August 2, 2023

The three musketeers

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It's been a long, long time since I was last in the presence of the Three Musketeers. I had met up with them individually from time to time, or bumped into them by chance in social settings, but I hadn't had the privilege of sitting down at dinner with all three of them for quite some time. We agreed to meet for dinner and open a few bottles, but when they suggested that we go to Neighborhood, I had to turn down their request. As much as I love the restaurant, going there thrice in five days would be too much for me...

So we ended up at the Shanghai Fraternity Association (上海總會), an old school club serving classic Shanghainese cuisine. It has been a few years since I was last here, and I looked forward to coming back.

Dried shredded bean curd with Shanghai parsley (香乾馬蘭頭) - always happy to have Indian aster (馬蘭頭) finely diced and tossed with finely diced dried tofu and sesame oil. Always so refreshing when served chilled.

Shredded chicken with crystal noodle in peanut sauce (雞絲粉皮) - pretty decent. The flat mung bean noodles had a nice texture.

Crispy bean curd skin rolls (脆皮素鵝) - this was crispy, indeed... but there was just a slight hint of the oil going off and rancid, but not too noticeable.

Wheat gluten with black fungus and mushroom (四喜烤麩) - the marinade was definitely on the sweet side, which wasn't the least bit surprising.

Zhoushan jelly fish in sesame oil (舟山海蜇頭) - very crunchy tentacles of the jelly fish.

Sauteed sliced beef with scallion (蔥爆牛肉) - this is always a good idea, with tons of leeks stir-fried at high heat to release the flavors.

Sauteed shredded mandarin fish (龍鬚桂魚) - it's been some time since I last had this dish somewhere... and I was pretty happy about it. It's labor-intensive so I do appreciate the kitchen's effort.

I do like having the shredded fish mixed together with pickles, as it adds both texture as well as acidity. Of course, a tea spoon of black vinegar works very well, too.

Braised meat balls in casserole (砂鍋獅子頭) - not bad, but pretty "heavy taste" with the liberal use of soy sauce.

Sauteed sweet peas and Jinhua ham (火丁甜豆) - HOW I HAVE MISSED THEE! So, soooo happy that this was ordered.

Young and tender sugar peas are always delicious when they're in season, and it's so satisfying when the seed coat pops. While they're delicious stir-fried "as is", I do think that the Shanghainese know what they're doing when they add some finely-diced ham so that the salt enhances the sweetness on the palate.

Steamed pork dumplings in Shanghainese style (小籠包) - these are OK...

Steamed vegetables buns (素菜包) - always happy to eat these steamed buns stuffed with finely shredded vegetables like Shanghainese cabbage (青江菜) and mushroom.

Crispy scallion pancakes (蔥油餅) - love scallion pancakes, but I still prefer the thin, flat type for their crunch. This particular type can sometimes have mushy dough in the middle that hasn't been cooked through.

Our host very kindly brought out 2 interesting reds while I was given to task of finding a suitable or worthy Champagne...

1976 Philipponnat Réserve Spéciale, dégorgée en août 2007 - almost no gas escaped when the cork was popped... although there were still some very fine bubbles coming up in glass. Good acidity here along with the expected caramelized palate and nose. Lovely notes of savory minerals and Chinese salted plums. Drinking nicely.

1990 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon - served around 45 minutes after decanting. Definitely smoky, minty, graphite, and a little savory. After more than 1 hour this was drinking very nicely. Plenty of life left in this wine.

2006 Valentini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo - served about 1½ hours after decanting. Really fragrant, nice and oaky, but unfortunately this also came with a chalky nose. Sweet on the palate. Some 3 hours after decanting the chalky notes were still there, but that oak sure was lovely once you get past the dust and chalk.

A very fun evening with this group of gentlemen, with conversation ranging from the very serious and political... to pointers on where to visit next time I'm in Japan. Grateful to our host for the treat, and we shall reconvene at Neighborhood soon.

P.S. The food has always been decent and reliable here, but never anything fancy. I recently heard a comment about a supposedly "hot" new place in town, and the person making the comment would prefer to come here rather than the fancy new place. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself...

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