Shanghai Gate in Allston: Recommendations?
- opinionatedchef Dec 31, 2011 08:49 PM
After Shanghai Gate was mentioned in the "Three Fav. Dishes of 2011" thread, I looked it up and found a menu with many surprisingly different items. Do you have favs there and have you tried any of these? thanx much:
A2. Smoked Fish
Marinated and pan fried in Chef's sauce
A8. Wild Veg. and Bean Curd
Fresh wild veg. served with 5 spiced tofu (Is this made w/ fern? I have had fern at Chili Garden in Medford and they call it "wild vegetable"; love it
A30. Seaweed Fish
Fish fillet with seaweed fried and served with sauce
B6. Crispy Beef
Fried beef slices served with garlic sauce
B7. Beef with Pickled Cabbage (is this like Wok Baked Beef and Hot and Sour Cabbage at Fulloon?)
Stir-fried with spicy cabbage
P4. Pork in Tofu Wrapped (does this have 5 spice flavors?)
Slowly stewed and served with bean sprouts
Mashed taro wrapped with chicken roll (fried)
Sizzling eel plate
Preserved Pork with taro in hot pot (what is preserved pork like? pickled?)
I did find the nov thread about this place , w/ lots of info. (The ma lan tou is apparently a type of Boltonia, which is a common garden perennial, but not the fern i was hoping for):
Nov. CH thread:
But if anyone has had the dishes i posted about above , i'd love to hear about them! thanx much.
Traditional presentation of malantou looks like this:
At Shanghai Gate they just give you a small bowl of the filling with a spoon. Tasty but not quite the whole experience.
Seaweed fish: this is what you'd call a "fish finger" but it's got seaweed powder/flakes in the batter.
Crispy beef: I'd say it's more like chewy beef, small slabs of dryish beef with a thin batter, not as dry as Haitian fried meat but pretty textural.
Personally I'd recommend any of their fried rice cake dishes, duck, the orange beef with mantou (order extra bread), at brunch they have good salty soy milk and youtiao. I'd say everything there is at least satisfying, though a lot of it can slide toward the high salt/MSG range of flavors that often leave my mouth tired after a meal. The kitchen is skilled in preparing many diverse presentations though not always the most complex and subtle in flavors- but it's super cheap for what you get, so I think it's overall a good experience.
The lions head meatball is quite possibly my favorite thing to eat in any restaurant inside 128.
I don't find they have a particularly heavy hand with the salt or MSG; certainly not to cheap buffet levels or anywhere close.
I would steer clear of the sizzling eel myself, just because i find it's not worth dealing with all the bones, but that's the one disappointing dish I've had there. While the best dishes at Fuloon are better (the dong po pork, for example), I think in terms of overall strength of menu, quality of execution, and general experience (the staff are unfailingly excellent, and I find it a nice, cozy room), Shanghai Gate is easily my favorite Chinese restaurant in Boston, and yeah, I'm including Chinatown. It's really that good.
re: Jenny Ondioline
that is true for us as well JO. It's our favorite for the food, and we like the room with its funky decor and the staff as well. Fuloon, Mulan and Jo Jo Taipei are the next three for us. Strangely, while there are many good places in chinatown, none we've found satisfy us as much as these four.
OH BOY! plse tell me about the orange beef- is this the dried tangerine peel beef that one often sees on szechuan menus?(but can you really taste the orange in the version here?) what is the steamed bread component and where does it come in?
and just to verify- rice cakes are the thin oval discs of somewhat hard 'pasta' made w/ rice flour?which i've had at winsor...........
the pork shoulder in brown sauce> star anise flavors?
I am sad to say I've only been once, it warrants multiple visits and repeat business. But the Lion's Head Meatball is the best version I've seen. It appeals to Japanese palates I believe. The soy and mirin broth is nearly 66% of simmered Japanese cooking. (The other 33% being dashi stock.) With the right amount of ginger, slivered bamboo shoots and fluffy pork meat, it is a standout dish as many have said.
