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Shanghai Gate: A repeat paean

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. I particularly like their lion's head meatball.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lergnom

      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

        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. 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

        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: lergnom

            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

              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

                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

                  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

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

            1. re: barleywino

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

              1. re: galleygirl

                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. 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.

            http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2789/4...

            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.

            http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2730/4...

            3 Replies
            1. re: Nab

              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

                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

                  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. 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/...>

              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.

              <http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/OiebqY...>

              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

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

                1. re: KWagle

                  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: KWagle

                      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

                        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. 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

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                  Shanghai Gate
                  204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Dave MP

                    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.

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                    Shanghai Gate
                    204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                    1. re: lipoff

                      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

                        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

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

                    2. re: Dave MP

                      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

                        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.

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                        Shanghai Gate
                        204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134