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Part II: First Time to Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an, Visiting From SF!

And now the 2nd part of my 17 night, 5 city trip (this is actually the first portion of the trip, however). First will be Beijing, then a quick hop to Xi'an, and then Shanghai, before continuing to Singapore & Hong Kong as discussed in a separate post.

Beijing: 4 nights/days, so basically 4 dinners and 4 lunches, though one day will be at the Great Wall...Staying in the CBD. We'll do the usual tourist attractions, visit some hutongs, and I really want to venture out and see the Bird's Nest.

Peking Duck-- sounds like it should be between Da Dong and Made In China. Any tie-breakers? Should I just say screw it and try both?

The rest, looking for a nice blend of upscale, casual, street food, local cuisine, other Chinese regions, exciting non-Chinese restaurants...In other words I'll consider anything. Would love to hear about bakery gems and spots with great espresso shots too.

The list shows right now: Temple, Transit, Dali Courtyard, Middle 8, Mosto & Modo, Sureno, Black Sesame Kitchen, Three Guizhou Men, amd Xian Lao Man for dumplings. Sounds like Green T House should be scratched.

Bars: Mai Bar, El Nido, Great Leap Brewing, Migas.

Xi'an: 1 dinner. I've heard about Lao Sun Jia. Can I do better? Shaanxi hand pulled noodles have to be one of my ten favorite food concepts. Big fan of paomo too.

Shanghai: 4 dinners, 3 lunches. Staying on the Bund.

Reserved one dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Bund. Another dinner meeting with people has to be on the Bund, so I'm considering Commune Social/ Table No.1, Mercadito, and M on the Bund for that.

Traditional Shanghai: thoughts between the much written-up original Jesse, Lao Kele, and Jian Guo 328?

XLB: Din Tai Fung for sure (been to Arcadia and flagship in Taipei...have to go here). Should I also try any like Fu De, Jia Jia Tong Bao (not exactly xlb it sounds like), and Yangs?

Other: Considering and would love thoughts on Die Yuan, Butterfly Garden, Cha's, and Fu 1088. Any other suggestions of course appreciated and looking for bakeries and good coffee/espresso too.

Bars: Long list, I won't come close to trying them all: Long Bar Waldorf, Jazz Bar Fairmont, Vue Hyatt, Flair Ritz, Glamour Bar, Alchemist, El coctel, Bar Untouchable, Mojito Heaven, Banyan's Ba, Salon de Ning Peninsula, House of Roosevelt, Boxing Cat Brewery

Cheers and thanks so much for your help!

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  1. I don't know how it is these days, but when I went in 2005, De Fa Chang in Xi'an had some rad walnut (and other) dumplings.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BuildingMyBento

      The dumpling tasting looks pretty epic there...definitely will consider it. But my hope with just one real meal in town is to try the Shaanxi knife cut chilled noodles and pao ma. Lao Sun Jia is known for the pao ma...but I'm guessing there's a great option I don't know about somewhere.

      1. re: BuildingMyBento

        Walnuts are definitely a Xian thing.

      2. Do not go for two Beijing duck meals! There are too many great meals to be had to have the same meal twice.

        Definitely Three Guizhou Men. I believe there are two locations in operation, I went to the one near the worker's stadium. Get the fried ribs and the eggplant.

        Go for as much variety as possible. There are so many cuisines to try. I am not familiar enough with specific recs, but here are some cuisines you may want to search for:


        Then there are the usual suspects of Yunnan, Hunan, and Sichuan for which you may already have options in SF. I assume in Xian you'll get a crack at Uighur or Xinjiang food, which is a must.

        In Shanghai, Yang's Fry Dumplings and Jia Jia Tang Bao are right acorss the street from each other (around the corner from the Park Hotel on Huanghe Lu). Can't get more convenient than that! JJTB are indeed xlb - or at least the only item I saw were xlb. At JJTB I recommend the pork/crab combo or if in season get the crab. Yang's will be making their shengjian bao out on the sidewalk in front, so it's easy to order.

        Have only been to Jesse. Excellent experience. If they have the wild herbs wrapped in tofu (seasonal), get that.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Steve

          Definitely will try Three Guizhou Men and just one duck (leaning to Da Dong). Now you've got me researching all those other cuisines!

