Shanghai #1 Seafood Village
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village is unlike any San Gabriel Valley Shanghainese restaurant I've been to. Located at the strip mall at 250 West Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel (the same strip mall that contains Beijing Restaurant), the decor can best be described as bordello. The color scheme is black and red with lots of black trim. The chairs are studded with buttons that look like diamonds. The whole place has a feel that you've stumbled back to a ninteenth century bordello or maybe an old Victoria era locomotive dining car.
The menu reminded me of an issue of one of those hair style books at a salon, nearly a full inch thick and packed with large color pictures. The size of the thing seems daunting until you realize that there are only two or three dishes on each page, though it spans from traditional Shangahinese dishes to a dim sum type menu to a vast array of dishes utilizing everything from frog to sea cucumber. The food though, is fabulous.
We split our order between recognizable Shanghainese favorites and dishes we were less familiar with. Among those more recognizable, the highlight was the shen jian bao, traditional Shanghainese pork buns. The buns were crisp and crunchy on the bottom, soft on top, and oozed juice when we bit into them. Xiao long bao were also very well done, certainly as flavorful as my other favorites at Dean Sin World. Spare ribs were rich and tender, though the sauce had less of an anise touch than I'm used to. Stir fried green beans were very good, but about what you would expect. All of these dishes were good, but the shen jian bao are the ones I would be certain to get on a return visit.
Of the dishes I was less familiar with, Old Alley Pork was probably the most intriguing. Served in a red clay pot, the dish consisted of nearly glowing red cubes of pork, equal parts meat and fat. The meat was tender and the fat had a surprisingly toothsome consistency which made you less conscious that you were eating a big hunk of fat. The whole thing was sweet and red. Buried in the pot along with the pork were strips of tofu and a hard boiled egg, all of it stewed in the same, nicely spiced sauce. This was a massively rich pork dish. There was an addictive quality to it, but I still couldn't eat more than about one hunk of pork (which was fine since a small order only comes with five pieces).
Also suprisingly good were the broad beans, big fava beans served in a slightly sweet broth that tasted of sesame oil and was dotted with scallions. The favas retained their texture and picked up all of the good flavors of the sauce. This is one I really couldn't stop eating.
To the extent that any of the dishes had issues, it was mostly in the direction of blandness. Braised three strings, while visually striking with strings of ham, chicken and vegetable, the whole thing doesn't taste like all that much. Similarly, pea shoots in broth were fairly bland, accented only with a bit of salt, it seemed.
This certainly isn't your typical San Gabriel Valley restaurant experience. The service is very formal, though the waitstaff is very polite and extremely attentive. We had a waiter staioned alongside our table for nearly the entire meal. And the prices here are higher than than usual as well (at least for the usual budget friendly SGV), more akin to a place like Sea Harbor than your typical Shanghainese joint.
It may be more of a special occasion stop, but Shanghai No. 1 offers a more refined take on Shanghainese with lots of good dishes and a few (shen jian bao, old alley pork, broad beans) that are really memorable. If you're a fan of Shanghainese, it's definitely worth a stop.
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Worth going just to gawk at their menu. That said, while I thought the food was uniformly good, you did feel like you were paying for the decor once the bill came. It's definitely the closest I've seen in L.A. to the kind of fine dining spots I've been to in Shanghai, for whatever that's worth.