Repost: 5 fave Shanghai dining spots of 2009

In case you missed it, here was my year-end “list” post on Shanghaiist. I struggled to write this between the hours of 1 and 3 AM the morning before I left for Taiwan. There are, of course, dozens more restaurants that I discovered and favored this past year, but here are the notable few:

2009 saw a few new truly great restaurants open up, dining trends hardening into the fabric of local eating culture, chefs making hops within and without Shanghai, and several welcome and unwelcome closings. But, list-wise, this is well-trodden territory, and I’d rather refer you to our esteemed media peers for great reporting and great writing of all the goings-on in the Shanghai food scene. Instead, check out the 5 restaurants that I frequented the most in the past year. None of them are western, none of them are fine dining, all of them I love.

1. Coco Ichibana. There was one stretch this year where I had the same dish at this fast food Japanese curry favorite for 11 straight days. If only there were a record for these things (or a cash prize). Talk to any one of Coco’s many devotees, and I’d wager they have their own favorite unique combination of ingredients to go with the saliva-inducing curry gravy on a bed of fluffy white rice. Yes, we’ve professed our love for this place before. but it’s MY top 5 list after all, not yours. Fried chicken, Level 4 spiciness, extra sauce on the side. And, if it’s to cure a hangover, then top it off with melted cheese please.

2. Yu Xin. There have been many Sichuan restaurants in town that have tried to wrest our love away from Yu Xin, the king of the hill for so many years, and all to no avail. Though some sloppiness has seeped into the cooking in recent trips, there are still surprises to be discovered. Take, for instance, the chopped chicken in green chili sauce we had. A cousin of the appetite-opening saliva chicken (口水鸡), this off-menu dish consists of so many little green peppers that you have to poke and prod to fish out the super tender chicken. Though the dish looks like it packs many a wallop, the peppers are not too spicy, and make for good eating when drizzled atop rice. Don’t miss out on the snacks on the back page of the menu: damn fine dumplings in chili oil. For one of the more authentic Sichuan experiences, this is still one of the safest bets in town.

Yu Xin – 3/F, No. 333 Chengdu Lu, near Weihai Lu (渝信川菜 – 成都北路333号, 近威海路) Tel: 5298-0438

3. Tentekomai. I owe one of my contemporaries a big one for recommending this wonderful little Japanese restaurant to us earlier this year. Come for the mini gyozas (salted cod roe is our favorite), stay for golden fried chicken, incredibly flavorful thin-cut beef tongue, and potato and cheese croquettes that are so delicious you’ll want to steal them off your neighbor’s plate. The draught beer is cold and cheap, the way it should be at a place as perfect as Tentekomai.

Tentekomai – No. 242 Julu Lu, near Ruijin No. 1 Lu (天手古舞 – 巨鹿路242号, 近瑞金一路) Tel: 5228-0650

4. Hunan Village. The one on Wulumuqi Lu gets my recommendation for the best out of this chain. It’s unpretentious and pretty good for how cheap the food is here. While it’s not Guyi, you can still get a decent spicy fish head here, mean spare ribs, and plateful after plateful of the most addicting tiny fried fish. Yes, little tiny fried fish…with peppers…for 10 RMB a plate. Recession dining at its funnest.

Hunan Village – No. 168 Wulumuqi Lu, near Anfu Lu (湖南乡村风味 – 乌鲁木齐中路168号, 近安福路) Tel: 6437-0952

5. Cha’s Restaurant. Though it might seem gimmicky, Cha’s charming decor – a recreation of a 50’s/60’s style Cantonese diner (茶餐厅) – is offset by the sublime greasy Hong Kong dishes that are the real star of the show. The soya chicken is tops, its braised pork belly and runny egg and shrimp rice the perfect antidotes for a multitude of poisons at 3 AM in the morning. The milk tea is superlative too. Since Cha’s opened, I’ve been in a sort of honeymoon daze over the place, one that will surely carry over into 2010. Sorry, Tsui Wah.

Cha’s Restaurant – 1/F, 30 Sinan Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu (查餐厅 – 思南路30号, 近淮海中路) Tel: 6093-2062

Eat, Work, Eat, Drink, Porn

Just got back from Taiwan. It was a short trip, just five days. Here’s a quick summay:

Day 1 – My first ever direct flight from Shanghai to Taipei. Thought it would be super fast, turns out that when you add in a 5 hour delay the novelty of ease quickly wears off. Finally arrive late at night, frantically dust off e-mails before a couple of meet and drinks, and then back to the hotel room for a few hours of Communist-free shut-eye.

