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Shanghai East chowdown report

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Eleven hungry hounds braved rush-hour traffic to meet up for some Shanghai-style food in San Mateo. DeeGlaze and I have been coming here fairly regularly and it was high time we turned loose the hounds on the extensive menu. We chose a banquet menu with numerous substitutions and additions. We ate:

Xiao Long Bao (2 orders)
Combination Appetizers
Preserved Pork and Bamboo Soup
Shanghai Sauteed Prawns
Fish Filet with Wine Sauce
Combination Wild Rice Shoot (Water Root Vegetable)
Shanghai Chow Mein
Tofu Sheets with Soybeans
Chicken and Chestnut Claypot
Braised Pork Knuckle
Braised Fish Tail with Red Sauce
Bean Curd Shoots with Ham (Yangzhou Gan Si)
Pea Shoots with Garlic
Lionshead Meatballs with Cellophane Noodles in Claypot Soup
Shanghai-Flavor Rice cake with Ji Cai
Dessert - Rice Balls in Wine Soup

Overall, this was a delicious meal. The food was carefully prepared and the portion sizes were quite generous. Some highlights for me were the braised fish tails, cooked to spot-on doneness paired with an intense, dark, rich sauce. Melt in your mouth goodness. The fish filets in wine sauce were great too with flaky, perfectly cooked fish in a wonderfully balanced sauce with just the right amount of wine flavor. I went back for more and more of this. The Lionshead soup is the ultimate comfort food. The light and airy meatballs, split with a spoon, infuse and deepen an amazing anise broth. I get this every time and never tire of it. The rice cakes with ji cai were notable for their perfect texture. Toothsome but not gummy. And, yes, the XLBs were very good. If we're nit-picking, the skins were perhaps a bit too thick, but only by a little and the healthy dose of soup inside brought it all together. The only misses of the evening for me were the braised pork knuckle and chicken and chestnut clay pot. Though the knuckle was slow-cooked to fall-off-the-bone doneness, the sauce was rather thin and uninteresting. Same deal with the chicken and chestnuts - the chicken was well cooked but the chestnuts lacked flavor and the sauce added little.
And as always, another highlight was the company - a great mix of old and new faces. Thanks for a fun evening.

Shanghai East Restaurant
105 W. 25th Ave. San Mateo
(650) 522.9098

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  1. For me, there were two highlights.

    As mentioned above, the rice cakes with ji cai were perfect -- slippery and bouncy. These rice cakes are the same ovalettes often used in Korean cooking as "dok."

    The other highlight was the bean curd shoots with ham. The bean curd was cut into long, thin strips that resembled handmade soba noodles; the ham gave it some saltiness against a light broth. They came in very long strings, so it was a little challenging to eat, but well worth it. In the cold case at the register they had containers of the bean curd shoots for sale. Why didn't I buy some to take home?

    Thanks to those who organized and ordered the meal.

    BTW it was $22pp with some leftovers.

    OK, maybe three highlights: that Lionshead soup. I had never had it before. Nothing to add to ChewChew's description, other than to repeat the praise.

    1. I'm bummed I couldn't go.

      1. I agree with ChewChew, the lion's head meatball soup was wonderful, with really flavorful, yet light meatballs. And the rice cakes were a treat as so many renditions are gummy and end up sitting in the pits of your stomach.

        The fish fillet with wine sauce was also wonderful. The sauce was subtle, the fillets ever so tender. Not at all "fishy" or overcooked.

        I actually didn't find the xiao long bao to be that good. Yes, they arrived and remained intact with soup inside, but I thought the soup lacking in complexity and the meat filling rather ordinary. They were also on the small side.

        The pork knuckle had a sweeter sauce than I was expecting. Most hong shao preparations I've had are more savory then sweet. Still, the meat was soft and succulent, and not at all gamey.

        Overall, the food gets my thumbs up. Prices are great, they've got chilled/frozen items to go, and best of all it's near my office. :-)

        It was great fun getting together with a large table of hounds for a winning meal.

