Assuming I got an accurate translation and the true story, Jeff came to the USA (first to NJ) from Shanghai to “keep an eye on” his daughter, who now is in grad school at U of M*, and he ended up opening a restaurant for something to do and because he’s passionate about his native cuisine. He supposedly was involved in the kitchen at Shanghai’s famous Jinjiang Hotel, where President Nixon stayed during the historic 1972 visit (well before Jeff was there, of course), and which is one of the establishments credited with resurrecting high Chinese cuisine after years of decimation around the Cultural Revolution times (1960s-70s), when great chefs (and other bourgeois elements) were all sent to the boonies for hard labor rehabilitation, while the city folks were left to eat porridge, if at all.
*note: this is NOT the same west-side, U of M, Chinese restaurant family which has recently been in the news for a tragic, suspected crime.
Anyway, perhaps you’ve seen all the yummy looking photos and inconsistent ratings on Y*lp. The food is as good as it looks. The rub comes in that Jeff runs his modest strip mall establishment according to a new paradigm. Guests must call 1 to 4 days in advance to make a reservation, but more importantly, to also place the food order. On the morning of the day’s reservation, Jeff goes grocery shopping and then spends the afternoon BY HIMSELF preparing the food, just as one would do for a dinner party. He has what appears to be friends/relatives helping to serve the food, fill water glasses and clear dishes during the evening, while he completes the final cooking steps in the kitchen.
I’m gathering from the Y*lp reviews that Jeff, like any human, sometimes gets exhausted and sometimes gets in a bad mood. In traditional restaurants, that can be hidden from customers. Not so, under this paradigm. Jeff doesn’t like to come out front to recalculate a bill so customers can more easily split the tab, particularly while a hot wok of food is going in back. Surely, he also wouldn’t have nice things to say if he spent the day preparing specifically for you, and then you called at 4:30pm to cancel. Also, I think Jeff’s always looks 2/3rds empty, because he only can take on a limited number of meal preps. A lot of people must look thru the window and ignore the sign saying, “By advance reservation only!” and enter to argue, “Give me break, you’re not that busy, surely you can squeeze me in,” only to get kicked out, feeling bitter and offended.
Taking things further, you might be asking, “How can I find out what dishes are offered, if I don’t want to drive there in advance and look at the price list by the cash register?” He doesn’t have time for a website, and he doesn’t offer take home copies of the price list for future visits. Jeff’s outlook seems to be, “You got internet, and all kinds of people put junk out there about every establishment, so friggin’ just figure it out…I’m busy right now.” Fair enough—new paradigm. In fact, we called him on a Saturday afternoon, on the remote chance that we could get a Sunday eve reservation/pre-order, and he quickly said, “Call me back after 9pm; bye.” We called at 9:15pm and got voicemail and were bummed because for Chinese New Year, a traditional 15 day holiday period, we were near the last day (Lantern Festival is last day) so we wanted to make a night out of Sunday. However, at 10:20**pm** (not a weeknight, but still, holy crap!), he called our house and asked what we would want for the next day. This is fun stuff.
The food clearly is fresh and seems authentic Shanghainese. I’ve eaten in Shanghai only maybe ten times. Putting Jeff’s up against those ten places, I would rank it maybe tied for fourth. He’d probably be offended by that ranking but I think it is quite respectable because I travel in decent style (food wise, not hotel wise); and, Jeff’s is especially good considering we are in Detroit instead of Shanghai, and considering there are some ingredient selection limitations here, as well.
I most liked, for COLD appetizers, the chicken in ShaoXing wine, and the darkly marinated bamboo shoots. For hot appetizers, I liked the pan fried pork dumplings, which I dipped in black vinegar. For mains, I liked the braised pork belly with bok choy and egg, and the crispy duck ‘Shanghai Style’ (long steamed?, then deep fried).
One of the most popular dishes is Xiao Long Bao (steamed, pork soup-INSIDE-dumpling), though I plan on changing to the big wontons next time, as the XLB was difficult for me to eat without spilling all the boiling goodies, and it had an unexpected sweet flavor…but, I will humbly defer to the majority opinion. Another dish I’ll try next time is his famous “crystal shrimp.” The pictures make it look bland and boring, but since everyone raves about it, I suppose I’ll take my chances.
I didn’t see much point in the (pretty looking) SICHUANese beef noodle soup that my son ordered. Jeff labels his place authentic Shanghai cuisine, but also labels his place Asian fusion. I’d just as soon focus on the former, rather than the latter, right?
As you might imagine, it costs a couple bucks per small dish (which can add up) to create grocery-to-chef-to-you, special order food. And, I hope you can be understanding regarding other aspects of Jeff’s alternative paradigm. BTW, no alcohol. Regardless, how can you not go try, at least once, passionately prepared, authentic Chinese food, available right in the area?