically I love it). Complimentary fruit plate, once again with tomatoes. OK meal, but in the bottom 50th percentile, $20.

We ordered a stuffed squid, but it never showed up. Interesting time trying to contest the bill, but we finally got our point across. Very interesting being somewhere with no command of the language (I can say hello and thank you, and recognize the characters for entrance and exit). For the most part we do OK, but when anything unusual happens, we are relying on hand gestures and good will. Fortunately for us, for the most part everyone is very friendly and patient - far more patient on
average than many people are in the US with people who don't speak English.

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Dinner at Micasa, the restaurant owned by the helpful guy (David ) from the other night. Tapas place had just opened last week, and was totally dead at ~8:00 when we arrived - only one other 4-top. Felt very much like being in Montreal - a western style interior with soft techno music in the background. A somewhat limited menu, and more international than strictly tapas or even Spanish (David said they are still working on it) - we ordered every tapa worth eating.

Mango & shrimp spring rolls with mango, avocado, green onion, and red bell pepper salsa on the side. Quite good. Duck breast with a brown sauce on greens. Good, but too salty - it tasted like they might be using some kind of commercial gravy base or something rather than stock. Fantastic presentation - a small cast iron frying pan with a line of greens in it, the duck breast sliced on top, and sauce over the whole thing. Greens were quite good - lots of garlic, and the saltiness was good with them. Crab cakes with creamed tomatoes, tomato salsa, and shredded bell peppers as garnish. Again, fantastic presentation! Not the best crab cakes we have ever had, but OK, and the sides were great. Garlic and Sichuan pepper shrimp. Great! Plenty of cowbell in both the
pepper and garlic department, which totally works for us! Shrimp were too small to have really good texture. Fried sausage. OK, but kind of disappointing. Was advertised as chorizo, but was plainly some local sausage - Chinese sausage is flavored quite differently from US sausage (different spices, and no fennel at all). Tomato and fresh mozz salad with balsamic vinegar and a bit of olive oil. Quite good. A shocking $52 total (though $26 of that was from several glasses of wine), and they did not take credit cards. Fortunately we had enough cash on us (this is a lot for a meal for two in China.) Not bad at all for a new place, the food especially was quite good. We'd try it again if we were living there.

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Went to the "Zen" restaurant in Xintiandi for dim sum. Zen is quite modern - the decor could easily appropriate to a $100/plate restaurant in Manhattan. We have tried dim sum in a substantial number of places - Philly, NYC, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Albany - albeit all in North America, and this was no question the best we have ever had. A complimentary roast pork amuse bouche - OK. Amazing shrimp dumplings - bursting with flavor,
tender, full of shrimp, and cooked just right. Soft shell crab lightly breaded, fried, and cut into chopstick-sized pieces with a ginger-soy sauce and some kind of flavored salt on the side. Quite good, but I am a sucker for soft shelled crab. Pork and crab xiaolongbao - how can you go wrong!? Quite tasty, but the wrapper was a bit delicate, and broke when we tried to detach it from the steamer in three out of four dumplings (obviously a problem for xiaolongbao). Shrimp and green onion stuffed
steamed bean curd skin (yuba) rolls. Wow, amazing (although again, I love yuba)! Meg said this was the best yuba roll she had ever had - it was not tough, so you could bite off a piece rather than having to choke down a whole half as one typically has to. Chicken and abalone pie, ordered mostly to try out abalone, which is on many menus, and typically very expensive - this was only $3. Layers of puff pastry in a oval, 3/8" high, with some chicken and (presumably) abalone inside. OK - didn't knock our socks off. Sticky rice in lotus leaf, stuffed with pork, shrimp, mushroom, squash, and water chestnut. Completely different from
typical SRiLL - much more subtle. Best SRiLL we have ever had by far! Good quality control: there seemed to be exactly 1 shrimp and 1 chunk squash in each one. Crab congee. AMAZING texture and flavor; super glutinous, subtle but rich crab flavor. Very different from typical (pork or duck and preserved egg) congee - again, the best we have ever had. Big chunks of crab in shell in every bowl (chunk of thorax and several legs) - I did my best to fish it out with a toothpick, but there is no elegant way to do it, and I didn't want to start my day covered in a fine layer of crab. This is clearly not a super traditional dim sum, but
exactly what we are looking for - "optimized dim sum" - take a style of cooking, and make it the best it can be with modern knowledge of ingredients. $38, including miscalculated (my mistake, but well-earned) 20% tip.

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Simply Thai in Xintiandi for dinner. A bottle of Redbank brut, an Aussie sparkling wine. Not super refined, but for only $32 in a restaurant in cost-inflated (for wine) China what do you want? Shrimp, spinach, mushrooms, pork and carrot (a great combination of flavors) in a rice paper wrap. Served with a HOT gingery soy sauce (this sauce goes to 11). Both quite good. Shrimp cakes - kind of like idealized shrimp toast - some bread, some shrimp, fried - OK. Served with a sweet rice wine sauce. Squid, red onion, basil, and bell pepper stir fry. Quite good - squid was tender, quite hot (just right). Morning glory greens with dried shrimp (very small particles of shrimp) and a garlicky fish sauce - amazingly good! Fruit desert: coconut milk, corn kernels, lychee, gelatin, jackfruit, mango, and a big hunk of ice to keep it cold. Quite good. Overall the meal was quite good - Meg said she had never had better Thai.

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Breakfast at "M on the Bund", a very high end, predominantly
western-style restaurant with a strong Mediterranean and North African influence. On top of a building with a fantastic view of the Huangpu River, full of Westerners (95%) for brunch - about half the tables (including ours) had someone with a China guidebook. I wanted to bolt (I didn't fly 7,371 miles for breakfast at Chez Sophie (not that there is anything wrong
with breakfast at CSB)), but Meg talked me in to sticking around to enjoy the stunning panorama of Shanghai. As a compromise, we ordered some of the wackiest things on the menu. We looked at a dinner menu, which looked fantastic - I was tempted to come back for that, but again, for the most part we want to get the good Chinese while it is available.

