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Shanghai Gate: A repeat paean

teezeetoo Feb 28, 2009 01:41 PM

Ok, i'm smitten with this little place. every time i go in i have a good, inexpensive meal that seems to me to be made with taste and creativity. Today, we merely had pickled radishes, a noodle soup with pork and pickled cabbage, and the steamed pork buns (i think the best in boston). A really simply lunch but every single item was just right and the noodles in the soup were startlingly good. I have this eerie feeling that the chef must have cooked at some much grander place in some distant past, kind of a romantic fantasy. Whatever the truth, this is a little gem. Give it love and give it business please.

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  1. l
    lergnom Mar 1, 2009 10:55 AM

    I particularly like their lion's head meatball.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lergnom
      BarmyFotheringayPhipps Mar 1, 2009 03:05 PM

      When my lion's head casserole was set before me the last time we ate at Shanghai Gate -- last weekend, and I already feel a repeat visit is overdue -- Allstonian said that I gazed upon it with a look that said "Hello, old friend."

      We also got the pickled cabbage (good but not as transcendent as Jo Jo Taipei's), the Chinese leeks with pork, the Paradise Mountain chicken (still one of my favorite dishes in any Asian restaurant in the city) and the XLB, which I agree with the OP are probably the best in town. I just cannot get over how good this place is, especially considering how poor their immediate predecessors were.

      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
        Allstonian Mar 1, 2009 03:25 PM

        Actually, we didn't have Chinese leeks with pork, we had rice cake in a somewhat different preparation that we've had before, stir-fried with pork, scallions, and shrimp. I was smitten by the sight of a dish at a nearby table, though at first I took the rice cake for bay scallops (instead of the 1/4-inch diagonal slices I'm used to, the rice cake had been cut straight across into half-inch lengths that looked a bit like short versions of Korean rice cake.)

        What I love about Shanghai Gate is the combination of the outstanding food, the really interesting decor, and the friendly servers. Can't wait to go again soon!

    2. k
      kimfair1 Mar 8, 2009 09:33 AM

      The wife and I ate there last night for the first time. There was good and bad.

      The good? The food! Best Chinese food I've had in Boston, and the best I've had outside of Toronto. Diced spicy chicken with peas - unbelievable! Spicy sizzling beef plate - outstanding if not quite as good as the chicken. Cold cucumber chunks in a delicious soy/ginger sauce, fabulous! The only down note on the food was the spring rolls the wife insisted we get. Undercooked and not very tasty.

      The bad? We walked in to a nearly 3/4 full restaurant. We were the only non-Asian patrons in there (usually a good sign), BUT our food came out about 5 minutes after we ordered, and it was glaringly obvious they wanted us out of there so the other 3 groups of waiting Asian patrons could be seated (by this time the restaurant was full). I like that the food came out fast, but didn't appreciate the bums rush, especially since no other tables (including those that were already seated before us) left before we did. I think I'll try them again on a different night to see if it was just because it was a Saturday night, and not their modus operandi with non Asian patrons.

      9 Replies
      1. re: kimfair1
        Allstonian Mar 8, 2009 12:34 PM

        100% non-Asian customer here, and I've never gotten the bum's rush at Shanghai Gate. In fact, I've always found the staff there to be exceptionally friendly towards Barmy and myself even though we're not Asian. I would definitely chalk that up to them trying to keep the tables turning on a busy Saturday night.

        1. re: kimfair1
          lergnom Mar 8, 2009 12:55 PM

          Never experienced that.

          1. re: lergnom
            kimfair1 Mar 9, 2009 10:22 AM

            I would have felt the same about them turning the tables on a busy night if any other tables left while we were either eating or their food came out at the same rate as ours. The table next to us were seated and had ordered, and our food came out first! Their's came out after, and at a noticably slower pace. They were very friendly to us, but there was a lot of hovering, and plates being removed the second they were empty.

