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Restaurants & Bars 14

Lily's House, Shanghainese Restaurant in Lafayette

anli | Oct 15, 2005 06:20 PM

I have passed by this place dozens of times in the 6 months since it opened. There is a large handwritten sign on the window which claims Shanghainese specialties. My husband and I went there for lunch today. It is located on Mt. Diablo Blvd, a few doors down from Los Jarros, another fairly new Mexican place which a neighbor recently recommended.

The dining room is pleasant, with tablecloths and linen napkins. There is a chalkboard at the entrance that lists the lunch specials of the day, all of which sound kind of Americanized Chinese, certainly no hint of Shanghai there. The lone waitress spoke good English, but was Cantonese. When she went back to the kitchen to call out the orders, she and the cooks all talked in Cantonese.

The menu also looked pretty standard Chinese American (despite a brief intro to the chef, Willie Ying, who "graduated from the Culinary Academy of Shanghai in 1980. His first cooking experience came at the prestigious Liu Bo Long Restaurant in Shanghai, where he rose to the rank of head chef while perfecting Shanghai cuisine and serving the likes of Pres. Bill Clinton and PM Margaret Thatcher..... While working at a Hang Zhou restaurant, he met Lily, whose similar aspirations and ambitions led them to follow their dreams to America in 1995. After 9 years of hard work at 10 different restaurants, they finally could afford their dream home in Lamorinda as well as their own restaurant. They wish to present a taste of the rich cultural experience of China through one of the hight forms of art - good food.)"

I saw a few dishes that hinted of Shanghai - Shanghainese Wonton Soup, Long Jing Shrimp (I had that recently in Hangzhou, made with Dragon Well tea leaves), Vegetarian Duck, and Jellyfish. The last two are things my kids like, so we ordered them. Also got the wonton soup and a rice plate with bbq pork and tofu for my husband. Then I asked the waitress if there was a Chinese menu with Shanghainese dishes. Yes, she says, but it's in Chinese. That's ok, I say, I can read it. I saw my favorite, stir fried Shanghai thick noodles, so I also ordered that. I wanted to keep the Chinese menu to take home and translate, but the waitress said that was the only copy, she had to make me another copy. Unfortunately, because it was handwritten, some of the characters didn't come out so well on the copy, so I will have to go back and check the original more closely.

The wontons were indeed Shanghainese, they were wrapped the way my mom taught me, and the filling was flavorful. The broth was very light, but they added a little bit of seaweed, like nori for flavor, as well as a bit of spinach and shredded egg. Plus we each got a nice fat shrimp in our bowl. The wrapper was a bit on the thick side, but was not overboiled. There were 8 large wontons in this order.

The vegetarian duck came out warm, with a thick brown sauce, not the same style that I am used to. And the jellyfish, which I heard being sauteed with some scallions, needed a bit more sesame oil and sweet vinegar flavor. It was softer in texture than other jellyfish dishes that I've had, but was not bad. I brought it home, have doctored it up to try again tomorrow. My husband's rice plate was nothing special, but it was a way to get him some rice. Lastly, the noodles came. They looked exactly as they should, with shredded pork and spinach. The noodles were just a shade overboiled, like 30 to 60 seconds too long, because they didn't have quite the chewiness that I love about this type of noodle. But the flavor was good. I brought the leftovers home to my daughter who polished them off right out of the container.

I think the real chef must come in at night. Based on what I could read on the menu, there are xiao long bao and scallion pancakes (no mention of them on the English menu). There are wheat gluten dishes, stir fried rice sticks (nian gao), smoked fish, and a number of typical Shanghainese braised dishes. I was looking for ti pang (pork pump/rump), but haven't identified it yet. His specialty is claypot chicken which requires 24 hour notice and costs $50. We've decided we'll have to order a banquet menu to test his skills.

We got there about 12:15 and there were only 4 tables out of 15 occupied. I hope they stay in business long enough for me to try the claypot chicken. So far this week, I've discovered 2 decent local restaurants that are worth a repeat visit, both thanks to mention from others on this board.

Lily's House
3555 Mt. Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, Ca 925-284-7569
Open 7 days a week

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