The fish fillets in white wine sauce is very classic and was presented well in a glass casserole dish. The balance and timing of cooking wine is delicate, as well as the tenderness of the vegetables with the fish itself. I enjoyed this dish, but the wine was a bit heady for me, perhaps a touch more cooking to evaporate the alcohol would of made this perfect for my tastes. Or perhaps I am not used to the type of cooking wine they used, perhaps it is a better grade than I am used to.
Anyway, a great place, and the only one of it's kind in Boston.
Along with Fuloon, Jo Jo Taipei and Red Peppers, Shanghai Gate is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the Boston area today. It has nice interior, cool plates, a trendy vibe, friendly staff, and a menu that's really unique in the Boston area.
There are some terrific hits on their menu, but not everything is of uniform quality, at least to me.
First, the Wild Veg. and Bean Curd is one of my absolute favorites. Ma lan tou is a Shanghainese staple, and the vegetable in question is not a fern; it's a variety of aster, related to dandelion. It's really terrific and if not a literal staple in the Jiangnan region, it's a hallmark of Shanghainese cuisine. Luther's linked photo looks terrific, but honestly I've never seen that beautiful presentation in Shanghai --- I've always had it served similar to the way Shanghai Gate serves it, cold, finely chopped with dried tofu, and mixed in a little bowl.
Another of my favorites is the Center Fish in Brown Sauce, which is a whole river fish, with many small bones, and smothered in a slightly sweet brown sauce. This is not a cloying, starchy sauce of Americanized Chinese cooking, but the sweetness of the sauce stands up to the strength of the fish, and I think it's a good example of Shanghainese cooking, which is a bit sweet, has a lot of seafood, and the flavor comes out most from the saucing.
I also really love their ShangHai Rice Cakes. These are little "silver dollar coins" of a rice dough, lightly stir fried with vegetables. I order it without pork, although it normally comes with little bits of pork as well. It stands up terrific as a vegetarian dish. A more traditional Shanghainese preparation of these nian gao has a sweet brown sauce over it, but I much prefer Shanghai Gate's. The dish is "dry" in that there's no liquid sauce, but the rice cakes are pliant, moist, and flavorful. Someone has a deft hand back there. Actually, it's my favorite version of this particular dish anywhere, including in my travels in China.
They have another rice cake dish, Sauteed Rice Cakes, with smaller tubes of the same rice dough, which look a lot like one of the "noodles" at East by Northeast. Opinionated, I think you would enjoy this dish at Shanghai Gate just for the comparison to ExNE.
Another of my favorites is the Sweet Corn Pancake, which should really be listed in a separate section as a dessert, because it is a dessert, and totally unique. It's a pancake of corn kernels, fried, topped with sugar and a sweet sauce with a little kick. Save room, beacuse it's a must try.
The kitchen has a very nice touch with vegetables. Their simple stir-fried pea pod stems are often some of the very best around.
They also do a nice rendition of Paradise Mountain Chicken, although not as great, I'd say, as a speciality Sichuan place like Red Peppers, Sichuan Gourmet or Fuloon, but still good, and I wouldn't shy away from ordering it if you feel like very spicy chicken.
Beef with Picked Cabbage is okay, nothing special, and definitely not like the Wok Baked Beef and Hot and Sour Cabbage at Fuloon. The lotus beefs souns more interesting than it is. In general, I would say Shanghai Gate shines most at fish, rather than at beef.
Beef dumplings are terrible, as are their scallion pancakes. I don't eat pork, but my Shanghainese friends do not like their Soup Dumplings (xiao long bao or Steamed Pork Bun on their menu), although they like the restaurant in general, and definitely like their Lion's Head Meatballs.
Some of the other cold appetizers are good as well. I like the West Lake Chicken --- cold chicken on the bone that has been long marinated in a fragrant wine. Edible tree fungus mixed with sesame oil (from their specials menu) is a terrific example of the "slithery" texture in Chinese cuisine.