            I'll definitely return, as we REALLY enjoyed the food, but I think I'll try a less busy night than Saturday to see if we experience the same thing. I hope not, because it is exectly waht I've been searching for in a Chinese restauant in Boston that's close to home, and I would like to continue going there.

            1. re: kimfair1
              Fukui San Mar 9, 2009 01:31 PM

              Could the rate in which you were served be based on what you ordered? If you ordered a few quick to make dishes and the other customers ordered more dishes and more involved dishes, I could see a restaurant thinking that you'd be fastest to cycle out and open up a table.

              1. re: Fukui San
                kimfair1 Mar 9, 2009 02:23 PM

                That's what I'm hoping, especially since it seems that no one else has experienced this problem there. As I said, it won't keep me from returning, because the food was really great.

                1. re: kimfair1
                  Allstonian Mar 9, 2009 03:20 PM

                  Actually, I have experienced some of what you describe but have tended to perceive it as a good thing rather than a problem. I *like* the fact that my food comes out super-fast (except for the steamed pork buns, which come out fast sometimes but occasionally arrive long after everything else is done!) and I *like* the fact that the servers keep an eye on their tables and clear away empty dishes promptly.

                  Regarding hovering , I agree that can really spoil a meal, but I havren't experienced it at Shanghai Gate. Frankly, when the restaurant is full I find the staff pretty good at keeping a sharp eye on things, and they're certainly quick with the check, but they're too busy flying from table to table to hover.

          2. re: kimfair1
            barleywino Mar 9, 2009 07:22 PM

            if you like fresh fish, try the braised fish tail sometime-- on a good day, it's superb

            1. re: barleywino
              galleygirl Mar 9, 2009 07:30 PM

              Sounds like it has my name on it! What is it called on the menu, and how is it prepared?

              1. re: galleygirl
                barleywino Mar 9, 2009 07:52 PM

                i think it's just called "Fish in Brown Sauce", on a good day it's really tender (you do have to be careful of all the bones, though) and covered with a rich brown sauce (get lots of rice, or even their fried rice, to soak it up). if you like your fish barely cooked, you might even request it on the slightly rare side and see what happens. i have to confess i like their wonton soup too, although the "Shanghai wonton soup" at Uncle Cheung's which has tons of seaweed and miniscule dried shrimp is even better. WHile we're on the topic of favorite dishes, let me put in a plug for the "steamed spiced spareribs" (coated with rice flour and steamed over yams) at CHung Shin Yuan (California st in Newton, although i think of it as Watertown), available weekends lunchtime only (because of the crowds, unless you do'nt mind waiting, it's best to go around 2pm), get the "chinese fried dough" (yu tiao) while you're there.

          3. Nab Feb 22, 2010 10:31 AM

            If there's another place in town that offers as good of a Shanghainese menu as this, I'd love to know about it. I understand this place underwent a downhill alert some years ago, but I'd have to say it's operating at a very high level now based on my handful of relatively recent samplings. I haven't even gotten around to putting much of a dent into the Chef's Specials side of the menu, but it sure as heck warrants a big banquet style of meal with an army of eaters. Keep an eye out for such an event.

            Most recently, I tried the beef with pickled cabbage which was just excellent, chockful of tender beef, sour crisp cabbage with a very slight burn on the back.


            Also tried the traditional Shanghainese dish of fish in wine sauce (zhao liu yu pian), and I'm quickly reminded how difficult it is to nail these Chinese sauces at home, yet they achieve the perfect balance and body in this liquid gold. Sauceome stuff.


