July 4, 2009

Something old, something new

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I went back to an old favorite today for lunch. I have been coming to Jesse Restaurant (吉士酒家) everytime I'm in Shanghai, and this trip would be no exception. Given that there were only two of us, we decided to be smart and only order two dishes.

Naturally one of the two dishes had to be the braised pork in brown sauce with bamboo shoots and cuttlefish (筍目魚燒肉). After all, this dish is the main reason why I keep coming back! There is a good mix of fatty pork belly - cut into smaller chunks than Fu 1039 - and spare ribs, making the dish slightly leaner. The meat has also been cooked a bit longer, so that some of the fat has been forced out of the fatty chunks and results in an oily sauce. The addition of cuttlefish also makes a huge impact on the flavor, putting it a notch above many traditional versions. The bamboo shoots they used were a little old and chewy, but provided an interesting texture.

Sautéed green soy bean with vegetable sponge (絲瓜毛豆) - a real summer dish that's light and refreshing. The ridged gourd works well with the green soy bean.

This time around, we actually ordered an extra portion of the braised pork so that we could doggie bag it back to Hong Kong...

After lunch we strolled around the corner and paid a visit to the old residence of Madame Soong Ching-ling (宋慶齡故居), the second wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China. I had passed by this place a few times, and finally decided it was time to take a look. It was interesting to walk around the big mansion and its surrounding garden, with all the historical furnishings and personal items belonging to the couple.

Later on my friend Julia took me on a tour of Tianzifang (田子坊), a commercialized area that's being touted as one of the city's art communities. While there are a few art galleries and studios around - including the former studio of famed artist Chen Yifei (陳逸飛) - these days it's looking like one big tourist trap. Some of the small alleys are lined with small cafes and restaurants on both sides, with outdoor tables packed together. It looks like a cross between Xintiandi (新天地) and small, medieval European towns like Laguardia in Spain. I'm soooo not impressed.

We head back to Xintiandi in search of cheese. Cheese?! Yes. Someone in Hong Kong had raved about a cheese shop in Xintiandi, where the cheese selection was so good and they had managed to age Comté for 7 years. I had totally forgotten the name of the shop, but decided to walk around and look for it anyway...

After a bit of searching and looking at the map, I finally arrived at Cheese and Fizz, a small shop selling wine and cheese. The Comté here is 18-month old, I am told by the staff. I immediately lose interest. While they have an interesting selection of cheese - Brillat-Savarin, Saint Félicien, Epoisses and others - many of them are too ripe and look like they've been sitting around for too long. If I lived in Shanghai, I'd probably come down and pick up a few bits. But no way was I going to be excited about finding stuff here not available in Hong Kong...

Dinner was at Villa du Lac (湖庭), the Huaiyang cuisine restaurant opposite Le Platane in Xintiandi. The setting is very much like that of its sister restaurant next door. I've never had Huaiyang cuisine before, but it's very similar to Shanghainese.

Hu Ting's drunken chicken (湖庭醉雞) - this was pretty decent as the meat is pretty tender and tasty.

Pork knuckle terrine with vegetable jelly (翡翠肴肉) - interesting variation where the traditional jelly is now made from a blend of veggies such as spinach. But I found the jelly a bit too salty.

Sesame oil scented fine sliced cucumber (翡翠羽衣) - the standard marinated cucumber, but with a beautiful presentation.

"Long Jin" tea river shrimps (龍井河蝦仁) - I still haven't had a version of this dish that I'm impressed with. None of the ones I've tried so far gives me a taste of the fragrant tea leaves on the shrimps, including this one. I do have to say, though, that the texture here was rather interesting. The outside of the shrimp have somewhat disintegrated/mashed to make things even softer and mushier.

Pan fried cod fish fillet (香煎銀鱈魚) - these thin slices of cod were pan-fried perfectly, just a tiny bit crispy yet still succulent. But this doesn't exactly scream Huaiyang or Shanghainese to me...

Pork balls with crab meat in superior soup (蟹粉獅子頭) - this came in individual bowls filled with a light broth. The meat balls themselves were incredibly light, airy and tender. The tops of the balls had a chunk of inlaid crab egg. Very nice.

Fried four treasures with diced papaya, yam, asparagus and black fungus (大内四寳素) - interesting combination, especially the addition of papaya together with yamaimo (山藥).

Home made noodles in fish soup (魚湯小刀麵) - the noodles were pretty good, kinda firm even after soaking in the soup for a while. The fish soup was rich but a bit salty.

Steamed shark's fin dumpling with crab meat (蟹粉魚翅湯包) - not bad, but I didn't taste any shark's fin inside.

For dessert I had the pumpkin soup with glutinous rice balls (南瓜湯圓), which was really nice even though a cold pumpkin soup would have been better.

We bought a bottle of 2004 Château-Fuissé Pouilly-Fuissé Tête du Cru from Cheese and Fizz. Mineral and flinty nose, with lemon, oily and buttery notes. Kinda ripe on the nose and the palate. Not bad at all.

I have to say that the food here was very refined and I enjoyed the serene setting. If I'm in the mood for something a bit less traditional - with Cantonese and Western elements - I'd pay Villa du Lac another visit.

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