November 6, 2009

Crabulous trip to Shanghai day 2: I'll Be Back...Not!!!

Pin It

I'm running a few errands today, trying to familiarize myself a bit more with the only city in which I have property exposure.  As lunch time rolled around, where else would I find myself but back on Huanghe Road (黃河路), in front of the twin dumpling palaces.

The first stop was always going to be Jiajia Soup Dumpling (佳家湯包).  I chose not to have their pure crab roe xiaolongbao (純蟹粉湯包) on my last trip, but now that's it's crab season there was no way I was gonna pass this up!  Fortunately I waited less than 15 minutes in the line outside, but it would be some more time before the freshly made dumplings arrived on the table in front of me.

And these were definitely worth the wait!  The dumplings looked a little larger than the regular xiaolongbao others were having.  They also came in baskets of half-dozen instead of having the full dozen sitting in one basket.  I couldn't wait to dig in.  But first, I used my chopsticks to pry one of them open...very carefully.  I needed a peek at the contents inside to see how rich it was.  And I wasn't disappointed.

Yes, it was all crab roe / meat inside, with no pork to distract me.  Yes, I could feel large chunks of the orange crab roe breaking loose from inside the skin, and roll around my tongue.  I was in heaven.  I can't say with 100% certainty that these were the best crab roe xialongbao I've ever had, but they were definitely among the top 3 experiences in that category.  And at RMB 81 per dozen of these babies, most certainly the best bang for the buck.

After a dozen of these, my stomach is feeling slightly more full than it felt on my last visit here.  No doubt it's because the pork has been substituted with more crab roe rich in fat, cholesterol and who knows what else.  But the mission is not yet complete.

I stroll across the street to Xiaoyang Pan-fried Dumpling (小楊生煎舘) and order up a tael (兩) of the famed dumplings (生煎包).  Since I wanted to sit at a table and felt weird about spending only around RMB 5, I decided to order up a bowl of glass vermicelli soup with tofu and duck blood (粉絲血湯).

The plate of 4 dumplings more than filled up the rest of my stomach.  One tiny bite through the thin bottom (the dumplings are fried upside down so the skin at the "top" is thicker) and copious amounts of pork jus would gush into the mouth.  It's been a while since I last had some of these, and I'll just say that stuffing my face here was totally worth it...

I was mentally distracted while going for the last dumpling, and bit into it with a little too much force.  I found myself shuddering with shock as some of the jus gushed into my right nostril... It wasn't quite what I had in mind but I guess it just shows how much fat and protein-infused liquid is inside!

The soup was a total disaster.  I looked at the menu and scratched my head at the array of curry-flavored soup on offer.  Not exactly Shanghainese, I thought... So I chose the only Shanghainese-looking soup, but it was totally bland.  I normally try not to waste food, but I had been pushed past my limit with the dumplings and there was no way I would force myself to drink a bowl of dishwashing water...  I've had this soup elsewhere so I know it's supposed to be relatively light in flavor, but c'mon... this was waaaaay below par!

I continued to run my errands in the afternoon, letting my stomach do the heavy lifting in the process.

My friend Josie arrived from Taipei - the only one who truly answered my call for a foodie trip to Shanghai while the rest of my friends bailed.  We went for a late dinner at Nanling (南伶酒家) since a mutual friend had recommended the place.

We arrived just before 9:30pm, which we knew in advance was the time for last orders.  A quick scan through the menu and we ordered all the dishes in rapid-fire succession.  So we sat and waited with anticipation for the food to arrive.

It's crab season, so of course there's crab roe on the menu.  The first to arrive was stir-fried freshwater shrimp with crab roe (蟹粉炒蝦仁).  There was a ton of crab roe on the plate - with the usual clumps of orange roe and the whole thing sitting on a bed of the yellow oil.  Lots of flavor here, especially when you scoop up some oil with the shrimp.  Glad to see that they're not stingy with the crab roe!

Next came one of the signature dishes of the restaurant touted on web reviews: giant meatball with crab roe (蟹粉獅子頭).  There was just a small dollop of crab roe on top that I joked with Josie that she should take it all, since there wasn't enough for us to split... The meatball itself was OK.  It was a bit unusual because unlike the versions I've had elsewhere (and at home) the meat wasn't finely minced but came with chunks, including some bits of ham.  So the texture was a bit more interesting.  The Chinese cabbage soup was nice.

Josie wanted some sea cucumber, so we ordered with braised sea cucumber with spring onions (蔥燒大烏參).  She enjoyed it but I wasn't terribly impressed.  The texture was a little bit more chewy / springy than I normally prefer, and there was still that medicinal taste  I find annoying.

Finally came the yellow croaker and leafy mustard soup (雪菜黃魚湯).  Two small croakers had been pan-fried then boiled until most of the meat came off the bone.  The soup itself was milky and nice, with the salt of the leafy mustard providing the flavor.

It was then that disaster struck.  We're in Shanghai, so I ordered a dessert made from dates.  For some reason I thought that 棗泥拉糕 would be some yummy date paste encased in a pan-fried layer of dough, but what showed up on the table were cubes of cold, hard jelly.  Worse, they were completely flavorless!  I can't recall the last time I had a worse dessert in a Chinese restaurant.  I managed to take two (or was it three?) bites and promptly refused to have any more of it.  Josie actually took pictures of our half-eaten cubes as a reminder of how bad this was.  We both gave it a big, fat zero for a score.

It's funny how a little thing like dessert at the end of the meal could completely ruin your dining experience, so that the thing that you remember most was not how wonderful the crab roe was at the start of the meal, but how badly the dessert flopped.

The other thing that made me never wanting to return to the restaurant was the service.  Yes, we arrived very late so that most of the customers on the ground floor had left by then.  The staff just stood around and chatted among themselves, not really caring whether we needed something.  At one point I waived to the staff, and the only one who saw me was the manager, scolding the other 4 waitresses as she walked towards our table.  Whenever we needed more utensils during our meal, it was just easier to grab it from the empty table next to us.  We were unwelcome intruders, and the staff clearly wished that we'd just hurry up and get the hell out.

So we did, and they sure as hell won't ever see me again.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map