August 4, 2012
上海一只鼎 – Top Shanghai Cuisine Restaurant, Richmond BC
南翔小笼包 (Steamed Bun Filled with Pork Nanxiang Style)
马兰头拌香干 (Tossed Herb with Dried Bean Curd)
花雕走地鸡 (Braised Free Run Chicken with Huadiao Rice Wine)
生煎包 (Pan-fried Dumpling Filled with Pork)
干烧四季豆 (Dry-fried Green Beans with Minced Pork)
糟熘鱼片 (Sautéed Sliced Fish in Rice Wine Sauce)
木桶咸肉菜饭 (Steamed Rice with Vegetable and Salt Meat)
陈皮牛肉 (Tangerine-flavored Beef)
After returning from Whistler quite late and craving some Shanghainese food, I got the whole family to drop by Top Shanghai Cuisine. We have always liked the food here but their service was so horrible a few years ago that we stopped going. Mom was not too eager, but I figured that the bad servers were probably all gone by now. After all, if the food is excellent, service quality can be sacrificed to an extent. Surprisingly, even at 9 p.m., the restaurant was still unbelievably crowded and loud with lively chatter.
To start, we ordered the 南翔小笼包 (Steamed Bun Filled with Pork Nanxiang Style), and besides the one I sampled, my little cousin ate the rest of them as xiao long bao is one of his all-time favourite dishes. The wrapping was thin and chewy, not overcooked. Inside was a pocket of ‘pork soup,’ the juice from the melted pork fat in the filling. This is what makes xiao long baos so delicious, as well as the tender filling. This version was not entirely out-of-this-world, but it was still great. It was served with ginger in white vinegar, rather than the traditional kind. I was surprised by this but glad to find that the taste was not much different. They were placed on thin slices of daikon radish, and even though they were not meant to be devoured, I ate it anyways.
The 马兰头拌香干 (Tossed Herb with Dried Bean Curd) was finely chopped and nicely seasoned with enough salty flavour. However, I think I prefer the sweeter version from Suhang Restaurant, just because I love sweet dishes. The vegetables and bean curd were both quite fresh and for $7.99, there was quite a lot. There was a nice, oil-seasoning aroma but the flavours were subtle and none were overwhelming. The texture was also nice, as is traditional with this dish.
Next came the 花雕走地鸡 (Braised Free Run Chicken with Huadiao Rice Wine), which is chicken marinated in an alcohol-based sauce. The alcohol flavour was incredibly strong in this dish, perhaps a bit too much for me as it detracted from the other flavours from the spices and other ingredients. The chicken was extremely tender though, perfectly cooked. The skin was chewy and fatty so I left that alone, but the meat was cooked yet still incredibly tender. The flavour had soaked into the meat, which was nice. However, it is hard for me to appreciate cold chicken most of the time. For what it is though, this dish was quite good.
Another one of their most popular appetizers is the 生煎包 (Pan-fried Dumpling Filled with Pork), which are pan-fried baozi or Chinese buns. Instead of the soft and fluffy texture from steaming, the pan-frying makes the wrapping chewy with a crispy exterior. The crisp was nicely done of this and the wrapper was not overdone either. The filling was too small, however. It was the same as the xiao long bao, made with pork, but there was just not enough of it. There was a lot of empty space inside each bun, and not every one of them had the soupy liquid either. The green onions on top added a nice zing of flavour for those who like them but to me, it did not add much to the dish. This was not my favourite dish but looking around, most people seemed to love theirs.
The 干烧四季豆 (Dry-fried Green Beans with Minced Pork) was one of the best I have had in quite a while. The slightly fried green beans were slightly crispy on the outside but cooked to perfection on the inside. The most important part of the dish, the accompanying ground pork, sauce, and various ingredients were excellent. In addition to the pork, there were shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp bits, onions, and red chili peppers, I believe. It was very spicy, just the way I like it. The soy sauce made it salty but the flavours were complex. The meat was nicely pan-fried as well and the dish was just flavourful in general. The savoury taste mixed well with the soy sauce flavour and it was not bland at all.
My favourite dish of the night was undoubtedly the 糟熘鱼片 (Sautéed Sliced Fish in Rice Wine Sauce), a traditional Shanghainese dish of fish fillets and black wood ear in a sauce made from jiuniang, or sweet rice wine pudding. The alcohol taste in this case is quite faint but still present. I loved the thickness of the sauce. It was also slightly sweetened but salty at the same time. Black wood ear is one of my favourite types of fungi ever. I was indeed very happy to eat the large chewy pieces, along with the succulent fish fillets. The sauce was incredibly addicting and I was almost just eating it plain with a spoon as it was not overly salty. I would get this dish again anytime. It was the first time I recall trying this traditional dish and according to my mom, it was very well done. Regardless of how authentic it is, it was fabulous!
Mom was craving the 木桶咸肉菜饭 (Steamed Rice with Vegetable and Salt Meat), which is rice mixed with salty pork pieces and chopped bok choy and then steamed in a small wooden tub so the aroma of the wood would somewhat soak into the rice. The rice was slightly on the softer side for me as I prefer more of a chew. However, I enjoyed the bok choy inside very much. I am not a huge fan of the meat but it added some savouriness to the dish. I would have liked more vegetables and meat rather than rice but the flavour did soak into the rice, making it slightly savoury and quite tasty. This was not an outstanding dish but it is not like I expected it to be amazing, considering the simple concept behind it.
Our last dish was also the least authentic and for me, the most disappointing. The 陈皮牛肉 (Tangerine-flavored Beef) is supposed to have a very strong orange peel flavour but this one was overwhelming with the black bean sauce. Only a few pieces had some orange aroma and it was not apparent at all. At least the beef was tender and succulent, soaking up the sauce. While not bad, it was not a flavour I liked since I did not think the black bean sauce mixed well with the orange flavour. It was also not as sweet as it should be. I also like mine without too much liquid sauce. The bok choy on the bottom was coated in a slightly spicy oil but were still good. However, this dish should not be served on a bed of vegetables as it should be just the beef with perhaps some other vegetables stir fried together with the meat. At least the price was decent enough to justify the non-authentic way of making this dish.