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Sep 16, 2013 06:26 AM

Shanghai Social Club

I had seen a few other Hounds mention Shanghai Social Club, so the wife and I decided to check it out on Saturday for an early dinner. Allston is a trek from our usual dining map of Camberville, but we were really intrigued by the menu.

The inside looks like I'd imagine places like Red Lantern and Empire look (I've never been to said places, just seen pictures). I can't imagine this was cheap to do... We got there at around 4:45, so it was an odd hour for sure. That said, we were the only people in the place for the majority of our meal, until an older guy came in and ordered a Bud Heavy.

Drinks were kind of what you'd expect on the cocktail front. Lots of sweet, tropical inspired stuff in some pretty cool tiki glasses. They were all $9. I got the one with Makers Mark (forget the name). It was fine. Draft beer list had the usual suspects, but the bottle list swayed slightly crafty with the likes of Stone, Founders and Green Flash.

For food we ordered the pork lo mein, beef and broccoli, lettuce cups and pork dumplings (well we actually ordered the beef & shitake steamed buns, but they brought the dumplings instead and we didn't say anything because we were hungry). The pork lo mein was really interesting. Had a lot of yellow peppers in it. Noodles were really fresh. Not greasy at all. The beef and broccoli came in a really nice sweet/salty sauce. Steak was tender and flavorful. I'm not really sure what was in the lettuce cups because they never told us, but they were good. Not the prettiest plate in the world, but tasty nonetheless. The dumplings were really nice. Had a nice sear on one side. Filling was flavorful, and the dumpling had the amount of chew I like. The biggest miss was the sauce that came with the dumplings. I'm guessing the goal was a nice balance of spicy, sweet & salty. Instead what they got was an offensively salty cup of sticky liquid.

It sounds like they've struggled to gain business. There was a "silent opening" (their words) that didn't help apparently. Also sounds like they've lost some early staff because it's so slow. I like the place a lot. If it were closer, we'd probably go quite a bit. I do wonder how a place at that price point will survive in Allston. The clientele in that neighborhood does not seem like the type to drop $8 on a bottle of beer, especially when you can go down the block to The Avenue and get $1 draft beers.

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  1. Thanks for the report. I doubt that SSC will get as much of my business as the real Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood do, but from time to time Jenny Ondioline and I do get a craving for American Chinese food, which is surprisingly difficult to find except in fairly awful versions. Foofy drinks are also an occasional fun thing. We will have to check them out.

    You mentioned drink prices but not food - how much did that meal run you?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Allstonian

      Average prices: steamed buns, $8 for three; skewers, $8; noodle bowls, lo mein, and fried rice, $10; dumplings, $8 for six; soups, $4/$8; entrees, $14.

      1. re: Allstonian

        It ended up being about $80 after tip for 4 drinks (3 cocktails and a beer) and all that food. The most expensive thing on the menu is $16, except for the pu pu platter which was like $26.

      2. FYI - Unfortunately, the Avenue no longer has dollar drafts...

        The plus side is that they they actually have a pretty good beer selection on tap. It's like $5-6 a beer. Bud Lights can still be had for $3 or $4 though.

        1 Reply
        1. re: tysonmcneely

          I figured that was probably the case. Haven't been there in 5 or 6 years. I was ruffied on the last visit. Wife and I switched beers after getting up and going to bathroom. Blacked out after one Miller Lite with no recollection of the evening.

        2. Interesting that they're so underpopulated. I would have figured that they'd have cleaned up being over that way.

          It sounds like a kind of place that I'd love to go (i.e. a Hong Kong for non-Dbags kind of theme w/ ameri-chinese food & tiki drinks) although we have similar issues w/ the trek from camberville, doubly so now that all of our friends have similar issues.

          1. I love kitchy/stylish Tiki/Polynesian places like Kowloon, Hu Kee Lau, etc -- is this place in that sort of category, or more upscale/trendy with tiki drinks as a bonus?

            9 Replies
            1. re: Boston_Otter

              The Tiki drinks are the real thing: think Drink, not Kowloon. It's going more for nightclubby glam than kitsch, and the food is more serious and creative within the American-Chinese idiom, and of better quality.