There is also a lot of Americanized Chinese food hiding out in their menu: cheese rolls are like crab rangoon; orange beef is atrocious and over-fried, and the deep fried duck is like something out of a bad Americanized Thai restaurant.
Overall though, I really do like Shanghai Gate --- the best items on their menu are wonderful, and the overall experience is very nice.
We finally got here for dinner last night. The evening was winding down for them and after our food had come out, the staff got their meal. I was surprised to see such a tall Chinese man for their chef- 6'1", and turns out he was a former pro volleyball player. After smiles and salutations, he wanted to know how everything was, and had a big grin from our thumbs up/full mouths nodding.
We pretty much followed suggestions from this thread. i would say the sizzling pork and eggplant and the lions head were both the favs (and the dishes that disappeared first.) I also loved the 'sauteed rice cakes'- short stubby cylinders of delicious chewy rice flour dough, tossed in a flavorful soy based glaze with bits of beef, shrimp, scallions and veggies.(sam, i WISH the wheat noodles at eastxnortheast were this good!) The pea pod stems were well prepared but a bit woody; maybe not a good time of year to order them. While we were intrigued by the Wild vegetable and minced tofu dish, we didn't really care for the flavor. We asked for the center fish in brown sauce but it was not available.
We did try one dish not mentioned on this thread- chicken and taro deep fried rolls. In cross section , the fried cylinders looked like 'pigs in a blanket' but not. In actuality, the pinkish center was the mashed taro, around which was wrapped a thin cylinder of chicken; all surrounded by a 'fried dough' outer casing. It was served with a very tasty red sauce that looked like ketchup but was like the better version of ketchup you'd like to always get. The whole thing was wicked good.
We finished with the delightful corn pancake. Not at all what i expected, it was a plate size thin fritter of corn kernels and ......captain crunch? bound by sugar crystals and with a caramelized sugar crust on the bottom, holding the whole thing together (no batter). Tasty and fun to eat; would be even better accompanied by vanilla ice cream.
Easy to understand why this place is popular.Look forward to trying more new things next time.
I was there last night as well! But on the earlier end of the evening. We almost had identical orders! I now know why everyone rave's about the lion's head casserole... wow! it was simultaneously like nothing I've had before and absolute comfort food.
I also enjoyed the sauteed rice cakes. The texture reminded me a little of a dish I used to have at Gitlo's (rainbow noodles with XO sauce maybe) but the cakes at SG are obviously much thicker and a chewier. I got me wondering though... where can I get something with XO sauce?
I believe that final photo is the edible tree fungus mixed with sesame oil.
As for the rice cakes, unfortunately there is no way to tell from either the English or the Chinese names that one comes in small cylinders and the other comes in the more traditional discs. Fortunately, now you know, and both are delicious. (I agree --- I wish ExNE's noodles had the same texture!)
As for XO sauce, I believe that Victoria Seafood Restaurant, just around the corner from Allston, towards BU on Comm Ave, has a couple dishes with XO sauce. However, I doubt if there are many (any) restaurants making fresh XO sauce around here. Maybe, maybe, Winsor Dim Sum Cafe or Joyful Garden? Not that bottled sauce is automatically bad, but if you want the fullest flavor you'll probably want to try yourself:
Note that Saveur's recepie doesn't even include Jinhua Ham, a traditional component of XO sauce that is like Jamón ibérico in expense and rarity. (Except probably harder to find). People say you can substitute with Smithfield Ham. Any dish with XO sauce that's not very expensive is surely using bottled XO sauce. It may still be tasty, but it's not the full experience. Whether the full experience is worth it, however, is a matter of taste. Some aspects of high-end Chinese cooking focus more on the rarity, expense and difficulty of the products and cooking methods than the taste. Those aspects can still add to an experience, and often the tastes are unique, if not universally delicious. Being such, there are often restaurants that aren't exactly being disengenuous but still where you don't get the full experience --- witness the recent thread where I commented about many restaurants having "Peking Duck" on the menu when it's surely just simpler roast duck with the trappings of Peking Duck.