Just came back from a meal there. For the past months I have been sampling the wave of new or relatively new Chinese restaurants in Boston which have broadened considerably the available Chinese options, beyond Chinatown and beyond the normal Sichuan/Cantonese dishes dominant over the past decades: Wang's, the oldest, I believe of the five, Sichuan Garden, Zoe's, New Taste of Asia, and Shanghai Gate. New Taste of Asia is the expanded sit-down version of Rice Garden.
Tonight I want to describe Shanghai Gate. When I arrived at about 7:20 it was packed and I had to wait ten minutes for a table. The clientele was about half Euro-American and half Chinese, perhaps slightly more Chinese. In the Chinese community it has already achieved some distinction since a family was celebrating a daughter's birthday, complete with cake, candles, and the singing of Happy Birthday to You in pleasantly accented English. The decor is clean and understated, more trendy than Sichuan Garden for example.
I ordered a number of dishes that I had never had before: West Lake Chicken, salt & pepper mushrooms, Lotus Beef, as well as baby bok choy and lion's head casserole. On the special blackboard Chinese menu were fish head in casserole, fish stomach, and one or two other items I could not identify.
Unfortunately they had run out of Lion's Head casserole and the fish head I did not learn about until after I had orderedThe absence of lion's head pork meatballs, particularly disappointed me since I had tried the dish at Zoe's a few weeks ago and wanted a taste comparison. That will be for the next time.
West Lake Chicken is, according to the menu, pickled in wine and steamed before being served cold. I would describe it somewhat differently. It is steamed in a broth with a strong flavor of sichuan pepper and a few other tastes I could not identify. Chilled so the cooking juices jell to form a richly flavored aspic, the chicken is then hacked through so the red blood oozes from the center of the bones. Shanghai Gate offers a generous portion of this visually striking dish.
The next to arrive was Lotus beef, the first time for this as well. It came piping hot served on top of lotus leaf in a steam basket. The beef was lightly prepared in a dry rub of sichuan pepper, red chili pepper flakes, accompanied by garlic and perhaps a bit of corn starch, among other elements. It then was steamed and served with a spinkling of coriander. The combination of flavors would have been further enhanced with more coriander. Nonetheless it was intriguing. Normally I avoid beef in Chinese restaurants since it rarely is of the best quality. This beef was tasty, but at times a bit rubbery. I don't know if this arose from the steaming or the beef itself. The tastiest and tenderest bits were the smaller pieces. The larger pieces were rubbery, an amusing consistency, but not my favorite. At least my jaw got some exercise tonight.
I forgot that salt & pepper, means breaded and deep fried in Chinese restaurants, not my favored preparation. The menu claimed that the mushrooms were marinated, fried, and served with sauce. I could not clearly identify any marinade. Nor was any sauce offered, though I asked if there was one. Once again, this dish arrived steaming hot from the kitchen If you like deep-fried food, this is worth getting, marinated and sauced or not.
It reminded me a lot of Rhode Island clamcakes, with its high battered breading to clam/mushroom ratio. This had less batter than do the RI clamcakes. The mushrooms do not have a light tempura coating, but rather a heavy rich coating over smallish pieces of mushrooms. It is well prepared. The pepper does come through, breading and all.
After all these carbs I wanted something green and ordered what was described as seasonal vegetable. I asked if that meant baby bok choy. But my accent was not good enough to be understood. Mai, the hostess, said no, some other small green. In fact it was precisely what I suspected, elegantly plated in neat rows, a very good dish to end the meal.
Next week on Thursday 24 February something called the Boston Group (??), Mai told me, is to televise a story about the restaurant, featuring the lotus beef. As far as I know thus far there have been almost no reports -- Google for instance has only 9 hits. I learned about it from Limster's a while back and the good experience that a Chinese historian colleague relayed to me. If the place becomes even more popular it will be awhile before a table at 7:15 can be gotten in 10 minutes. My advice is go before the tv show runs.