August 14, 2012
沪江海派料理 – Shanghai River Restaurant, Richmond BC
南翔小笼包 (Steamed Pork Bun)
砂锅云吞鸡 (Steamed Chicken Soup w/ Wonton)
鲜百合炒黄祺班 (Pan Fried Yellow Snapper from Gulf of Mexico)
鱼香茄子 (Braised Egg Plant w/ Chili Sauce)
雪菜肉丝汤面 (Pickled Vegetable & Pork Noodles in Soup)
牛肉生菜包 (Lettuce Wrap w/ Minced Beef)
香酥鸭 (Deep Fried Duck Meat w/ Taro)
Once again, we dined with my cousin’s family. This time, they had just come back from a 4-day trip to Banff and having been in Canada for over a week already, were intensely craving some Chinese food, especially Shanghai cuisine. Therefore, we decided to go to Shanghai River Restaurant, since I wanted to revisit this restaurant that we used to frequent. Over the years, there were rarely times when our meals would be only mediocre. Often, a couple of months later, the quality would be back up to where it was before. They probably changed chefs a few times, but on this particular visit, I was glad the quality was still where it was, which is to say exceptional.
We started with the 南翔小笼包 (Steamed Pork Bun). It is decently priced, at $7.50 for eight. The skins were thin yet chewy. The pork filling was tender and there was a delicious pocket of the meaty soup in each one. The meat was not overly seasoned, nor was it bland. Rather, it was savoury and tasted like good quality meat. The malt vinegar served with it had lots of little pieces of ginger, which I appreciated compared to either no ginger or large pieces at other restaurants.
The 砂锅云吞鸡 (Steamed Chicken Soup w/ Wonton) was also incredibly delicious. The soup was extremely ‘fresh,’ by which I mean all the fresh meat flavour had seeped into the soup, making it slightly savoury and sweet as well as refreshing for a meat-based soup. We call this xian in Chinese. The chicken was tender in some parts but dry in others. I certainly liked the wontons much more in this soup. They had the traditional shepherd’s purse and pork filling. The wrappers were slippery and not overdone while the filling was savoury and full of flavour. I also enjoyed the refreshing baby bok choy in the soup. This was just a bowl of light yet delicious soupy goodness.
The 鲜百合炒黄祺班 (Pan Fried Yellow Snapper from Gulf of Mexico) was actually quite disappointing, especially since I had high hopes and expectations for this dish. I had tried leftovers of this a few years back and both Mom and I loved the soft fillets in the savoury yet light, starchy sauce with the black wood ear fungi. At $18.80, I was expecting a medium-large dish of flavourful fillets with various delicious fungi and vegetables. What we got, instead, was a small plate of less than twenty small pieces of fish that was dry. This was probably due to a combination of not-so-fresh fish and slightly overcooking them. They did not soak up the light sauce, of which the dish did not have much to begin with. The only things I enjoyed about the dish were the vegetables, which included yellow chives, straw mushrooms, asparagus, onions, black wood ear, and lily bulbs. It has been a while since I had lily bulbs but I was never partial to them. I did like the chives and the two fungi. The asparagus added a nice crunch but seemed out of place, as did the onions.
After reading online reviews, I knew I just had to get the 鱼香茄子 (Braised Egg Plant w/ Chili Sauce). I love eggplants, especially in garlic chili sauces. I would order this dish at any Chinese restaurant and although some are better than others, it is hard to screw up the sweet, savoury, and spicy dish. The one at Shanghai River turned out to be fantastic, though! The eggplants were fried just enough so that they were soft, slightly mushy, and soaked up the flavours of the sauce, yet were not too oily. The dish still had a decent amount of chili oil, but that is only expected. The shredded pork was sort of fatty, but that is also normal. I loved the shredded black wood ear and bamboo shoots. Everything was coated in a layer of slightly thickened, perfectly spiced and seasoned chili garlic sauce. There were lots of the shreds, but the eggplant were still the star of the dish. The flavours were complex yet harmonious, and this is certainly one of the best eggplant in spicy garlic sauce I have ever tried.
My cousin ordered the traditional Zhejiang cuisine comfort food, the 雪菜肉丝汤面 (Pickled Vegetable & Pork Noodles in Soup). The noodles were slightly overcooked, although they were still slightly chewy and soft. I just prefer mine a little undercooked. The soup was flavoured nicely but light, just like most Zhejiang cuisine dishes. The pork was average, with some lean and some fat. I found the Chinese mustard, xuelihong, to be a little on the bland side. It was incredibly fresh and chopped up nicely, but I like mine to be on the salty side, just because it is usually paired with soup, rice, rice cakes, or noodles. The bamboo shreds were also nice and crunchy. This is traditional Shanghai comfort food and at $7.50, it was quite decent here.
Going off the track of authentic Zhejiang cuisine, we ordered the 牛肉生菜包 (Lettuce Wrap w/ Minced Beef) for some beef and vegetables. The lettuce wraps were crunchy and I love tianmianjiang, or sweet bean sauce. This one was quite sweet and smooth in texture. The diced beef was just okay. They only had a strong savoury flavour, most of which probably came from soy sauce. I enjoyed the pine nuts but not so much the lily bulbs and other ingredients. The fried vermicelli bedding were barely crispy and got soggy and hard to chew very soon. However, the crunch of lettuce with the sweet bean sauce made the dish, not necessarily outstanding, but certainly delicious.
Finally, Uncle chose to order the 香酥鸭 (Deep Fried Duck Meat w/ Taro). We were all surprised when we discovered how much taro surrounded the duck that we thought they only gave us taro and thus the wrong dish in the beginning. The taro was crispy and fried nicely but slightly too oily for me. There was barely any duck inside it though, and it was certainly not distinct. The sauce was actually quite bland. It was thickened and had some savoury flavour that seemed to me came from some sort of soybean or soy sauce. It looked flavourful but did not taste that way. The shiitake mushroom bits inside the sauce did not do much in the way of taste either. It just ended up being a crunchy, mushy, and slightly bland bite. At $17.80, this dish was not worth it in the ingredients or the taste. At least the taro was soft on the inside, offering a nice contrast to the deep fried exterior.
While there were some misses, there were also definitely some hits, especially with authentic Zhejiang cuisine. I would recommend sticking to the xiao long bao, soup, and eggplants. Even with some disappointments, the dishes were still good; they just did not meet our high expectations for this place. If you are craving upscale Shanghai dishes and know what to order, then Shanghai River is definitely a good bet.