          1. re: Steve

            I wouldn't have minded two Peking duck meals whilst in Beijing - they really do that well, compared to their rendition of other regional Chinese cuisines there.

            1. re: klyeoh

              I was taken to a bunch of regional restaurants in Beijing by a Chowhound who lived there and traveled extensively throughout China. They were exceptional meals.

              1. re: Steve

                I'm *not* saying other regional Chinese cuisines in Beijing are bad - it's just that Beijingers do Peking duck best.
                Which restaurants did you try that were exceptional?

                1. re: klyeoh

                  Went to Noodle Loft, Three Guizhou Men, Zi Shia Sichuan Restaurant, and Xinjiang Muslim Restaurant. The shweijuyu with whole carp cut up into chunks-was great at the Sichuan restaurant. Not sure how it's done in SF.....

                  The last two are hole-in-the-wall places on Xinzhong Jie near the Workers' Gymnasium. Not sure I could find them on my own or through the internet.

                  1. re: Steve

                    I normally use the Yellow Pages phonebook in my hotel room to find eateries which may interest me - sometimes to hilarious results!

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      Ha! I'm sure their beer list is impressive.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Oh my! That's worth a try for the novelty.

                        1. re: pats38sox

                          No! LOL!
                          But it's an incorrect English translation anyway - the Chinese characters did not mention pork at all, but merely the tripe.

                2. I am in the same boat you are. Da Dong had made top of my list for duck above Made In China, a close second.
                  I want to try all 4 compass points.
                  It's hard to to try to get it all working.

                  1. I had excellent meals at Fu 1088, Jesse, and DTF last year (I live in SF too). How many others are you travelling with? You should pre-order at Jesse if you choose to go there: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9022...

                    The style of sheng jian bao at Yang's isn't something you can get in the Bay Area, so you should seek that out. There are several locations and it's cheap.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      There will just be 2 of us...so can't make too much of a dent in the menu. Definitely have to do the fish head w/ scallions (pre-ordered), the dates stuffed w/ glutinous rice, and tofu wrapped wild herbs. Red braised pork might be overkill though unless it's obligatory...or a small serving available?

                      Definitely will try Yang's and Jia Jia, along with Din Tai Fung. Anybody been to Jian Guo 328?

                      1. re: pats38sox

                        Do you plan to have a red braised dish somewhere else in Shanghai? If not, I'd say the pork belly is obligatory and could serve that purpose.

                        It's a very rich dish, so even if you ordered it as your one entree, it wouldn't make for a balanced meal. Expect not to finish it... I think it cost $10 USD, cheaper and tastier than any version in the US, and you can offer some to the travellers at a nearby table :-) (lots of English speakers were in the room)

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          Always overorder in China. Plane ticket, expensive; food, cheap.

                          Red braised pork is very time-consuming to make. If you find it in the States, most likely they cheat and use shortcuts.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Haha, good points. Will definitely pre-order the red pork and fish head. If they're finished, they're finished. If not...it's not exactly the $ of French Laundry.

                            Now I'm hoping Jesse isn't losing quality despite all of us English speakers going there nowadays...

                            1. re: pats38sox

                              For what it's worth, I had to make the reservation through the hotel concierge because no one at Jesse spoke English :-)

                              It's listed in the 2010 shanghai lonely planet, so Jease is definitely not an under the radar kind of place. Heh, everyone at Din Tai Feng was a tourist but the lack of locals crowding the place made for easy seating and we had a great meal.

                    2. Should add to Beijing I just saw that Ippudo opened there in Kerry Centre...getting ramen doesn't really seem right (though it is from China originally, right?) but I've always wanted to try an Ippudo and have no idea when I'd get a chance in NY or Tokyo.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pats38sox

                        Ramen, don't.

                        Since you only have one meal in Xian, you could always do Noodle Loft in Beijing - this is the perfect place to have zha jiang mian, a Beijinger staple. Also lotus root salad, stir fry with walnuts, and the honeycomb noodles with fatty meat sauce.....

