September 4, 2009

Day of pigs

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I’m back in Shanghai for a few days. Took a morning flight which landed before lunch, and after a quick ride on the Shanghai Maglev, followed by a subway connection to the stop nearest our house, I found myself back at the house in the middle of rush hour lunch. I waited till after 1pm before heading out to Fuchun Xiaolong (富春小籠), which is just on my block. Apparently this is one of the more popular places in town to have xiaolongbao (小籠包). I think I’ve only had it as take-out before, but I was happy to give it another try.

I wanted a simple lunch so I started with a half-dozen of the signature Fuchun xiaolongbao (富春小籠). These dumplings weren’t bad at all. While the skin isn’t as thin and soft as the ones from Ding Tai Feng (鼎泰豐) – still my favorite – there was a good amount of meat juices wrapped up inside the skin. Bite into the dumpling and you’re sure to feel the burst of liquid gushing to greet your taste buds. Pretty simple and yummy. My only complaint is that the dough on top of the dumpling can be a bit dry and hard.

I had a single, ho-hum tasting pan-fried turnip pastry (蘿蔔絲餅), then moved on to the famous deep-fried pork chop (炸豬排). This reminded me of the Yonezawa pork chop that are served in Hong Kong’s Japanese restaurants, as it also had a nice strip of delicious fat running down one side. The main difference is that the Japanese batter seemed flufflier... I do have to say that while the pork fat was divine, the whole thing wasn’t quite as good as the Japanese pork. But at one-tenth the price I’m not going to complain too loudly. Interestingly the batter is lightly-flavored, and I didn’t feel a real need to dip it into the Worcestershire sauce provided.

I slowly enjoyed my lunch while feeling the rumble of the No. 2 subway line below me. My hunger satiated, I went back to the house to rest up for dinner.

Dinner was an MNSC event, our first off-site in Shanghai hosted by our resident member. I crossed the Huangpu River and stepped into Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) at the Pudong Shangri-La. The smell of floral air freshener permeates the restaurant, and was sure to play with our wine tasting abilities…

The dinner began with a couple of traditional Cantonese roast meat starters – some nice, fatty char siu (叉燒) with juicy, caramelized fat; and roast 3-layered pork with crackling (燒肉). Both were nicely done and I can imagine myself being in Hong Kong with these.

Dinner at Fook Lam Moon is never without the roast suckling pig (脆皮乳豬), so we had one laid out on the table. But it’s a different pig from the ones in Fook Lam Moon in Hong Kong. The crackling here was definitely thicker and not as wafer-thin as in Hong Kong. There was clearly more fat here, which is absolutely fine by me! I found myself picking up more and more pieces of the pig…especially pieces with thick layers of fat underneath… yum...

We had a nice double-boiled soup with chicken - which put me over 50% full at this point – and we weren’t even half-way through dinner…

Next up was tripe stir-fried with bell peppers and preserved vegetables (鹹菜豉椒炒肚仁). I always love tripe, and even though tonight’s execution wasn’t perfect and the tripe wasn't as crunchy as it could have been, I still really enjoyed the dish.

The Kobe beef stir-fried with leeks (京蔥炒神戶牛柳) was not bad. I love a good 蔥爆牛肉 and here I could definitely taste the beef fat, although the waitress mentioned that this was 黃牛 – meaning domestic beef. Well, the texture didn’t taste like Japanese beef anyway… The balance of the dish was definitely heavily weighed towards the leeks and less beef, but I won’t complain too much as long as it’s tasty.

It seems like every trip to Fook Lam Moon must also include an order of sweet and sour pork (菠蘿咕嚕肉). While I used to pooh-pooh the dish as one which caters to foreigners with no sense of real Chinese food, I must say that it’s grown on me over the last year. Fook Lam Moon does this particularly well, where the crispy batter isn’t too thick to dominate the pork. It appears that my fellow diners agreed with me, as the plate was empty in no time.

Whole-roasted crispy chicken (當紅脆皮雞) was not bad. We also had pea shoots in ham broth (上湯豆苗) which were very tender.

What put everyone over the edge was the claypot rice with preserved meats (原煲臘味飯). We immediately tucked into the plate of meats, especially the liver sausages (潤腸) which were tender and full of flavor. My bowl of rice disappeared in a heartbeat. After a few minutes, we remembered to ask for the rice crispies (鍋巴/飯焦), and my eyes opened up real wide when the waitress lifted up the whole of the crispies in one huge piece, molded to the shape of the claypot. She broke it up for us, and each of us picked up a big piece (or two) to nibble on. It would have been perfect if it were a bit drier, and the slightly soggy texture is something I am more than happy to live with.

The wines… the three flights of two turned out to be a horizontal of the 1995 vintage, across three different Bordeaux appellations.

1995 Ausone – sweet, fruity nose but a bit alcoholic. Notes of grilled meats. 93 points.

1995 Cheval Blanc – nose was very farmy, smoky and a bit minty. Light tannins. 94 points.

1995 Palmer – very smoky with lots of minerals and a bit of brett. 94 points.

1995 Margaux – minty and smoky nose. 94 points.

1995 Mouton – minty with a bit of smoke, lead pencil and a bit grassy. Pretty nice and powerful.

1995 Lafite – ripe, fruity nose with mint.

Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Select (vintage unknown but probably 2005) – Our host - being ever the prankster - decided to pour this wine into an empty bottle which used to hold 1945 Cheval Blanc and aerated for 24 hours. We were deliberately shown the old, dusty bottle to mislead us into thinking we were drinking something very old. I thought there was lots of caramel, marshmellow, very sweet with apricot and orange notes, and I gave it 95 points while the others all put their scores in the 90s. While I refused to guess the identity of the wine, my fellow members thought it was a Cheval Blanc from the 1940s or 50s… Yes, we were off by 50-60 years in blind tasting…AGAIN.

In spite of the final prank, it was a really, really enjoyable dinner. Once again I left the restaurant carrying my very full tummy, with a nice little buzz from all the great wines I drank.

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