Shanghai Terrace is a small perfectly appointed room with a large open terrace which, on the evening of our visit, easily accommodating both restaurant diners and a corporate cocktail party. Shanghai Terrace's service is impeccable, starting with the incredibly efficient Mr. Bou who not only returned my reservation voice mail at 9am sharp on Tuesday morning, I had called on Monday when ST is closed, but also faxed me a Peking Duck menu, politely inquired if we had any special dietary needs, greeted us by name, pronouncing my name correctly, and seated us.
While we perused the menu and wine list we were served small two sided individual dishes of hosin/chili paste and steamed buns for dipping. There were three of us dining, but two had ordered the Peking Duck pre fix, which must be preordered for at least two, so there were still menu decisions to be made.
My wife, who was eating lightly that evening, opted for an appetizer of Ahi tuna and smoked salmon tartar with citrus wasabi tobiko, which she tasted, pronounced delicious, and proceeded to share the remainder. For an entree she ordered the daily special of seared Halibut with sautéed mushrooms and cuscous in saffron, lemongrass butter sauce and 50-year-old balsamic glaze. This was an incredible dish with the halibut taking on a rich silky texture perfectly offset by the lemongrass and depth of the balsamic glaze.
On to the Peking Duck. They start by wheeling out a whole Peking Duck on a cart, slicing 1/4 of the top portion of the skin and shredding a bit of meat. The skin and meat is then rolled up in deliciously light crepe with scallion and hosin sauce. We were served two each. The Peking duck is then wheeled away with about 1/8th of it's skin and meat missing.
The second Peking Duck course is Peking Duck salad, this was an incredible dish. The salad of baby organic greens and fragrant Peking duck was served in a crisp edible wonton salad bowl, which the waitress broke apart for us with two forks. Each bite was more flavorful than the next, the salad Lyonnaise at Le Bouchon now has competition for my favorite salad in Chicago.
The third Peking Duck course was wild duck soup. The broth was very intense and had clear clean flavor, much like a rich consommé. There were pieces of duck and veggies in the soup as well, this was an excellent well thought out soup.
The fourth course consisted of two separate dishes, stir-fried roasted duck and fried rice or stir-fried noodles. We opted for the noodles, but, as I had read in Chicago Magazine that the Black fried rice was excellent, we ordered that as well.
Frankly, this course was somewhat disappointing, the duck used in the stir-fry was simply roast duck and the veggies were standard fare, this was all held together in a mildly starchy sauce, not unlike what you might get at any suburban Chinese restaurant. I commented that the crisp pan-fried rice noodles with roast duck at Little Three Happiness (209 W Cermak) is a better dish, at least at LTH you get hints of 5-spice with the duck.
The noodles were, once again, mildly disappointing, it's not that they were bad, just as a component in a $64 per person Peking Duck dinner, they were nothing special. The Black Rice, on the other hand, was wonderful. Large perfectly cooked shrimp, chunks of flavorful BBQ pork and just the right ratio of black rice to the other ingredients. I will most certainly order the Black Rice next time I am at Shanghai Terrace, in fact, this dish may be my main reason for going back.
The Peking Duck dessert course was sake marinated exotic fruits with coconut sorbet, sesame snap and passion fruit foam. This was a nice dessert, it didn't really move me, but was quite acceptable. The passion fruit foam was actually more of a highly whipped cream than foam, almost as if they felt they had to have at least one 'foam' on the menu. My wife had the Chinese plum wine panna cotta with plum wine jelly, shaved mandarin-orange ice, Indian gulab jamums and cointreau syrup. She had a small taste or two, she really had to eat light that evening, and passed the rest to the two of us, I like this dessert quite a bit, especially the plum wine jelly at the bottom of the bowl and the syrup soaked Indian gulab jamums.
We opted for the Chicago Magazine recommendation of the Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling, which at $34 dollars seemed quite reasonable for Shanghai Terrace and proved to be an excellent choice.
All in all a wonderful meal with excellent service in a beautiful room, two dishes were exceptional, the Peking Duck salad and the Black fried rice, but overall a bit shy on value for dollar, even taking into account the fact that Shanghai Terrace is located in the Peninsula Hotel.
Actually, this brings me to a minor gripe, we ordered two Peking Duck pre fix's at a cost of $64 per and if we were actually served 1/4 of a Peking Duck I would be quite surprised. There were generous portions of roast duck in the stir-fry and delicious shreds of wild duck in the soup, but we came for Peking Duck. It's certainly not false advertising as the menu, which they faxed me, clearly states roast duck and wild duck is used in addition to Peking Duck, it's just, retrospectively, I am a bit surprised at the paucity of actual Peking Duck included in the meal.
108 E Superior
Chicago, IL. 60611