                        1. re: Steve

                          Definitely now have Noodle Loft on the to do list. I had been meaning to ask about a good place to try Zha Jiang Mian. Is there a dumpling spot considered a must-hit like Bao Yuan or Xian Lao Man?The latter I'm guessing is a lot like De Fa Cheng in Xi'an.

                      2. We recently spent a week in Shanghai. Our worst experience was at Jesse - not because of the food, which was quite good, but the service which was appalling - deliberately rude. Not like anything we have ever encountered. So sad. Anyway, Yun Se was WAY better for Shanghainese, IMO. We also loved Guyi (Hunan - any branch) and Yu Xin (Sichuan). We also ate at Da Dong newly arrived from Bejing and it was FAB! Much more upmarket that we were expecting but still reasonably priced - only thing is next time I would defintely order a whole duck, half wasn't enough for two mad hungry people! For non Chinese, Mercato was a lovely space and reasonable food. We also went to Lost Heaven but it paled in comparison to everything else we ate. Can also highly recommend any of UNtours Shanghai food tours.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: PixieM

                          Oh no, hate to hear about the service at Jesse. Did you have the scallion fish head or red pork at Jesse? Any favorite dishes from Yun Se and Mercato (both I'm seriously considering)?

                          1. re: pats38sox

                            Yes we had the red pork at Jesse and it was nice....but when the service was so bad (it took AN HOUR to arrive) it was hard to be enthusiastic. I can't recall the dishes we had at Yun Se just that I loved them all (we ordered about 6, way too much but you get to try more stuff that way). The menu is an absolute hoot translated into English. Mercato was more about the lovely space and vibe rather than the food, but it was certainly decent. Have a great time, I can't wait to go back to Shanghai!

                        2. Alrighty, it's off to Beijing in the morning. Here's how the line-up looks like. Feel free to help me update it upon arrival. Speak now or...I don't eat as well :(
                          2 lunches: Noodle Loft (is it ok to go to the one by CBD instead of the original way out in the NE corner of the city? and Bao Yuan Dumplings
                          4 Dinners: Three Guizhou Men, Temple, Da Dong (original location), and either Dali Courtyard or Middle 8th for Yunnan (any recs on that choice?)
                          Looking for: Coffee, Bakeries, Bar favorites

                          Xi'an: still very undecided but badly want pao ma.

                          3 lunches: Din Tai Fung, Yang's/Jia Jia, Yun Se or Jian Guo 328
                          4 dinners: Jesse, Mr Mrs Bund, combined grazing Mercadito & either Table No. 1 or Commune Social, last will be either M on the Bund or Fu 1088.

                          Looking for again bakeries, coffee, and if my bar choices look good in the original post.

                          Thanks and talk to you from China!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pats38sox

                            BEST coffee in Shanghai is at Sumerian. We went there a number of times and they always turned out a perfect flat white.....

                          2. O.k., after 2 weeks of fighting jet lag and catching up on work, here's the recap from the trip! I'll give a post on Beijing & Xi'an and then one on Shanghai. Then Singapore and Hong Kong in my other thread.

                            First of all, thank you, thank you to all of the Chowhound who sent their advice! It's hard to say the dining matched sights like the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors...but it came close!

                            Jet-lagged opening dinner at Three Guizhou Men near our hotel. Warning, warning. The one I went to in the "SoHo" is exceedingly hard to find. Like, literally, a 20 minute scavenger hunt for us. It was decently worth it...love the sour fish soup. "Beef on fire" was even more of a treat. Service though is very amateur and be warned they don't take American credit cards (a recurring theme in Beijing but not elsewhere). Also loved the "cold jelly noodle."

                            Day 1: great lunch of carrot-cilantro-tofu dumplings and cumin beef dumplings at Xi'an Lao Dumplings. Yes, it's on the radar of tourists but not really. Superb dumplings and great if you're visiting hutongs/ Lama Temple.

                            Drinks at Kerry Hotel Bar and on top of China World Summit Wing (the latter you'll see...smog/fog and a little city). Both are just fine and very civilized.

