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SHANGHAI REPORT 3/10

I spent three nights in Shanghai in March, 2010. This was my second visit to this fabulous eating city and I want to extend my thanks to all who were so generous with advice regarding the selection of eating places. I had three dinners in the city and this is the report on the first, and finest, at JESSE, aka JiShi.

JESSE RESTAURANT No. 41 TianPing Road Phone: 62829260 (Note that the restaurant is located a fair distance from the People's Park area; we were advised to allow 40 minutes for the taxi ride, to arrive in time for an 7:30pm reservation on a Friday night. We arrived with not a minute to spare)

I liked this place as soon as I walked in. There are two floors; we were seated in the small and crowded downstairs dining room, where there are about 6 tables and every inch of space is spoken for. We (myself and two friends) were the only non-Asian diners in the room when we arrived; by the time we left, there was a crowd of locals and foreigners milling about outside, waiting for tables. We were seated directly at the entrance, beside the cash register; not the most comfortable seats in the house, but we could easily attract the attention of the server when needed. The menu has English translations; servers speak minimal English. Beer is served.

This is what we ate; I am a novice on the subject of Shanghainese food and apologize in advance for any errors in descriptions or names.

1. JiShi chicken: Hacked pieces of (cold) chicken that had been steamed with wine. This was my least favorite dish; the yellow skin was flabby and the chicken was not tender. I know I am missing something because this dish was on every other table in the room. Price: (32 Y or about US$4.20 at 7.65RMB to the US dollar)

Another dish that graced every table were the "Sugar Candy Kumquats" (28Y). This is the sweetened rind of the popular Asian citrus and was very interesting. (Neighboring tables were more gracious about offering tastes to this curious newcomer).

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, I noticed a server ferrying a dish of Bean Curd Rolls in Chicken Essence up the stairs to the second-floor dining room. This was a plate of rich-looking chicken broth with bean curd rolls nestled within. I am so sorry that I did not add this dish to our order; I am still fantasizing about it three months later--that's how delicious it looked to me that night.

2. Dates with Glutinous Rice: (18 Y). I loved this dish of red dates stuffed with creamy, gooey rice. The dates reminded me of chestnuts. I think this is an essential dish here.

3. Wild Herbs with Dried Bean Curd (22Y). This dish had been highly recommended on CH, but iti was a bit too grassy in flavor for me: A mound of coarsely chopped cooked greens studded with cubes of dried bean curd. Certainly interesting but I would not order it again.

4. Mixed Mushrooms with BeanCurd. (18Y)These shredded mushrooms in a light oil/vinegar sauce lavishly dotted with dried red chilis was among my favorite Shanghai dishes. Ever. Absolutely essential.

5. Fried River Shrimp. (98Y). This dish also found its way to most of the nearby tables. Tiny cooked shrimp, not fried. Unadorned and just not that interesting to me, especially since they are more expensive than most of the other dishes we enjoyed.

6. Baby Cabbage with Gluten (18Y). A green vegetable (unrecognizable to me as cabbage) surrounded by unctuous, gooey balls of gluten which was very different than the gluten in kaufu. Very, very good.

7. Hong Shou Rou. Served in a round clay pot, this was by far the best version of this signature Shanghai pork dish that I had ever tasted. Lots of fat and slightly singed, rich pork. Worth a trip to Shanghai! Well, almost! Essential. Wonderful. FAbulous!

8. Scallion Cake. (18Y). (In the noodle section of the menu). Very tasty. Studded with sesame seeds. Ask for black vinegar for dipping.

Another dish on most tables was a fried whole fish. Not sure of more details.

Our dinner for three, with Tsingtao beers, totaled 345 RMB or just under $50. This was my favorite meal of the Shanghai portion of our trip and perhaps the best of the entire 5-week vacation.

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  1. The drunken chicken is a BIG Shanghai specialty (which is why it was on everybody's table) , sounds as if the version you had was very typical in texture. As you know Chinese food values textures that are not usual in western food. I like it a lot but have been eating it for a long time. (Haven't been to Ji Shi yet, must go next time.)

    10 Replies
    1. re: buttertart

      I knew it was a signature dish but I just could not figure out the appeal--is it the meat, the skin or, as I am guessing, both together? The yellow skin was unappealing, and the meat was much less tender than I was used to in chicken. I would like to think this last was because the chicken was running around with his or her friends on the farm, but......... I really did try to "get" the dish, but I will gladly accept one disappointment in the face of so much scrumptiousness! Honestly, that dinner will never be forgotten!

      1. re: erica

        Certainly sounds like it, and really high-end Shanghai/Jiangzhe food is impossible to find here (there are good places, but nothing like this or say Fu 1088).

        1. re: buttertart

          I went to Fu 1088 the following night. Will get around to a report soon. You were a tremendous help with the planning, by the way!

          1. re: erica

            That's great, I can have a vicarious trip through you!

      2. re: buttertart

        WHen I was there, the wild herbs were wrapped in a bean curd skin, not served in a mound with cubes. Still, you probably would have found it grassy as well. I adored it.

        1. re: Steve

          Presume this is intended for Erica, not me.

          1. re: buttertart

            Oh yes, I didn't want it to fall into the 'Fu 1088' portion of this thread. so I replied to the first reply I could find. Didn't mean to implicate you!

            Sometimes not everyone agrees on the same dish. I expect fresh herbs to be grassy tasting - in fact that is what I liked about the dish. Though I could see how it might turn somebody off. It was my favorite dish of a month-long trip in which I had quite a few amazing things to eat.

            1. re: Steve

              You're the Steve of the Hengshan Café goose and turbot with pickled chilis shared experience, right?

              1. re: buttertart

                That's me!..... next time I'm up north (NJ/NYC) I'll have to get more of your recs.