              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Since the Tiki drinks at Kowloon are sort of terrible, I'm glad to hear that. I'll try to check the place out, although as others have mentioned, it's a bit of a hassle from Somerville.

                On a semi related note, I recently had drinks at Bali Hai near Lynnfield, and they're... insane. I'm pretty sure they simply fill a glass 2/3 with cheap rum and then splash in a little sour mix and pineapple juice. I gave up after a few sips; at a table near me, a middle-aged man called the bartender over and said "What is this? I'm halfway into this glass and I'm already tipsy?" and the bartender laughed and told the guy he shouldn't order 'good drinks' if he can't handle them.

                1. re: Boston_Otter

                  That sounds not unlike the china delight in somerville. There's really no point in worrying about which tiki drink to get there as they all end up around the same flavor and heavy on the booze ... Which isn't always a bad thing.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    That's sort of how I feel about Kowloon -- whatever you order, it'll be poured out of a plastic jug of pre-mixed rum & pineapple juice, but in that sort of gleefully tacky environment and served in a coconut shell carved to look like a monkey with HAVE FUN painted on it, I'm totally happy :)

                    The best old-school tiki drinks I've had around here, honestly, are at the China Moon in Stoneham.

                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                      The difference is that china delight is completely devoid of the tacky environment but instead has an oddly decent looking bar space often full of townies playing keno :)

                      1. re: Boston_Otter

                        There's old school, and there's old-old school. Drink, Eastern Standard, Clio, and Green Street are a few places doing what I'd call old-old school, following in Donn the Beachcomber's steps, Tiki that is very high craft: obscure spirits (it's expensive to stock a proper Tiki bar just for the rums alone), fresh juices, custom spice syrups, and so on. It dates from the 30s, has much more in common with modern craft bartending than what most people think of as Tiki drinks.

                        What I call debased Tiki is a lot simpler, mostly variations of bottled or powdered lime juice, canned pineapple juice, and cheap rum, a sort of third-hand rendition of the original: Don filtered through Trader Vic (who reverse-engineered his recipes and mass-marketed them), filtered through a couple generations of the Polynesian-American restaurants that blossomed during Tiki's Fifties heyday, filtered through modern American-Chinese places that have the drink names and the glassware but otherwise are barely going through the motions.

                        I can understand the nostalgia for the latter, but I don't want to drink those drinks.


                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          The big, big difference between the classic, authentic Tiki cocktail and the drinks that became popular in the 50s/60s is (to simplify things a lot) spicy/sour vs. pineapple-sweet.

                          The drinks that Donn invented -- and that Brother Cleve makes if you can find him -- are heavy on falernum, lime, grapefruit and citrus juices with just a little pineapple/mango/melon. They're sort of a shock if you're used to $12 scorpion bowls at the Chinese buffet. I'm glad there are folks in town still doing the classics :)

                    2. re: Boston_Otter

                      That's like the man Mai Tai at Billy Tse, basically a Mai Tai made with Bacardi 151.

                    3. re: MC Slim JB

                      I can confirm that all of the juice for the cocktails is freshly squeezed twice per day. The bartender must have said the word "fresh" 17 times in our two minute conversation, so it's clearly a point of emphasis.

                  2. Has anyone been here recently? Anything to report?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: maillard

                      I've been there a couple of times - good food, surprisingly cheap. I'm fond of their horribly-named but very tasty cocktail, Foo Dogs Barking. It's bourbon-based with lime, falernum, and bitters. I hate sweet cocktails and this one is a real pleaser.

                      Also, their noodle bowls are HUGE. Granted, I'm not one to eat big meals, but I ordered one (spicy "firecracker" short rib, $10, very tasty), ate all I could, and took the rest to go. When I got home, just for the heck of it I set the takeout container on my kitchen scale: over 1-1/2 lbs, and that was just the leftovers.

                      1. re: BobB

                        sounds great, bob. is that shortrib bowl a star anise type flavor profile w/ a deep brown broth?

                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          Savory brown broth but as best I recall no noticeable star anise.