With P2's post on Shanghai Classic in mind, that's where we ended up when our Auntie Helen wanted to take us out for dinner around Cupertino. William and I had loved the yellow sparrows here when it was Shan Yang. While we hoped that the cook who made that dish might still be around, it's no longer offered. But no matter, now there's a dumpling chef plying his trade for all to see from the dining room. Also our waiter spoke more English than the previous staff and didn't mind making suggestions from the extensive Chinese-language menu by pointing to dishes on the other tables. I asked for some Shanghainese standards for our other choices.
We had a steamer of xiao long bao (six). The skins have that tender pebbly texture and are quite thin. Two popped and lost their soup. The pork filling was a little too firm and lean, making it more meatball-ish. The soup would have benefitted from more fat for a rounder taste. But I'd try them again, as this might have been batch variation.
The clear shrimp were okay, just barely cooked as they should be. Very large serving size, by the way, but made with sea and not freshwater shrimp.
My brother had to have mapo dofu. Yeah, I know, don't order this at a Shanghainese place, but he was craving it. It was very spicy, too hot for Auntie to eat more than one bite. Yet it didn't really have the layers of flavor of the best versions. I also don't like carrots and peas in mapo dofu.
When I asked about rice cakes, which aren't on the English menu either, our waiter asked how we wanted them cooked and started to rattle off the options. I asked him to repeat when I heard paigu nian gao. I've not had rice cakes with spareribs before and I thought someone on this board was looking for this dish, so that's what we picked. The rice cakes themselves were on the heavy side and mostly stuck together into doughy masses. The spareribs were in large unwieldy pieces that swabbed gravy on your chin and cheeks. Though the pork was on the tough side and difficult to bite through, the flavor of the dry-style gravy was really compelling. William didn't like it at first, but then changed his mind, saying, "there's a lot of flavor in that brown stuff."
My favorite dish was the stir-fry of calamari, pork and Chinese celery. William said, "this has it all - savory, salty, chewy, crunchy, soft, and juicy." The knife work was impeccable with each ingredient cut to uniform size to be cooked to its rightful doneness. Wonderful balance of flavor and texture with a different personality in each bite.
It was an eating adventure for Auntie, her first taste of Shanghainese food and she enjoyed the ride. On our way out we stopped at the dumpling stand to watch the construction of a demilune shaped dumpling filled with vermicelli and vegetables. The chef brought out a fresh order of pan-fried ones from the kitchen to show us the finished product. We'll order that next time.