Day 2– What’s this? A last minute project that’s due in a few days falls in my lap while I’m not in town? And I have to produce it from Taipei with a rookie production assistant? And the client is a relentless harpy that has no sense of reason or logic and human decency? Sure, we’ll do it! (watching my vacation disappear before my very eyes). All is well though, because my sweet sweet grandmother is kind enough to treat me to lunch…at a Shanghainese restaurant! Which is, well, pretty much my 31st favorite cuisine of all time. Still, nothing like a touch of localized Obamania to greet you at the door of the food place:

yeswecan

Day 3 – More work during the day. I realize how difficult it is to do things when I don’t have internet access on my phone. If I could, I would have sexual intercourse with my iPhone. But in Taipei, without a data plan and rare free wifi hotspots, it’s like making love to a tranny. It’s still satisfying to hold in my hand, but somehow I don’t want to stick anything into it. So I’m stuck in the hotel room so that I can communicate with the clients, my partner, and my staff that’s working OT. Merry Christmas! Night ends well though, as I get drinks with Elisha and we reminisce about all the people that we hate. Well, one person, really, and I don’t even hate her that much. But the cocktails are good, the company is nice, and somehow I end up eat fried pig feet at a cocktail bar at 2 AM in the morning. Merry Christmas again!

Day 4 – Finally, I tell my assistant I’m going to be away from the computer for a while so I can watch Avatar in 3D IMAX with civilized people that don’t eat and chortle and talk on their phones and scratch their feet in theatres (Shanghainese people, that one’s for you!). But first….yeah baby, Taiwanese beef noodles, this is what I’m talking about. Bowl of noodles, I would cheat on my Iphone with you any day. Too bad we’d only have a long-distance relationship. You know I’d end up at some crappy ramen place back here in Shanghai. It would just never work out. But…today, I’ll eat you right up.

beef_noodles

Finally, time for movie that I’ve been waiting to watch for hours now! What’s that you say? All sold out? 2nd row at a 5 o’clock showing of Sherlock Holmes instead of Avatar, as the clients are texting me and calling me with nonsensical requests such as “can you make this snake less jumpy?”

Oh well, the night begins with a jaunt at at one of Taipei’s famous night markets, where I prepare to gorge myself on the city’s famous street food. I start off smart enough, with the fried salted chicken pieces, but somehow make an idiotic detour into the heavy beef dumpling area. That thing makes me so damn full that I’m stuck watching Stephie and Lita chow down on delicious snacks while my stomach is trying to process a beef patty the size of my fist.

stephie_lita

tpe_noodles

Somehow, I end up going to Primo, a popular nightclub that ends up being just like Muse in Shanghai, except the music is better and the girls are even younger. The most mature one I met was thinking of graduate school…in two years, right after she finished her undergrad. I patted her on the head and told her it was way past her bedtime. Then drank some more and I remembered what it was feel like to be 25 again and at Guandii. Except I got tired and I had to sit down. And then I had to eat bagels and cheese covered french fries. What a roller coaster Saturday night! Merry day-after Christmas!

nyc_bagel

Day 5 – Last full day in Taipei. 3 hours of sleep and three cups of coffee later, it’s time for another meet with Elisha for some fucking unbelievable street food – 热炒. Basically, fresh seafood, shellfish, vegetables, meats: pan fried and served to us while sitting on a little table under an overhang, chugging cold beer while Taipei rain beat the street down. Not a better way to end a trip the ended up being all about working in the hotel room, eating whatever I could get, and getting a peek here and there at the sporadic porn channels that popped while I was trying relax after a long day of staring at the screen and stressing about stupid Chinese people.

Me to Stephie: I’m never leaving my room!
Stephie to me: Why, cuz you have so much work?
Me to Stephie: Free porn channels!
Stephie to me: Japanese or Western?
Me to Stephiel BOTH!

