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SHANGHAI: Dining adventures and misadventures

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SHANGHAI: Dining adventures and misadventures

glbtrtr | Jan 1, 2008 05:47 PM

Okay, just back this morning from Shanghai after a quick and wonderful 5 night trip from the West coast. Was I really just taking that one last walk on the Bund only a few hours ago??? Thanks to all who made suggestions, because it helped us cut through the dazzling choices that could take a life time to sample.

Our hotel (RAMADA PLAZA on Nanking Road) was a great location and we headed out on foot to explore what was around, only to find our first night's dinner was right across the street at a little, very basic walk-up cafe called DANAING DUMPLINGS which is right near the Shanghai First Food Market on about the 700-800 block of East Nanking Road. The market gave us a total overview of all the things that could end up in a Shanghai dinner and crowds were lined up for their fried dumplings in the downstairs market.

We headed upstairs to the little restaurant which had all sorts of steamed dumplings, as well as prepared foods that we could point to and a very kind young man who offered us a fractured English menu and lots of smiles. The steamed dumplings (pork) were perfect and there were sauces on the tables to concoct one's own favorite combination of hot and spicy to add to the vinegar.

Total bill for two plus two room temp TsingTao's (suprisingly good at this temp) was about US$8.00 total. Good start - no ambiance, except for the fun of being in a friendly Shanghai fast food place with good food and easy prices.

Next night we went next door to the HOTEL MERIDIAN "Mei An" for Cantonese - lovely dining room and nice view down on the street we were coming to love. Dinner was less successful because, truth be told, we did not know how to order a proper Chinese dinner and I do believe when only two are dining it is hard to put a lot of things together.

We had heard about pork belly here, so we tried that (uhhhhhhhh.....?????) along with another honey BBQ pork dish that was okay, and some not so great enoki mushrooms and garlic dish, and something called "Harvest of Vegetables with Chef's Special Sauce" which turned out to be only a green salad with a nice soy based salad dressing.

The desserts sounded unusual and unappealing upon first presentation, but we ended up liking both choices very much. Mine was a sago papaya dish, and the other was a mixed fresh fruit with almond tofu. Mine came with an interesting slightly salty, creamy, custardy sauce that mixed beautifully for complex flavors and textures.

There were also very nice small appetizers at the table, one which we could not figure out - red, hot spicy threads of some sort of dried something - very tasty, and some pickled vegetables, and spicy cashews. Total bill with beer and bottled water was only around US$60. We were ready to pull out all the stops now, as we moved on to other suggestions.

Got more adventuresome the next night at SOUTH BEAUTY on the 10th floor at the SuperBrands Mall in Pudong which took us into Sichuan food which we liked the best. The bi-lingual menu had pictures and helped us a lot to do a better job picking for more variety. We had some fabulous shrimp with peppers and garlic, some huge sweet and sour scallops, some green beans with shredded pork and some corn fritters. Again, the fritters came with that same salty, creamy, custardy sauce. Wonderful.

Of all things, Bindi Italian icecream desserts were all they had but we enjoyed the chocolate tartuffo and the intense tangerine sorbet frozen dessert. Lots of theater in the presentation and the setting here and lots of very happy diners here. I would eagerly go back again and again, until I worked by way around this entire menu.

Table appetizers were a version of kimchee cabbage and some seasoned potato cubes - both were wonderful and addicting.

Then we had to try SHANGHAI UNCLE, so while we were near the Bund Center neighborhood we stopped in to see if we could get reservations as it would be NewYears Eve (Western New Years) and they whisked us in right away which was around 2:30 pm in the afternoon, which surprised us but thought why not take it now since we are here. They seated us in a totally empty dining room and the staff was busy cleaning or sleeping or watching soap operas at the bar, but obviously did not tell us it was too late to dine.

We felt more rushed here and I remembered some of the suggestions made here, so we ordered the Smoked Fish appetizer, the 8 Treasures Duck and of all things on top of that wanted to try the Uncles Flash Fired Pork Belly to give it one more shot which blissfully they no longer had available because that would have been total overkill with the duck.

Since we did not know what the 8 Treasures were that came with the duck we did not order anything else so we ended up with an odd all meat menu.

The smoked fish appetizer was very good, with the warning to watch out carefully for the carp bones and the duck was very tender and flavorful. But the 8 Treasures didn't seem more than a good rice pilaf stuffing that was very high in duck fat content and while tasty was an overwhelming amount of fat overall for two people sharing this dish, with no other side dishes. When we tried to order other side dishes, we were finally told the kitchen was closed. (No surprise there.) and they finished us off rather quickly with a few slices of watermelon and our dinner out was over.

There were no appetizers at the table nor was there anything remarkable for dessert on the menu so end of report on the Uncle. I don't know why they seated us at that late hour, but we were glad we had the chance to see the place, the menu and try Shanghai cuisine in our mini tour through some the different regions of Chinese culinary traditions.

Certainly the Sichuan attracted us the most, and I may never get enough Shanghai dumplings in my life so I was happy to be back again exploring more in depth the dining experiences than I did my first time which was more noshing on street food and fast food.

MERDIAN SKY LOUNGE - for NewYear's evening, after being leaden with duck at Shanghai Uncle we went up to the Sky Lounge of the East Nanking Road Meridian Hotel on their top floor and found one of the best city views in a small intimate lounge and had some champagne.

One side looks out over People's Park, the Shanghai Museum and Grand Theater and you can really see the old oval form of the race track and all the city lights and traffic from that direction. And tucked away on the left hand side from the elevator entrance is a very cosy, private fireplace lounge of a settee and chairs with the primre view of the Pearl, the skyscrapers of Pudong and the river traffic just glowing underneath.

I see the North and South Peace Hotels on the Bund are now boarded up and assume they will be renovated. Any locals here who can fill us in on these? Will the Peacock/Dragon Dining Room be preserved?

Almost unfair to sample so little in such a short period of time, particularly when we were still learning how to "order Chinese" and the temptations looked endless. But thanks to all who helped us hit the ground running and opening the far grander intrigues of this very complex and varied cuisine to our very inexperienced tastes.

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