            3 Replies
            1. re: Nab
              barleywino Feb 22, 2010 11:01 AM

              Nice report-- they might still have their fish filet in wine sauce w/ kumquat which they were doing for CNY...for something more homey, try the "birthday noodle soup" (not on menu, by request) at Jo Jo Taipei, very rich and schmalzy tonkotsu-like broth with eggy noodles and pork shreds, mmm

              1. re: barleywino
                Nab Feb 22, 2010 11:21 AM

                Thanks, BW. Will definitely take your suggestion, and have to say my batting avg at Shanghai Gate has been strong largely due to following your recs - really hard to get away from that fish tail in brown sauce. =)

                1. re: Nab
                  barleywino Feb 22, 2010 02:02 PM

                  Nab, glad to hear the fish tail is still going strong, haven't had it in ages...sometimes "brown sauce" is actually a good thing ;)

            2. KWagle Aug 20, 2010 09:16 AM

              I went to 石库门 (which my friend Andy Tannenbaum discovered is an architectural style "Shikumen" <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikumen>) for the first time on Wednesday and I'm going back tonight if we get our act together in time. Of course anyone reading this is welcome to invite themselves along--look for the people translating the menu with an iPad. :-) Needless to say I was fairly impressed.

              We had the lion's head, which was amazingly rich with meaty goodness (probably the best I've had.) We had the wild vegetable with tofu, which is actually 馬蘭頭 (ma lan tou) (apparently Kalimeris indica) <http://haozhuyi-sgpfood.blogspot.com/2008/11/kalimeris-indica-tofu-salad.html>

              We also had the ham with dried tofu skins, which were cut like noodles, and while the dish was decent, there was almost no ham, and a lot of broth I ended up drinking from a teacup. I probably wouldn't have it again--next time we'll get one of the pork belly dishes.

              In my opinion, though, the standout dish was 苟葉 粉 蒸 牛肉 (qu ye fen zheng niu rou) (steamed beef with rice powder ("lotus beef".)) It was good enough that I tried to get a second order, but (half an hour before their posted closing time) they told us it was "sold out." That's one aspect of Chinese restaurant experience I could live without.

              "Paradise Mountain" BTW, is 樂山 (Leshan) a city in Sichuan province. I suspect the chicken disn originated in the city. It's interesting that the two dishes that seem to get the most acclaim on here are spicy.

              On the list for tonight are Leshan chicken, beef with cabbage, more beef with rice powder. I didn't see the rice-cake dish mentioned in this thread, but I'd like to get the one pictured here. It doesn't look like it has chicken and shrimp, unless they mean dried shrimp.


              And of course I'll have to try 石库门 小炒 AKA the house special. The way you know it's the house special is that its name is [name of the restaurant] small stir-fry. Since it has both ginkgo nuts AND fish maw, it better be pretty special.

              5 Replies
              1. re: KWagle
                Alcachofa Aug 20, 2010 10:02 AM

                Dang, I haven't had a good lion's head in a while. Must rectify.

                1. re: KWagle
                  barleywino Aug 20, 2010 11:23 AM

                  i've had that house special small stir fry. tasty but very light, more of a side dish. also iirc there were carrots in there which i found a bit offputting. try the fish tail in brown sauce, can be very good when they nail it.

                  1. re: barleywino
                    KWagle Aug 20, 2010 06:57 PM

                    I'm scared of brown sauce. :-/

                    1. re: KWagle
                      barleywino Aug 20, 2010 07:20 PM

                      its no worse than the brown sauce served with, say, braised dongpo pork (sometimes available by request at Shanghai Gate, although they may not always advertise it) or ti-pang...if you liked the steamed beef with rice powder, you may also like the pork ribs with rice powder at Chung Shin Yuan (know of any other places that do good versions of rice powder dishes?)

                      1. re: barleywino
                        KWagle Aug 20, 2010 10:26 PM

                        My favorite rice powder dish is the pork belly at Grace Garden in Catonsville. They also do a fish with crispy bones and rice powder. Both awesome.