Day 5 – Uneventful trip home. Free wifi at the airport, just enough time to know I’ve got a shitstorm to deal with when I get back. And also…say goodbye to all the good food that exists on the other side of the Strait. Damn Beef Noodles, look what kind of shit they served me on the plane. Why did I ever leave you?

airplane_food

Hello, Johnny

My formative Shanghai years were spent with many a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and buckets of green tea (see Guandii and Pegasus and many a farewell to my liver). Though those days are long past, I never quite let go of Johnny. I would see him at the duty free stores, on the uniforms of the sexy Johnny girls pushing product at KTVs, on TV in various in masculine commercial incarnations. However, I had never seen him donning blue…sitting on a table…right in front of me…waiting to be plundered.

Until tonight.

After a marathon Shiraz session at Just Grapes and Debbie’s house on a Monday evening, I was hard pressed to accept her invitation to return to the lair. “I’m afraid I’m going to end up drinking until 4:30 AM at your place again,” I told her. “My mom made hot soup. You’re close by, just come on over, fill your stomach, and head home to rest,” she replied.

Little did I know that the ever elusive Johnny Blue would be there waiting for me, starved for the attention of a set of virgin lips and ebullient liver. And indeed, I made that lonely bottle feel complete.

“Hello, Johnny. My, how mature and smooth and delicious you’ve become!”

“Hello Sushipanda. I want you to make love to me”

And so I did.

Chinese People Love Carbs: Ichido

Yes, I like walking into a heated Ichido on a freezing Sunday afternoon. What I don’t appreciate is being surrounded by asshole cakes and pastries loaded with cream and sugar. What are you trying to do, make me regret those gravy fries I had for brunch? Assholes.

Pho26: Battle on Wujiang Lu

This is cross-posted on Shanghaiist

Looks like Shanghai’s Year of Pho will soon have its first cage match. Yes, our pleas for decent pho through the years have been thoroughly drowned out by the sound of so many pho restaurants popping up left and right, front and back. But something intriguing is happening on Wujiang Lu, where Pho Sizzlin’ has, up until now, laid claim to its pho-main with is colorful personality but decidedly average noodle offerings. A challenger has set up shop on the same street, and Pho26 is no glass-jawed pretender.

As with most pho joints, the prices vary depending on how many ingredients you choose (one of the few establishments on this planet besides Fox News where on has to actually pay more for the privilege of being served tripe). Pho26 steps it up a notch by offering a bowl served with A4 grade kobe beef, which clocks in at 100 RMB, though we were too humble try anything other than their combo bowl. Our skepticism at having a side dish with only peppers and a lime wedge (the bean sprouts and basil are already in the bowl when served) slowly dissolved as we dug into the very deep and ample bowl. The thin noodles were of the soft and fragile variety, but being overcooked added much appreciated flavor to them. Beef slices were rare and tender and delicious; the broth was a fragrant consommé that surprisingly refused to take on a sheen of oil on its surface. Note: our friend who shuns all things beef tried the pork neck rice and said it was really dry, so until we delve further into the matter stay with the pho.

The owners of Pho26 cut their teeth on having successfully run the first four shops in this chain in fickle Hong Kong, and they ostensibly have enough confidence in their product to park themselves but a few meters away from one of the most popular pho servicers in town. While it may lack the warmth of service and cheerful disposition of Pho Sizzling (they scored points with us long ago with their semi-campy instructional videos on how to eat their dishes), Sizzling should take notice: the new guys serves a very good bowl of pho.

Pho26 – 2/F No. 178 Wujiang Lu, near Shimen Lu (越旺餐厅 – 吴江路178号二楼. Tel: 5228-6597. Price: 28-35 RMB per bowl of pho

Giving Thanks, Shanghai style

My original plans of ordering a roast chicken and sharing it with my mom for a low key Thanksgiving were dashed when Debbie called all of us together for a big Shanghainese dinner at Fu1039. The reason? Her awesome mom (who just now offered to set me up with a fleet of China Airlines flight attendants) is in town to drink whiskey and chill with her daughter and her awesome friends. So Jason and I both brought out our mothers for a big giving of thanks. Per usual custom, Debbie went all out at this very nice Shanghainese restaurant, the pinnacle of her efforts to please being the crab cake and dumpling pictured below. Shredded crab meat and crab egg yolk baked in a tiny crab shell, with crab sauce smothered in a ball of sesame sprinkled fried dough. We definitely have much to be thankful for. Good friends and family and food and fun. Hope all of you got yours as well.