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Jan 26, 2009 09:48 PM

Bund Shanghai dinner report - 4 Thumbs Up

In another thread I embraced Bund Shanghai Restaurant tentatively, based on the imperfect nature of the breakfast fare I tried and/or of my sense of taste, then impaired by a head cold. Today the New Year's Holiday gave me an excuse to take a flyer on it for dinner with my personal review panel in tow, they being three generations of picky Shanghainese women in the guise of my wife, Mother-in-law and step-daughter. Coming in cold, as it were, with them, I was prepared to be both disappointed and scorned, but happily suffered neither fate: we all loved it from first bite to last.

I ordered conservatively, with the intent of getting a read on how they did the Shanghai classics. We started with kao fu, five-spice beef and salty duck for cold dishes, followed by Yan du xian (a hearty soup) and pan-fried nian gao (both de rigeur for a Shanghainese New Year's feast) and hong shao rou (red-cooked pork belly), always a show-stopper. We added onion beef (on the request of my stepfaughter, whose tastes have become somewhat Americanized) and gambled on something called "Seaweed fish" from the Chef's Specials menu which sits in a little holder on each table.

The kao fu came first, and my MIL, the toughest critic of the bunch, led the chorus of praises for Bund Shanghai's version, which featured kaofu cut into smaller diamond shapes than usual, blanched Virginia peanuts and donggu (Shitake) mushrooms. The Nanjing salty duck was lean and appeared to have been freshly cured, showing no sign of refrigerator burn, dry edges or other discoloration. It was as good as I've had at Xiao Jinling in Shanghai, famous for its Nanjing duck. The five-spice beef was lean and tender shank meat, subtly spiced, not overpowered by five-spice powder as is often the case.

Yan du xian, a soup that eats like a casserole, is considered by some to be the most indispensible part of a Shanghainese New Year feast. It is listed on the menu as "Boiled Bacon and Pork Soup" and contains (for symbolic reasons) both cured pork and fresh pork, winter bamboo shoots and tofu sheet knots (bai ye jie). Bund Shanghai's version was comforting, rich, and salty. Some might find it too salty, but "salty" is part of its name and of its aim.

The hong shao rou ("Soy sauce-braised pork" on the menu) was as unctuously appealing as only red-cooked pork belly can be, and Bund Shanghai's version did not commit the error of being too sweet. Hard to believe, but the owner told us that the house's red-cooked pork butt (ti pang) is even better.

The onion beef was unexciting to me, but the stepdaughter loved it and took the leftovers home with her.

The "seaweed fish" probably got the coolest reception, partly due to its unfamiliarity and possibly due to the fact that it came last, after we were pretty much stuffed. It turned out to be yellowfish filets that had been dipped in a thin, seaweed-infused batter and deep fried, then arranged on the plate to look like fish. "Not very good," said my wife, as she reached for another piece of it. I thought it was fine.

We finished with jiu niang ("Small Mochi in Rice Wine Sauce"), complements of the house. I abstained, because this dish is too sweet for my tastes, but my wife had no trouble eating my bowl as well as hers.

We got to talk to some of the staff and found out more about the restaurant. The owner has been in the US from Shanghai for 20 years, and is fluent in English. He is a lawyer with a private practice, and opened the restaurant primarily to create jobs for recently immigrating relatives. Hes mother is the cashier, and a sister is a hostess. The owner is mostly around evenings and weekends; he appears eager to talk about the restaurant with anybody who is interested. He's the guy with the longish crew cut and sport coat.

There are two chefs at dinner time. One formerly worked at the Jin Jiang Hotel in Shanghai, and the other worked as a chef for the Municipal Government of Shanghai (official functions and the like). We chatted briefly with the latter and found out he is actually from Wuxi, Jiangsu province (my wife is a Wuxiren as well). I didn't ask for the details, but according to the owner, both chefs had worked at various restaurants in the San Mateo-Millbrae area before he recruited them to work for him.

