Had some trouble with Shanghainese food. Went to Lake Spring, after hearing much from this board. Didn't like. Tasted kind of tired to me. Lifeless and rich and empty of flavor.
Went through a little weird stretch in my life. Kept going to new places that I didn't like. My cooking kept bad. I kept putting in a cup when the recipe said a tablespoon.
Soul saved by a visit to Green Village. (Is this the one that supposedly got Lake Spring's old chef? Or is that King's something?) Top floor of the big mall on Valley and Del Mar. Amy and me. Got lamb dumplings - pretty good. Hearty. Nearby, a family of 15 gets a gigantor sandstone-looking tub of soup. Out, ladled, comes some clear, brown, empty soup with a little floating chunk of meat and a bit of mushroom, but mostly just clear broth.
The family goes totally silent. All the heads bowed. No sound whatsoever. Even the slurping is quiet. Utter, complete, blissful concentration. I can feel the joy coming off the table. Christ. Waves of it.
I've never heard a large Asian family around a table go completely quiet before. Ever. Really. I think mine would implode. But total silence.
I look around. At another table, there's another family of about 12 doing the same pure concentrated head-down soup-experience and another gigantic tub of soup, across the restaurant.
Our food comes. Tilipia with scallions, braised. Never liked tilipia much, but the menu said it was live, and it was cheap, and another family near us seemed to be scarfing one down with great abandon. Great stuff. Sauce is brown with sweet flavors. Something in the stock sauce has been augmented to a very sweet, which pushes, in a meatily-sweet way, against the sweet of the slow-cooked scallions. Awesome. Fish is alright, but, then again, it's tilipia, and what can you expect for a whole live fish for $8? (I figure, better fishes, less sauce. Sauce here is worth it.)
Other thing: rolled bean curd sheets braised with brown sauce and fresh soy beans (menu says peas). Take a bite. Oozing into my mouth is one of the purest, utterest, greatest flavors I've ever had in my life. The only other experience similar was a really well done consumme. Definitely some kind of stock-based something. But brilliant, glowing, pure, I can't even describe, cripes. Amy looks up after her first bite. I look up at her.
"Is it just me, or is this one of the best tastes I've ever had in my life?" I ask.
Amy looks at me with glow in her eyes. She says, "Thi, even if I didn't love you, I would fake it so you would take me to eat things like this."
I think she meant it.
This kind of rich, single-note, regal-ish flavor is easy to screw up. Shanghai food feels the most like high-French that I learned. All those damn stock reductions, all that fighting to create one glowing flavor, all those ways to screw up. So easy to make it a mass of lardy crap.
Anyway, I love this place.
I'm going back with 12 people this weekend. We're going to order everything.