Mimosas (everything is included with brunch) - OK. A pot each of Earl Grey and mint tea. Bread (wheat - OK; blueberry - wow!) with too cold butter (why do restaurants do that?!). A couple of fried balls of lamb, pine nuts, and tamarind on tahini and olive oil - quite good. Ricotta pancake with TART red berry (raspberry and cranberry, predominantly) compote. Pancake was indifferent, but the compote was great. Salad with octopus and (real) chorizo, greens, and red onion on hummus. Fantastic! Octopus was incredibly tender - just right - best Meg had ever had. Two eggs over easy on a bed of roast tomatoes and onions, with a crispy sesame flatbread on the side. Just OK. Flatbread went well with tomatoes. Raspberry & chocolate terrine. Pretty weak - not very dense; basically chocolate mousse with a layer of raspberry jelly. Ok flavor. Spiced (coriander and clove) poached pineapple with mango sorbet. Sorbet was standard (which is quite good, but not particular wonderful or anything), pineapple was fantastic! A whopping $62, but you're paying for the view.

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Dinner at the Central Hotel, at the Wang Bao He crab feast. We were the jerks arriving on Saturday night without a reservation, as we had been out running around all day, so we expected to wait. The hostess told us it would be about 45 minutes and sent us to the lobby bar, where they gave us a free drink. Completely unnecessary but very nice. Tea, diet coke for Meg and a Kirin for me ("Big one or a small one?" Big one. "We don't have a big one." I'll have the small one then.). Room temperature sauted minced vegetable (pea greens?) with shepherds purse (a type of medicinal herb - looks a bit like a dandelion) and crab meat - quite good, bit of a caramelized taste. "Four tastes crab" - shrimp, crab roe, lotus seed, an other unknown bits; interesting, but not something we would order again. Pork and crab xiaolongbao - amazing, the best we have ever had. "Steamed bread and crab meat in pomegranate style" - a little pasta purse of crab, crab roe, and unidentifiable crunchy vegetables. Quite good - a good mix of flavors, and a good texture. Tiny (2") bok choy arranged radially around a plate (tops pointing in) in two rows with crab meat piled in the center. Fantastic presentation; veg was quite good, and crab was amazing. A whole turtle, braised I think. Shell was split along the spine, guts and a fair bit of bones were removed, but still recognizable as a turtle (shell, legs, necks), and stuffed with crab. Interesting lesson in reptile anatomy - many tiny bones, different from mammals and birds. Dark meat, a bit dry. It was OK, but I would not order it again - I was just interested to try turtle done well. About $40 - would have been much more had we gotten the whole crabs, but we were tired and not in the mood to do that much work.

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Went to a place called Azul (or Viva - the two are connected) for
brunch. Customers were 2/3 Asian, 1/3 western; many of the westerners speaking Spanish. Tapas place; sadly, no tapas but a delicious prix fixe Spanish-inspired two course breakfast. Bloody Mary and a mango smoothie (included) to start; mary was great, smoothie was - literally - a bit thin. Followed up with a bottle of Freixenet because I have been jonesing for sparkling wine - $32 (OK for restaurant prices in China). Quite good corn scone with tasty but unidentifiable paste (cashew butter?) - we asked the French manager type guy what it was later in the meal. He didn't know, but said he would ask, and avoided our table for the rest of the meal. Olive scone with jelly - OK, but not as good as corn. Also an OK corn muffin. Olive tapenade, roasted plum tomato, capers, and soft goat cheese on toasted baguette. Heavenly! An amazing amount of smoked salmon with buckwheat pancakes and creme fraiche and cooked green onion. Amazing! Roast corn and red bell pepper (best part of the dish), small, thin, interestingly seasoned steaks, fried sweet potatoes, two sunny side up eggs with vivid orange yolks (typical of non-factory farmed eggs in the states; quite common here) with a drizzle of aioli on the eggs and a drizzle of pesto on the plate. To continue my trend of using outrageous superlatives to describe the food... fucking fantastic! Shrimp, roasted bell pepper, pancetta, and penne pasta in a rosemary cream sauce. Definitely the weak link in the meal - not enough rosemary in the sauce. $73, including wine. I know just yesterday I carped about eating western food in China, but we are crazy for tapas, and eat them wherever we can (so I will eat them in a box; and I will eat them with a fox; and I will eat them in a house; and I will eat them with a mouse!). I think the moral of the story is that we need to go to Spain next...

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  1. Gary Soup RE: meg944 Oct 23, 2006 01:08 AM

    Hey Meg, great report! Glad you got to Wang Bao He. I'll be headed to SH on Nov. 14, and should be there while the crabs are in their prime. Was that $40 for 2??? I seem to recall it being more expensive that that, but perhaps there's are different sets, one with and without the whole crab. BTW, when you get the whole crabs at Wang Bao He, I believe you get a highly skilled "shucker" do to the work for you.

    1. m
      meg944 RE: meg944 Oct 23, 2006 09:32 AM

      Thanks - of course, Jack wrote most of the "report." Yes, ~$40. We just ordered a la carte - the menus that included whole crab were quite a bit more expensive. We saw people around us tearing apart their crabs themselves, but perhaps that was their choice. Had the staff offered us assistance we would probably have tried it out. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed the food, especially the amazing xiao long bao.

      We still have a few more restaurants to write up - hopefully we can get to that in a few days.

      Any idea if it's possible to get the tart yogurt drink they sell over there in the US? I found it in stores and had it for breakfast nearly every day.

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