Total for the meal (no drinks save for one Coke) was $57 before T&T. We unanimously agreed we'd be back.

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  1. I forgot to mention the Nian Gao ("Rice Cake w/Shepherd's Purse and Shredded Pork" on the menu). This was the softest I've ever had, almost of melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. I wondered if this was a misfire, expecting a little more al dente character, instead of an almost creamy texture, but the three women were wowed by it. My wife queried the hostess on the nian gao's origins, and found out it was Korean nian gao, which Ju Ju also happens to favor.

    I'm also attaching a photo of the "Seaweed fish" dish which I omitted above on account of the four picture limit, as I haven't seen the last of this dish. I'll certainly try it again, earlier in a meal. It was served with a vinegar and ginger dip, but my stepdaughter Leilani, who tends to think outside the Chinese box, though it would benefit from a mayonnaise-based dip. It's also a good dish for those like me with the guailao "fear of fishbones syndrome" to try.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Xiao Yang

      I'm very glad to hear your ringing endorsement! This place seems to have hit the ground running...thanks for bringing it to our attention!

      1. re: ChowFun_derek

        It seems to be an example of good planning. Maybe we need more foodie lawyers running restaurants (instead of practicing law?) So many restaurants seem to be launched on a (chicken) wing and a prayer.

      2. re: Xiao Yang

        I had nian gao with pork and spinach for lunch last week. I would describe the rice cakes as silky yet having impressive tensile strength -- they held their shape regardless of how I pulled or tugged at them (they're fun to play with). And the pork was more like smoked ham, which made the dish deliciously salty and deep. I think on the menu the nian gao options are pork with preserved vegetable, or bacon with spinach, but my over-the-phone order didn't work so well in translation.

        Back soon!

        1. re: david kaplan

          There are three nian gao options on the menu: "Rice Cake w/Pickles & Shredded Pork," "Rice Cake w/Shepherd's Purse & Shredded Pork" and "Rice Cake w/Spinach & Bacon." We had the Shepherd's Purse option.

        2. re: Xiao Yang

          Xiao Yang: what is Shepherd's Purse?

        3. Anything more specific on where the chefs came from previously? Shanghai East in San Mateo? China Bee?

          1. i ate dinner here tonight, and didn't stray from anything you've posted about so far. my familiarity with shanghai food being limited to a couple XLB meals in new york and at koi palace. i ordered the pork and crab XLB, not noting the price on the specials card. i would like to go back and try the cheaper pork version. i enjoyed this a lot, and glad they're not so huge that i can't eat anything else, but the skins up at the top pleat did seem a little thick. and i think i might prefer the more direct flavor of just pork ones, rather than the more complex, slightly murky flavor of the crab ones.

            i also ordered the soy braised pork and the nanking salty duck, and can't really elaborate more than you already have. my first slice or two of the duck i didn't find very interesting, but it grew on me, and i just now stood in front of my fridge gnawing on the leg bone. the pork was unctuous and wonderful, and yes, not too sweet. i really wanted to order one of the rice cake dishes, but i knew i couldn't finish all this food, and had a hunch the rice cakes don't reheat well. when you said they were the korean rice cakes, i suddenly understood exactly what these must be like, texturally. so that's next on my list.

            i'm often way too lazy to manage the MUNI to the outer richmond, to my own detriment, i'm sure. but a chinatown location? fantastic. do you think the pork butt you mentioned is the dish listed as "braised pork upper leg in soy sauce" on the menu?

            1 Reply
            1. re: augustiner

              Yes, what I called the pork "butt" is the "upper leg" on the menu. Expensive, but probably a very large portion. I didn't try the crab and pork XLB but based on the pork XLB I tried at lunch time, it's not their strongest suit. The owner did tell me they have a separate "dim sum chef," but since they open at 8:00 AM he might not be around at dinner time.

            2. Thanks for the reports. I'll have to try it one day.

              Bund Shanghai
              640 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA