September 6, 2010

Nothin' but hype

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Another foodie gathering.  One that I was reluctant to join.  Apparently the chef here was formerly from Shanghai Fraternity Association (上海總會), which supposedly gives this place a certain amount of credibility.  I had my doubts when we discussed the menu a few days beforehand, but I decided to show up at Zhi Wei Shanghai Restaurant (知味舍) anyway.

The trio of starters arrived, and I smelled trouble immediately...

Vegetarian goose (素鵝) - Not crispy.  'Nuff said.  Oh and there weren't enough pieces for everyone.

Deep-fried crispy eel, Wuxi style (無錫脆鱓) - probably the best dish in the entire meal.  The eel was perfectly crunchy on the inside, even with the coating of yummy sauce on the outside.  And the sauce... perfect balance between the sugar and the acidity of the vinegar.

Soy-marinated gluten with mushrooms (四喜烤麩) - we noted that the gluten was sliced into pieces with a knife instead of having been torn by hand...  Nit-picking?  Perhaps...

Tea-smoked chicken (燻雞) - this tasted pretty good - lots of smoky flavor and even the piece of breast meat I had was soft and moist.  But it seems more Wenzhou (溫州) than Shanghai to me...

Steamed Reeve's shad with rice wine (清蒸鰣魚) - a disaster.  The fish was presented with slices of ham and mushrooms prominently displayed on top, then the same garnishes were placed on top of the individual servings.  Those garnishes are used to provide flavors to the fish... one doesn't really eat them... Either they don't get it, or they think we have no idea how Reeve's shad should be eaten.   The best part of eating this fish is the scales, which are served with the fish.  One is meant to suck on the scales and get the layer of skin and fat underneath.  Unfortunately the fat has been cooked away, and I was robbed of this pleasure.  I know that some people had heaped praised on this dish because of its "good value" - since it's roughly 2/3 of the price compared to some of the established restaurants... but so what?!

Stir-fried young hairy crab with rice cake (毛豆螃蟹炒年糕) - another disappointment.  For me the dish has never been about the crab, but the rice cakes in the yummy sauce infused with crab roe.  The rice cakes were flabby - there was simply no "bite".

We ordered steamed rolls (蒸銀絲卷) to wipe up the sauce, but I took one look at them and decided not to touch them.  The skin told me that they were very much over-steamed and unlikely to be yummy, and I wasn't wasting precious calorie quota on them.

Initially there was talk of ordering the steamed flower crab in chicken fat and Shaoxing wine.  Mrs. Hoover and I objected strenuously, as the dish simply isn't Shanghainese!  The fact that it's even on the menu is truly disturbing.

Crispy eight-treasure duck (脆皮八寳鴨) - skin wasn't crispy...they were soggy.  'Nuff said.

Double-boiled soup with Chinese cabbage and ham (火腿燉津白湯) - this was OK.  Didn't touch the ham but I think my fellow diners weren't too happy with it...

Braised pork with bean curd knot (百頁紅燒肉) - initially we were told by the restaurant not to order this dish, as it would be a duplication with Dong Po pork (東坡肉).  Mrs. Hoover and I were like... WTF?!  They may both be made with pork belly, but they are most definitely not the same.  We insisted on having the dish, and realized why the restaurant told us the two dishes would be the same.  While the pork is braised, this dish is supposed to taste savory.  The chef simply used way too much rock sugar and the dish now tasted sweet.  Sorry, chef...the Shanghainese may have a sweeter palate than most, but not every Shanghainese dish is supposed to be sweet. The bean curd knot was also too soft and not chewy enough.

Dong Po pork (東坡肉) - the pork had lots of soft, wobbly fat with very little lean meat.  Both the skin and fat melted in my mouth, which was nice.  But something about the color bothered me a little... the fat was just a little too pale, like it hadn't been marinated or braised enough.  Taste-wise this was sweet as I expected.

Stir-fried seasonal chili eggplants (油爆尖椒茄子) - not sure it's typically Shanghainese, but it tasted pretty good.  

Mini wontons (餛飩) - pretty dainty, and I'm starting to taste more of the skin than the filling.

Osmanthus jelly (桂花糕) - pretty nice and tasty.

The room was pretty warm and I was a little uncomfortable, which didn't help with the overall dining experience.  The meal was pretty disappointing, especially given the pedigree of the chef.  I guess I'll just go back to my regular Shanghainese joints...

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