                            Dinner at Da Dong's original on Dongsishitao. No, we didn't get any sea cucumber dishes though if you didn't know better, from the menu you'd think this is a sea cucumber restaurant. The lean duck is indeed very lean but the razor thin skin is downright candy when dipped in the sugar. Superb! But...
                            NEVER GO TO DA DONG!!
                            Why? Because that's what I told them in my anger over not finding a taxi after 30 minutes. I'll never recommend it despite the superb duck. Seriously, I don't care what excuse they have, a restaurant of this caliber with at least 5 valets out front and a 300 diner plus capacity should at the very least be able to call a taxi, or at least have a taxi stand. No. None. Not willing to call. We waited at the main road then. Still nobody pulled over. Restaurant didn't care. Da Dong is like Joe's in Miami and House of Prime Rib in SF...huge sized classic establishments with huge numbers of tourists. Except Da Dong doesn't care for hospitality like the others.

                            Day 2: On that sour note, I will say the Sofitel Beijing makes tremendous coffee...for the equivalent of $7 USD. Seriously. It's outstanding coffee but wow. And we thought Intelligentsia/Blue Bottle are expensive.

                            Went to Mutianyu and driver took us to a regular spot near a parking lot. It was fine...I think the something "Family" restaurant if that rings a bell for anyone.

                            Then dinner at Temple...the service was top tier, maybe even better than we'd get in SF. The opposite of Da Dong. And yes, they had taxis waiting for us.

                            The wine program, the gravlax, and the chocolate and Grand Marnier soufflés were highlights, along with the gorgeous space. They gave out several freebies and a glass of Champagne which helps explain why prices might be a tick higher than they should be (an entrée could be $30 USD when really it should be $25...). Skip the highly recommended suckling pig-- a meager serving and banal preparation.

                            Day 3: Went to Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. This was our only day with the guide. I had requested for her to take us to Noodle Loft but alas, Beijing has traffic and sightseeing takes time ;) So my one concession was to eat lunch at a dumpling shop of her choosing near Temple of Heaven. It was quite good, especially the cuttlefish dumplings stained black. She said literally the name is "Dumpling Restaurant."

                            Very much enjoyed drinks at Mai Bar (serious craft cocktails in a hutong...someone will copy this in the U.S. for sure) and the brews at Great Leap Brewing Co. The latter is of terrific quality, a great surprise.

                            Dinner at Dali Courtyard...meh. Maybe since we were seated inside. But really, most dishes were just decent. The pace was very rapid. One chicken dish could've been generic kung pao chicken. Did really enjoy the lemongrass shrimp, chilled tofu with mint, tomato, and Szechuan peppers, and the whole tilapia Yunnan style. Still, the vibe felt sold out to tourists. Nice to go once but I think I wish I chose Noodle Loft instead.

                            Day 4: High speed train to Xi'an
                            Dinner was recommended by the concierge but may have been the wrong place possibly? It was called tongsheng Xiang...superb pao mau, chilled Shaanxi noodles with sesame sauce, and Szechuan cucumbers. But the concierge made it seem like his rec was for a sit down spot. This was the opposite. Self serve, very confusing ordering system. That being said, delicious food in far from formal setting which is fine by me.

                            Then to Shanghai.

                            1. Day 5: After seeing the terra cotta warriors, arrived late in Shanghai for dinner at Jesse. It really is great. Yes, the service is brusque and they forgot out wine and took forever to take our order and didn't remember our reservation from the concierge and didn't remember we pre- ordered 2 dishes...but they weren't mean. Just...a not perfect.

                              Loved the red pork, scallion fish head, tofu wrapped herbs, and glutinous stuffed dates. All terrific Chowhound recs (and thanks to the English speaking couple next to us for saving the day with the ordering procedure).

                              Day 6: Lots and lots of walking. Great duo lunch of Yang's Fry dumplings, then across the street to Jia Jia Tang Bao. They were out of pork xlb so had pork-crab. Everything was terrific...and boy is Jia Jia quite the atmosphere. Both are essential visits and deserve the hype. Yang's had no wait while Jia Jia was about 30 mins.

                              Various exploring around town finished with drinks at the Ritz in Pudong's Bar Flair (what a view! Cocktails are decent) then Bar Rouge (gives the expected attitude, good wine list).