                        I have to say, the pork belly at SHG didn't do it for me. The meat had an off flavor which I associate with this dish, though fortunately not often. The beef with pickled vegetable was pretty good, and the steamed beef was once again awesome in my opinion, but less liked by my dining companions. Sadly still no Leshan chicken, though the diced rice cake with bits of chicken and shrimp was good. And the house special was ultimately disappointing, but fish maw which I had for the first time turns out to be amazingly delicious, and the towel (?) gourd and ginkgo nuts weren't bad either.

                2. Dave MP Oct 9, 2010 11:00 PM

                  Went here tonight, first visit since 2005!

                  Had the xiao long bao, which had a great flavor, but were a bit lacking on the broth. This is a minor complaint though, since overall we really enjoyed them.

                  Cold dish of white cabbage and tofu w/ sesame oil was boring and forgettable and the color wasn't so appealing either.

                  Rice cakes w/ pork and chives were very tasty - this was a relatively dry version of the dish (i.e. no real sauce at all), which I enjoyed. Saw this on many tables, and we devoured ours.

                  Center fish with brown sauce - we enjoyed this as well. Fish was butterflied (I think that's the term) to expose large chunks of fish, and the brown sauce savory and slightly sweet, but not overly sweet or salty. The serving was generous.

                  Total bill came to $35 before tip, and it was plenty of food for two of us. Will definitely return to try more things on the menu...I was glad that this place is still good!

                  Dave MP

                  Shanghai Gate
                  204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Dave MP
                    lipoff Oct 10, 2010 12:49 AM

                    The rice cakes and the center fish are two of my absolute favorite items on Shanghai Gate's menu. If you are looking for another cold appetizer try the Wild Veg and Bean Curd (ma3 lan2 tou2 xiang1 gan1), which is a mix of a ground vegetable similar to parsley and little bits of dried bean curd.

                    Shanghai Gate
                    204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                    1. re: lipoff
                      teezeetoo Oct 10, 2010 09:28 AM

                      on a cold day we remain smitten with their soups, particularly the winter melon soup, and I can't get out of the place without at least sharing one lions head meatball.

                      1. re: teezeetoo
                        Dave MP Oct 10, 2010 09:48 AM

                        So is it okay to order just 1 lion head's meatball? I saw that these are listed as price per meatball, but wasn't sure if ordering just 1 is frowned upon.

                        1. re: Dave MP
                          teezeetoo Oct 10, 2010 11:25 AM

                          we do it all the time. go ahead, treat yourself to just one!

                    2. re: Dave MP
                      digga Oct 10, 2010 08:44 PM

                      I went with three colleagues last week for lunch...haven't been there in ages and never been for lunch. At the table were the rice cakes with pork (I ate around the pork since I don't eat meat and snagged some rice cake pieces...yum); fish fillets in wine sauce (so much umami flavor...the sauce was fabulous spooned over rice); diced chicken with peas (I did not sample, but it was popular at our table!); and the veggie ma po tofu for me (tofu was silky smooth...great sauce as well).

                      The place was pretty empty at lunch, surprisingly so. Is it always like that for lunch? We'll be back for lunch soon regardless!

                      1. re: digga
                        lipoff Oct 10, 2010 09:49 PM

                        By the way, I routinely order the rice cakes without pork, and they are very happy to make them this way. Usually, Shanghai nian gao comes with a light brown sauce, but I really prefer Shanghai Gate's very clear version. The rice cakes themselves are moist, and I don't miss the sauce at all.

                        Shanghai Gate
                        204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                    3. a
                      astrid Oct 10, 2010 11:53 AM

                      i highly recommend the Shanghai Soup -- pork belly and bamboo shoots in a heart-warming broth. YUM. Wish I didn't live so far away from Allston. Also agree on the Lotus beef.

                      1. KWagle Nov 6, 2010 04:36 AM

                        I went back last night for another good meal. The staff remembered me and reminded me of the dishes I'd liked on two previous visits. Two of the dishes we wanted to try, "fuzzy squash" with ham and Chinese ("AA") lettuce, weren't available, alas, so we ordered the steamed beef with rice powder ("lotus beef") again. It was good, but not quite up to the level of previous visits. I finally was able to try the Leshan ("Paradise Mountain") chicken, which was good, but had a somewhat 'blackened' (as opposed to burned) aspect that was probably intentional but was a distraction for me.

