A little while ago I asked about a good restaurant at which to host a banquet dinner (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/673998) I ended up choosing Evergreen Shanghai, mostly for its location and flexible seating arrangements. But the food was good too. Here's what we had:
We started with three cold appetizers:
ma2 la4 niu2 jin1 (beef tendon in chili sesame oil)
kao3 fu1 (kao fu -- wheat gluten)
Shang4 hai3 zhi1 ma liang2 mian4 (cold noodle with sesame sauce)
And three hot appetizers:
cong1 you2 bing3 (scallion pancakes)
luo2 bo si1 su1 bing3 (shredded turnip shortcakes)
xie4 fen3 xiao3 long2 bao1 (steamed juicy buns w. crab meat & pork -- shanghai soup dumplings)
These ended up being the best part of the meal. The beef tendon with cut ethereally thin, with just the right amount of spiciness. The kao fu was sweet without being cloying and had the right mouth feel. The cold noodles were heavily sauced, but that's how I prefer this dish. The sesame taste was strong and the noodles were perfectly al dente.
The scallion pancake was the best dish of the meal --- much better this time, than I remembered it in the past. It was lightly fried and browned, but not too hard. It was only slightly oily, and while not flaky, had a rich scallion flavor. The black vinegar served with it had fresh ginger inside. The turnip cake was flaky and perfect pastry crust with freshly shredded turnip inside. I didn't have the xiao long bao, but they were eaten quickly.
We had four kinds of meat:
guai4 wei4 xiang1 su1 ya1 (amazing crispy duck)
cong1 kao3 ji4 yu2 (Crucian pan-broiled with scallion -- a river carp)
gan1 shao1 niu2 rou4 si1 (crispy shredded beef sautéed in chili sauce)
xiang1 gan1 rou4 si1 (shredded pork w. dry bean curd & baby chili pepper)
Each was good, although the crispy duck lived up to its English name --- it was amazing! In most Chinese cooking, the base quality of the protein matters far less than the saucing and cooking technique. Roast duck is one exception, where there is no way to make up for inexpensive duck. This duck dish was priced as very expensive but the quality matched the high price. The duck was fatty and deliciously flavorful. The skin was crispy, but not like Peking Duck, while the meat inside was deliciously moist and flavored both from itself and from a liberal salting.
The fish was similarly very flavorful, with an almost caramelized sauce and many scallions. This is not an easy dish to prepare (there is a small margin between undercooked and overcooked, and the scallion taste has to penetrate in the fish. Both were done very well. The many small bones also means that this is not the easiest dish to eat. Although I loved it, some people at the table didn't like this dish, perhaps because of the small bones, and perhaps because of the heavy sauce.
The beef dish may have been slightly Americanized --- fried slivers of beef in one of those sweet chili sauces. I would have prefer dry fried (gan1 bian1 as opposed to gan1 shao1) and even tried ordering it that way, but even if it was slightly Americanized, I enjoyed it very much. Perhaps a guilty pleasure?
I didn't eat the pork, although I did try the bean curd skin from this dish, which I thought was very good.
We had two vegetables:
qing1 chao3 si1 gua1 (plain sautéed loofas)
xue3 cai4 mao2 dou4 bai3 ye4 (bean curd sheets w. preserved cabbage & green soy bean)
si1 gua1 is not the easiest vegetable to cook and while I thought the si1 gua1 themselves were both good and correctly cooked (this is also easy to undercook or overcook) it was far too starchy. I can understand why a touch of corn starch is necessary to balance the texture, but someone had too heavy a hand here.
Some others liked the tofu much more than I did, but I found the whole ensemble too moist and a bit overcooked.
And two rice/noodles:
Shang4 hai3 nian2 gao1 (Shanghai rice cakes)
Shang4 hai3 cu1 chao3 mian4 (Shanghai thick noodles)
The nian2 gao1 was authentically Shanghainese, covered in a light brown sauce. Authentic or not, this is not the way that I like nian2 gao1. Compare this slightly drab preparation with the thinner slices, served more dry, topped with ground ma3 lan2 tou2, at Shanghai Gate in Allston, Massachusetts.
The noodles were nothing special at all, definitely not hand made, and topped with an assortment of vegetables. However, ordering noodles at a birthday celebration is auspicious, as your life should be as long as the noodles. And the noodles were very long indeed, and so had good symbolic value. Besides, we were stuffed by this point!
One last thing came, which was an off-menu dessert:
dou4 sha1 bao1 (red bean paste cake)
Actually, Evergreen has one of the largest collections of desserts on the menu of any Chinese restaurant I know, so someone in the kitchen must really enjoy making sweet pastries. These were excellent and very fresh and apparently also traditional for birthdays (I didn't know that!)
Overall, this was a very good place for a banquet. For up to about 35 people, you can comfortably fit in a screened-off area at the back of the restaurant. There is also a private room upstairs which can be configured in different ways, but has a $40 per person minimum. It turns out we exceeded that minimum anyway, mostly because of extra charges for a fine tea (the tea was truly excellent and worth every penny) and for bottled water. Why did we have bottled water? Well, each table was set with a bottle of still Voss water, sparkling Perrier water, a red wine and a white wine. Obviously we weren't charged for these unless they were opened, and obviously I could have summoned the personal fortitude to ask for Bloomberg's Finest instead of Voss. Still, somehow in the banquet mood we ended up drinking a lot of Voss water, which raised the price per person from about $40 to about $50. This I didn't mind so much, but some one else commented that he didn't think the restaurant should have put us in that position. I agree with that --- it was a little crass.
One last note; I hadn't dined there for several years, and I remember the food then being quite good. A good friend, who is from Ningbo (near Shanghai) had dined there recently and said the quality had fallen considerably. She felt this banquet was much better than the meal she had the week before, although to be fair only two dishes (tofu and rice cakes) were in common.
Overall, I had a very nice meal at Evergreen Shanghai, and it was an opportunity for authentic Chinese food in Manhattan in a very pleasant setting, which was quiet, semi-private and flexible enough for a group of about 15-25 people. The manager couldn't have been more friendly or helpful and I enjoyed the food.