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2003 Chowdown #2 -- Shanghai Gourmet, Walnut Creek

Ruth Lafler | Jan 19, 200308:39 PM

Bay Area Chowhounds have been on a quest for good Shanghainese cuisine (see recent reports on Su Hong and China First, for example). This week the quest took us to fresh territory for lunch: the wilds of Walnut Creek.

Shanghai Gourmet (sister to the restaurant by the same name in the Pacific East Mall in Richmond) is a modest but well-appointed restaurant in a small strip mall. The trick here is to get the right menu -- there are three: one containing only Americanized Chinese fare, one with appetizers and dim sum, and one with the "real deal" Chinese dishes, concentrating on Shanghai cuisine. At least all the menus contain English translations!

Yimster and Mrs. Yimster did the ordering for our large group (me, RWCFoodie, Nestorious, PaulH, Melanie, Derek, Chowfish, Mr. Chowfish and Felice), and soon the table was groaning with appetizers and cold plates:

Hot and Sour Cabbage
Vegetarian Duck
Sauteed Pig's kidney
Fried Crispy Finless Eel
Shredded Pig's Ear with Hot Pepper
Hot Pepper Beef Tendon
Shaoxing Style Wine Chicken

Of these, I thought the chicken was the weakest -- it tasted okay but lacked the requisite silken texture.

The most unfamiliar dish to me was the fried eel: it came to the table heeped on a plate looking like shoestring fries. But no, they were tiny eel with a slightly sweet coating fried to a crisp without a hint of fishiness. I remarked later that if you put a bowl out at your Superbowl party they would disappear without anyone suspecting what they were.

The vegetarian duck was an outstanding version, noted for both flavor and tenderness.

Both the pig's ears and the beef tendon lived up to their description and were quite hot. Both were declared good versions, with RWCFoodie liking the pig's ears so much she bought an order from the refrigerated display up front to take home.

The cabbage had a nice tang that balance out some of the other dishes, and the pig's kidney was also popular, especially with Mr. Chowfish.

We also had a couple of dishes from the dim sum section of the menu:

Xiao long bao were filled with rich soup, but the wrappers were faulted for being too gummy and the filling for being too meatball-like.

The "hand-tearing pancake" was a savory disk of pan-fried dough layered in concentric circles that pulled apart -- fun but I think it should have been a little crisper and a little less oily.

Then from the rest of the menu:

Red-cooked pork knuckle (greaseless pork knuckle on this menu). Not the best version I've had of this dish -- it may have suffered from the fact that the one they served us was very large and could have spent more time braising, letting the sauce permeate the meat and better rendering the fat. The sauce was lighter and less molassey than some versions, which would have worked if the rest of the dish had been cooked better.

Shanghai style pan fried thick noodle was tasty, and the noodles were nicely chewy and coated with sauce without being soggy or gloppy.

Shepherd's purse and Tofu soup was thick with both ingredients but bland -- a dash of chili sauce improved it greatly.

Finally, we ordered a couple of Chinese-only specials off the white board (thanks to Mrs. Yimster):

Sweet rice roll stuffed with dried pork and ... something ... , which I thought was overly chewy and bland.

And for dessert -- pan fried dumplings made from mochi mixed with pumpkin filled with red bean paste -- a great combination and a good ending to the meal.

With tax and a generous tip the tab came to $15/person. The consensus was that our lunch proved you can get good authentic Chinese food even in the more "white bread" suburbs like Walnut Creek.

Shanghai Gourmet
1291 Parkside Dr.
Walnut Creek

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