                              Dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Bund. Hmm, what to say? It's a fun, good restaurant. Not to be harsh but for it to be on the World's Top 100 list is simply unfair to hundreds of other restaurants worldwide. It's simply incorrect and must be changed. It's slightly creative French food in a Las Vegas over the top sensory service style. With less expectations, it's a great experience. It's not Robuchon or probably even Ultraviolet.

                              Decent dishes-- cod in a bag, arugula salad with truffles, cold picnic chicken.

                              Top notch dishes: lemon tart (definitely lives up to the hype) and truffle bread.

                              And having a meal suddenly stop as the lights dim and music blares for a proposal was kind of fun the first time. Then just annoying the second time.

                              Day 7: The casual day. Lunch at Farine, a bakery in the French Concession where the coffee surprisingly surpassed the mediocre but beautiful looking pastries. Salami sandwich on a thin baguette...I was misled since the real baguettes looked so good but this was like stale crostini. The recommended pain aux raisins barely had any crème Chantilly or raisins like I was assured. But a fun, fun atmosphere and great patio.

                              Great espresso at Café del Volcan...put this on the list with Farine (and Sumerian later in the trip).

                              In the evening, enjoyed a dinner of pork and vegetable won ton in clear soup that a friend from home now living in Shanghai took me to. Anybody know this? It's right by IAPM.

                              Some great cocktails or cocktail attempts (give El Coctel a chance but the avocado Margarita had way too much Cayenne pepper on the rim, coating actually half the tumbler and the avocado was barely detectable). Best cocktail of maybe the whole trip was the "Jerico" (Rye, green Chartreuse, St. Germain, PX Sherry) at Senator Saloon. And of course the Jazz Bar at the Fairmount Peace Hotel...the Manhattan was properly stiff and out of balance. I didn't dig the drinks at Salon de Né in the Peninsula either (that was the first night).

                              Day 8: Din Tai Fung for lunch. As great as I've had in LA and Taipei. Really, the shrimp and pork "shao mai" are even more the highlight than the xlb. Seaweed and bean curd salad is the perfect partner for the xlb I found.

                              Visited Sumerian for coffee. Indeed, great espresso. I thought "Kyoto Iced Coffee" didn't already have sugar and milk mixed in (it doesn't in SF). Well, it did here. So I just had a few sips and discarded the rest.

                              Since there was a big Asian Leaders Conference this day, literally every museum was closed, so I ambled to Boxing Cat Brewery for a surprisingly good tasting (not as great as Great Leap in Beijing). Right Hook Helles and Sucker Punch Pale Ale were highlights. Lowlights were Ringside Red Lager and Contender Extra Pale Ale.

                              I can't say how great the Waldorf Astoria's Long Bar is. It actually is long and not a tourist relic (the one in Singapore is all for tourists, bad drinks, and the bar isn't even long). Get the "Waldorf Cocktail" Rye, Absinthe, sweet Vermouth, bitters.

                              For some reason, why did I think Commune Social was on the Bund? I kept asking and asking where is it since I thought it was right by the Waldorf. By phone wouldn't work at all for internet in China...so I finally gave up and went to Mercato.

                              Mercato was very reliable California-Italian (loved the capellini with a Chez Panisse level asparagus pesto). Great gelato too. Tuna tartare and octopus were reliable if unspectacular. Most importantly, the pizzas look great and I got to try China wine! Both the Grace Vineyards Chardonnay and Cab Sauvignon are actually very good and balanced.

                              The half way point of the trip...to Hong Kong next!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: pats38sox

                                Great report so far and I'm glad you liked Jesse and the double-dip of dumplings at Yang's and Jia-Jia. Pork and crab xlb are the way to go, so you got lucky. Such a rarity that two conveniently located places are across from each other.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  Absolutely...if only Jia-Jia were the size of Yang's and you wouldn't have to wait at either!

                                  1. re: pats38sox

                                    Looking at the top xlb on dianping for Shanghai. Has anyone been to one of these top spots?


                                    1. re: Foodnut8

                                      I don't know about the top spot, but the second one looks to be Linlongfang. I do not read Chinese, and I have not been there. But I do know that Linlongfang serves both xlb and tang bao, so you could order both. xlb are twelve to a basket. The much larger tang bao are six to a basket.