                        Still hungry, we ordered the beef stir-fried with crullers, which was a bit odd--large slices of bamboo, squares of green bell pepper, tender beef, and chunks of cruller all in a thickened, slightly sweet brown sauce. Interesting, but since I enjoyed the cruller most of all, I'd probably not order the dish again. (The idea of stir-frying deep-fried dough in a clingy sauce certainly has many possibilities, but this one didn't hold together as a *dish* instead of just an assortment of ingredients tossed together.)

                        Rounding out the meal were a couple of lion's head meatballs (for some reason I didn't understand, the staff was very amused when I ordered a "meatball") which were as always full of wonderful meaty goodness. They now have a deep-fried duck dish, as well as a steamed duck stuffed with sticky rice and taro that I might be interested in trying, since I can't ever get the Grace Garden version. I should get back to this place more often than I do. :-/

                        Googling suggested that the aforementioned "AA" lettuce, which I didn't actually get the characters for, is something known as "asparagus lettuce" or "celtuce." Another chowhound thread suggests it's "sometimes served at Shanghainese restaurants."



                        Shanghai Gate
                        204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: KWagle
                          teezeetoo Nov 6, 2010 12:49 PM

                          we stop in about once a week for soup (winter melon or shrimp, tofu and spinach but we'll try any of their soups). We've become addicted to one of the newer specials on the board: sizzling eggplant stuffed with ground pork. Excellent. This remains my favorite lunch place in all of Boston for quality and value. I love the new (relatively new) paint job as well. It's charming.

                          1. re: teezeetoo
                            barleywino Nov 8, 2010 09:26 AM

                            agree on the sizzling eggplant (and i don't even like eggplant normally). has to be eaten immediately though, would not travel well (takeout). their simple stir fried shrimp off the specials menu is always a favorite (very tender). i prefer the (nonspicy) fish filet at New Shanghai, Mulan or Dumpling Cafe over the version at Shanghai Gate, except when SG does their special fish filet w/ kumquat and lily bulb, which is excellent. I just wish SG would put more soup in their soup dumplings...

                            1. re: teezeetoo
                              Allstonian Nov 4, 2011 09:20 AM

                              Jenny Ondioline and I stopped in at Shanghai Gate for dinner last night, after way too long a hiatus. It's become hard for us to try new things on the menu, because we have too many old favorites. This time we revisited the XLB and the lion's head casserole, went with the Shanghai noodles rather than our usual rice cakes (really excellent, with a lovely dose of wok hei), and stumbled on the sizzling eggplant, which we had somehow not had before.

                              All I can say is WOW. Two long, slender eggplants, slashed nearly through at about 1.5-inch intervals, with the slashes stuffed with ground pork; the whole thing fried and sauced with a garlicky sauce and some finely diced sweet peppers. We couldn't stop raving about how terrific it was, even as we wolfed it down. Don't know how we managed to miss this addition to the menu for a year, but it's definitely going to be on the "keeper" roster!

                              Shanghai Gate
                              204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                              1. re: Allstonian
                                Dave MP Nov 4, 2011 09:40 AM

                                Is the eggplant still on the specials board, or is it part of the regular menu now?

                                1. re: Dave MP
                                  Nab Nov 4, 2011 09:53 AM

                                  It's on that separate "Chef's Suggestions" menu.

                                  Actually, just found it - http://shanghaigateboston.com/Menu/sp...

                                  That is one of my favourite dishes on the menu as well. Gosh, thanks for the bump Allstonian, it's a reminder to get back there more often. I think the lack of booze keeps folks (me) away more than it should. The grub is tops, though.

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