        1. I hope the days of eating great chinese food with hounds make a comeback, this was a delicious feast. The two fish dishes and the bean curd shoots were my favorites, and there have already been a few comments on these dishes and probably more comments to come. So I thought I'd give my two cents on the soup and the jellyfish that came with the cold appetizers.
          At first I thought the soup was undersalted. Then I took a bite of the salted pork and realized the soup was actually perfectly salted. My favorite part of the soup were the bamboo shoots. Bamboo comes in several forms (canned, frozen, fresh, preserved...) and this form was fresh, but without the usual smell and mild bitterness that fresh bamboo sometimes has. I wasn't sure if it was from a different part of the plant, or if it had just been prepped differently.
          The jellyfish was very nicely done. It had a good texture (crunchy) and the marinade was subtle and perfect. Most other versions I've had in the past few years were too vinegary, had too much sesame oil, or was too reminiscent of bottled chinese chicken salad dressing.
          Overall, the dishes were good and a few were definitely memorable. I'm already looking forward to a return visit.

          1. Here's the slideshow of our dinner dishes, missed the xiao long bao and the tang yuan for the dessert. Comments later.
            http://flickr.com/photos/melaniewong/...

            1. This event looks like a great success enhanced by the slideshow. Not being as familiar with the dishes I am guessing what each one describes. I would have loved to join you on this event as we live close to this restaurant. I have been there twice but was unsure as to what to order. How does one get on a "local list" to participate in chowhound events especially on the mid-peninsula?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Oceanlover

                If you'd like to help organize and participate in chow activities in Silicon Valley (SFO airport to Gilroy), here's a link to the mailing list where all hounds are welcome to sign up -
                http://groups.yahoo.com/group/svchowd...

                Events do fill up fast, often within minutes of an emailed announcement. He who has the fastest broadband wins! I'm mentioning this so that you don't get discouraged if you can't get into some of the meals. Some times the only way to be sure you'll be included is to help organize an outing thus securing your spot.

              2. My favourites were:
                Fish Filet with Wine Sauce - fine example of this Shanghainese dish. Tender and flakey fish. Strong wine sauce.
                Combination Wild Rice Shoot (Water Root Vegetable) - very clean and fresh tasting.
                Braised Fish Tail with Red Sauce - melt in your mouth tender with a rich, but not overwhelming sauce.
                Bean Curd Shoots with Ham (Yangzhou Gan Si)- good "Q" on the gan si.
                Lionshead Meatballs with Cellophane Noodles in Claypot Soup - not too heavy but still rich. Nice texture on meatballs.
                Shanghai-Flavor Rice cake with Ji Cai - perfect toothsome rice cakes with no cloying sauce I usually see on them.

                Middling:
                Xiao Long Bao - good soup (finally!), but skin a tad thick for me.
                Combination Appetizers - I liked the veg duck, jelly fish, and seaweed bows, but personally don't care for cold poultry
                Shanghai Sauteed Prawns - clean execution, was a bit cold i ntemp for me , but may have not gotten to it in time
                Preserved Pork and Bamboo Soup - needed white pepper to brighten
                Pea Shoots with Garlic - just average
                Shanghai Chow Mein - I would have liked the noodles to have a bit more spring
                Rice Balls in Wine Soup - the balls were a bit mushy for me

                Not so fond:
                Chicken and Chestnut Claypot - chicken was dry and the sauce really didn't add much
                Braised Pork Knuckle - too sweet a version for me. Also, I like the meat and skin to be more falling apart/cooked longer. Did look very pretty though.
                Tofu Sheets with Soybeans - gummy

                Overall, great meal and great company... thanks to the organizers!

                1. Sorry for the late posting, but we headed down to Disneyland after the feast. And wasn't it just that. Chewchew and the rest of the folk have already commented most deliciously on
                  the braised fish tails, fish filets in wine sauce, the Lionshead soup, and the rice cakes with ji cai. I loved these dishes as well. One not mentioned yet, but that I was lucky enough to get seconds of were the Shanghai sauteed prawns. I'm not the expert, but they were fresh and lightening sauteed. I could have pulled the whole dish in front of me and beaten off any interlopers. The dish that I tasted and passed on was the pea shoots with garlic. I'm not sure if the vegetables weren't quite fresh or the garlic was just too overpowering (and I'm a huge garlic fan), but I thought that dish had an odd and unpleasant mix of flavors.

                  I had to sorrowfully leave before the dessert was served, so I hope someone give me a report on that item.

                  Thank you all for a wonderful evening of fine food, some good wine and fabulous dining companions.

                  cece