      3. FU 1088

        Comprised of about a dozen private dining rooms spread over three floors of an intact 1930s mansion at No 375 Zhenning Road in the former British quarter, the well-reviewed-on-CH-restaurant, Fu 1088 informs patrons, upon booking, of their minimum 300 RMB charge per person.

        After about a 20 minute ride from our Nanjing Road East hotel, we alighted from our taxi and gave our names to the doorkeeper. We were then led along an elaborately tiled, paneled hallway, past the piano, to our own combination dining/sitting room, a vast space appointed with ebonized Victorian furniture, delicate latticed screens, a curlicued settee upholstered in pale blue satin brocade, and a pedestal table crowned with a towering arrangement of fresh lilies. Like the other rooms we glimpsed, ours had spectacular original mosaic tile floors and intricate ceiling fixtures.

        Although Fu1088 is currently among the top tables in the city, the service is less polished than one might imagine and there is a definite lack of English speaking staff. There did not appear to be one person on the premises that night that could speak more than a few words of broken English.

        We had our own waiter throughout the meal, who did his best to attend to our needs despite the language barrier. He neglected, however, to offer napkins or refill glasses but his earnest charm outweighed moments of awkwardness.

        Yhe menu has an English translation.

        Here is what we ate; my apologies for errors in description.

        1. Kaufu (38Y)—My favorite Shanghai non-meat dish and one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. Stellar rendition.

        2. Shredded Bean Curd with Coriander (28Y)—Short strands of linguine-like dried bean curd. Nice, if a touch bland.

        3. Pea Starch Noodle with Wild Vegetable/Sesame Sauce (38Y)—Chopped cooked greens, similar to the preparation at JiShi, but here the greens were encased in a gummy bean-starch noodle. There was quite a bit of this left over at the end of the meal, but it certainly was interesting in texture and taste.

        4. Marinated Yam with Preserved Plums (32Y) Again, interesting texture; cooking; reminiscent of jicama. Worth ordering as a contrast.

        5. Braised Cabbage with Shredded Prok and Hairy Crab (128Y). I tried to dissuade my friends from ordering this dish since it was not the season for hairy crab. (Waiter insisted that it was certainly hairy crab--go figure!?) This was a soupy concoction of crab and roe whose delicacy was lost on me; I found it bland, but much improved with the addition of the (soy sauce?) condiment provided at each table.

        6. Fried Pork Rib with Sweet and Sour Sauce (58Y). Downright addictive. Fabulous dish which was red-cooked rather than fried. Essential!

        7. Sauteed chicken with Mango and Fresh Peppers (68Y). Ordered by my tablemates, this was sweet and sour chicken with the expected orange sauce. Tasty enough but emphatically not the dish to order here.

        8. Braised Home Made Beancurd with Needle Mushroom in Golden Broth (38Y)—Gorgeous preparation of square of custard-like tofu (with a pronounced eggy taste (??)), crowned by a layer of pressed, dark mushrooms surrounded by a pool of vivid yellow, slightly sweet sauce. Presentation worthy of Jean Georges. Recommended.

        9. String Beans with Bamboo Shoots and Minced Pork (38Y)—Classic rendition. Excellent.

        10. Greens with Oyster sauce (58)—I asked for the waiter’s recommendation. Not impressive.

        11. Noodles with Dried Shrimp in Scallion Soy Sauce (15Y pp) This was the waiter’s recommendation among the noodle dishes. Simple; good way to close the meal.

        12. Mango and Pastry Cream (dessert)—Delicate flaky wheat pastry.

        13. Raison ice Cream with Rum Mango Sauce—More semi-freddo than ice cream, this was a light, flavorful, and exquisitely presented dessert.

        The charge for three of us, with beer, one soft drink, and a pot of Longsheng tea, totalled the equivalent of US$132.

        We were seated in the first room on the ground floor. After dinner, we took a tour of the restaurant; most of the other diners had departed and we were able to peek into most of the other rooms. Unlike ours, most of the other rooms have doors, so keep this in mind when you book if you desire privacy. The beamed-ceilinged attic room was very atmospheric, but no room that we visited was undesirable.

        1 Reply
        1. re: erica

          The setting alone is reason enough to visit Fu 1088 in my opinion. Did you see the blue and white boudoir room? That's where we were. (No English is not a problem for us). The service seemed quite professional (the waiter knocked every time before he entered the room, was a nice touch). I still dream of their lion's head in broth...if a lion's head dish could be said to be ethereal, that is. Glad you enjoyed it!

        2. Where have you been? This explains it. Thanks for the detailed reports!

          1. thank you erica, is there a third review coming? I am headed there in a couple of weeks and we'll be staying right near JESSE so your report is perfect. any pointers on late-night street or hawker eats? We're staying in the Xing Guo area.

            3 Replies
            1. re: bigjeff

              As noted above, another few blocks south east of Jesse will get you to Hengshan Cafe (Cantonese) at Hengshan Lu and Wuxing Lu for their fresh turbot. You can get it prepared in several ways, and I loved the version with fresh chili peppers. I also loved the shallot root salad and morning glory leaves. Very simple preps here, but oh so good.

              1. re: bigjeff

                Jeff, I had only three nights and for various reasons, was hampered in my night-time wandering. The remaining dinner was at XinDaLu in the Hyatt. I am afraid that my review will not be much help as there were only two of us and we had the duck and only two other dishes. But I will do my best to write a brief report before you leave. Honestly, though, you do not need to look much beyond JESSE! You are in for a real treat; I love Shanghai!

                Also, please remember to order your duck in advance if you book at XinDaLu. It was touch and go for awhile whether or not they could "find" a duck for us!