What's with the staff at just about every low priced restaurant I go to lately eating and spewing crumbs while working? It's quite a nasty sight and a disturbing trend. I was disappointed to find that the staff at Shanghai Village on Grand St. take it to a new level.
First the positives. My first visit offered up some strong appetizers in a shredded lettuce filled, crispy beef pancake. Much more delicate than the bready variety served at the dumpling shops around. Then an order of carefully made turnip pastries. Wonderfully flakey little bonnets filled with shredded turnip.
The next visit I explored the tempting lunch specials. For 4.75 you can get a wonderful combo of soup, rice, and a main course much less dumbed down than most Chinatown lunch specials. The soup was a basic chicken broth with a beautiful cloud of cabbage that floated over it's surface. I was ready to dismiss the soup as a perfunctory offering but on first sip I realized that this was made with loving intent. The broth was so flavorful it took me by surprised. I totally underestimated it as the typical hot and sour glop given out at any number of average neighborhood Chinese joints . It really tantalized my palate as to what else the kitchen is capable of.
An addtional order of kau fu, a sweet dish of cold gluten intermingled with some sea vegetables proved to be a very good version of this classic Shanghai dish.
The main course of lions head was one of the best I've ever had. A humungous pork meatball in a rich brown sauce encircled by tender bok choy. This is true grandma food. It's quite a feat to get something that large to remain so moist but they succeeded and then some.
The problem with the meal began with the entire staff eating and drinking throughout the meal. It's an unsettling trend how in many low budget restaurants the staff seems to be given free reigh to sample the wares. From shwarma joints where the cook is eating pita as he carves up my sandwich to Chinatown bakeries where the staff gives you your coffee with a spray of crumbs from the pastry they're eating. The least they could do is wait until there aren't any customers to watch.
At Shanghai Village the staff nibbled on potato chips, picked at dumpings sitting on the counter, and constantly refilled the cups they had already drinken from at the customer faucet possibly contaminating everyone drinking with whatever germs they were carrying.
The true horror though was one of the most sickening things I've ever seen in a restaurant. One of the younger waiters was aggresively pulling at something in the center of his palm. It looked like a scene from a horror movie involving a mind altering device placed under the skin that could only be removed by violent means. This surgeon in training picked and scraped away at his hands for a full half hour. My only hope was that the manager would see it and have him thrown out in shame. Alas she watched and paid him no mind as he proceeded to rinse the surgical instrument, a cuticle clipper, under the same spigot that the drinking water was coming out of.
I requested the check quickly but the gut wrenching feeling that I got from witnessing this horror stuck with me for days. I would never go back but the less squeamish might wanna try the traditional Shanghai dishes offered.