My friends tell me that the surest way to tell if a Chinese (or other variety of Asian) restaurant is any good is to assess its Asian Quotient (AQ), otherwise known as the number of Asian diners. If the number of Asian diners far outweighs the number of white ones, it is a safe bet that the restaurant knows what they are doing. If however, the restaurant is full of plain old white people, there is a high chance that it is as authentic as the Italian food at Bertucci’s. Which is to say, not at all.
This past week I had the marked pleasure and honor of being one of four white people at Shanghai Gate (very high AQ). Notably, the other three white people happened to be sitting at my table, even more notable was the fact that one of the above mentioned white people was a fluent Chinese speaker that spends a large part of her time working and living in China and Taiwan (she also happens to be Elizabeth, the perfectly lovely fiancée of a perfectly lovely friend and lab mate, Allen. Say hi, Allen).
Elizabeth took up the reigns and ordered for all of us (in Chinese, natch) impressing both myself and our servers in equal measure. The double take the server did when addressed in perfect Chinese was something to behold. Made me feel all important too. I would have never known to order the stuff she did because I would have no idea.
Twice fried green beans in garlic sauce – salty, crunchy, a little spicy, and fried. Mmm.
Lion’s head casserole (in the background) - very finely ground pork meatball spiced with soy sauce and sherry, in a deep brown broth and baby bok choy. I did not know why it is called that – Elizabeth had no answer for me. It doesn’t look like a lion’s head. I think it is safe to assume that it doesn’t taste like one either. Apparently, the name is derived from the fact that its accompanying cooked bok choy or napa cabbage looks like the mane on the meatball lion head. I admit that I failed to see the resemblance.
Black bean chicken wraps – minced chicken, sweet perfectly balanced with sour, set off by the fresh crunch of the lettuce.
Yu Xiang Pork – shredded pork in fish sauce with bamboo shoots, served with steamed bread. The bread was light, slightly sweet, and kinda sticky on the outside, making for an airy, fishy pork umami bomb of a sandwich (way better than it sounds).
And the thing that I was most excited about. The thing that made my long, shit day seem just a little bit shorter – soup dumplings (photo at head of post). The most brilliant invention of all time. Soup inside a dumpling. Bite through the wrapper for a giant gush of super hot broth and a small pork meatball. The key is catching the dumpling at the correct temperature – cool enough that it won’t burn the first eight layers of flesh off your mouth but not so cold that the broth begins to congeal.
Standing out in a room had never tasted so good.
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