March 14, 2010

Cowboys and French maids

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I'm in Shanghai for one night, and I met up with a couple of friends to try out a restaurant.  I heard about Xijiao No. 5 (西郊5号) some time last year, and thought it was time to check it out.

The place was easy to miss, especially on a rainy night.  The place seemed hell bent on making an aesthetic statement of some sort, starting from the cowboy outfits of the valet, the butler/maid costumes of the wait staff, to the eclectic decor showing classical European as well as Gaudi influences.  The toilet bowl was literally on a wooden throne... whatever...

My friend and I debated whether to order a la carte or take one of the set menus.  I wanted to pick only the dishes I wanted to have; my friend thought it would be more economical to take the set menu; she insisted, and I relented.  Turned out to be a big mistake.

We had a few starters to begin with:

Crispy skin marinated chicken (脆皮咸鸡) - this was totally not what we expected.  The chicken wasn't fried at was steamed.  The chicken was then dunked in ice water (or put into a freezer) so that the skin and the meat became very crunchy.  I commented that the skin had the consistency similar to jelly fish (海蜇).  There was a salad of shredded chicken and radish at the bottom.  I thought this was interesting, but it wasn't a crowd pleaser.

Homemade bean curd noodles (自制回味干丝) - much chewier than the 干丝 I find at most restaurants, which makes it interesting.

Chrysanthemum greens salad (生拌茼蒿菜) - this was very nice and refreshing, tossed with a vinaigrette that was just yummy.

Deep-fried fish in soy sauce (扬帆熏鱼) - nice presentation, with the fried tail curve upwards like a billowing sail (hence the name 扬帆).  Nice and crunchy on the outside, while the fish was moist and juicy (almost dripping) on the inside.  One thing that detracted from the experience was the soy sauce at the bottom of the plate, which was pretty salty.  This was almost the same as the version at Fu 1088, but loses out because of the salty soy sauce instead of sweet soy.

After this, the mains started to arrive in quick succession...even before we finished the starters.

I didn't want to eat raw oysters in China, even if they were imported from I took the roast New Zealand leg of lamb (新西兰小羊腿).  This was huge... and the smell of cumin hits me immediately.  I must say that the meat was pretty nice, but there was just way too much cumin...I couldn't even figure out what the sauce was made of.  Needed to rinse my tongue with tea afterwards for fear of destroying my taste buds.

Stewed beef steak with pear (5号牛排) - this was the famous steak at the restaurant, which  is not cheap as an a la carte item.  My verdict?  Well... the beef itself was nice and tender, but that is because of this particular cut, and plenty of others do it just as well or better - 台塑王品牛排 for example.  But the sauce was a little weird to me... The poached pear was OK, and a refreshing balance to the rich beef.  There was a little bit of pear-flavored foam on the side...and a hint of molecular cuisine.

Peeled Risling shrimp (雷司令蝦仁) - this dish gave me a good laugh, and pretty much sounded the death knell of this restaurant in my book.  The shrimps were OK, although I thought there was a hint of baking soda - commonly used to make the shrimps crunchier to the bite.  There were some red "pearls" in a spoon, and I immediately thought of my disastrous meal at Tang in Dubai.  I tasted wine in the pearls, and asked the waiter what they were made of...

"This is molecular cuisine (分子料理).  This is made from Riesling, a type of red wine."
"Riesling?! But Riesling is a white grape!!!"
"Oh...I'm sorry..."

Boiled wild duck in soup (江鸭腌鲜汤) - not bad, but I was already pretty full at this point.

Steamed Hilsa herring with rice wine (糟香鲥鱼) - Hilsa herring is another name for Reeve's shad.  There is no way that the fish should be shared by the three of's just too huge.  I had a piece from the belly, and it was pretty nice.

Braised mushrooms with honey (香蜜百灵菇) - they looked like stacks of rice cakes, but these were mushroom slices.  I took one slice, as it was all I could manage...

Stewed rice with sea cucumber and fish lips (海参鱼唇捞饭) - Actually the rice wasn't stewed in the claypot with the just add steamed rice into the pot.  This was one of the signature dishes of the restaurant, and I did like it.  The varied consistency between the soft fish lips and the slightly crunchier sea cucumber was kinda interesting.

Steamed veggie with soy sauce (豉油芹白) - not sure what this veggie was...looked like a cross between bean sprouts and yellowed chives.  But the taste was definitely celery.

Dessert was snow frog in pumpkin purée (南瓜露雪蛤) - I'm not normally a fan of this stuff, but it was OK tonight.

We were waaaay too stuffed, as the set menu just gives you too much food.  But maybe this is how Chinese people entertain these days... ordering too much food and pay for an expensive meal.  There were definitely a few tables of nouveau riches around us...showing off by talking about Ferraris.  I'm also turned off by the decision of the waiter not to allow me to take pictures of the menu.  I do it so I remember the dishes I had, not because I want to copy or steal any secrets from the restaurant.  While it was nice of him to deliver a full list of our dishes for me to take home, the overriding attitude of the restaurant bothers me.  These guys are just too full of themselves. that I've been here and checked it off my list, I don't need to come back again. Most of the dishes can be found elsewhere, with similar or better quality and at cheaper price points.  That leaves very little reason for me to return...especially given the out-of-the-way location.

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