August 22, 2012
上海粗菜馆 – Shanghai Élan Restaurant, Burnaby BC
马兰头香干 (Wild Vegetable w/ Diced Dried Bean Curd)
熏鱼 (Shanghai Style Smoked Fish)
南翔小笼 (Shanghai Style Juicy Pork Bun)
腌笃鲜 (Salted Pork in Hot Pot)
干锅茶树菇鸡 (Wok-fried Chicken with Chinese Mushroom)
红烧走油圆蹄 (Braised Pork Hock w/ Brown Sauce)
素什锦 (Stir Fried Deluxe Mixed Vegetables)
To wrap up a summer of hard but enjoyable work, I got invited out to dinner to a newly opened Shanghai-style restaurant, Shanghai Élan Restaurant in Crystal Mall. I have heard mixed reviews from Mom’s colleagues. The general consensus was quite right, though. It is a good restaurant with superb food but slightly pricier than normal. However, the evening was for celebrations and good food made it just that much better.
To start, we got the traditional 马兰头香干 (Wild Vegetable w/ Diced Dried Bean Curd). I will get this dish at all the Shanghai restaurants I visit. This particular one had decent ingredients: finely chopped vegetables and marinated bean curd. The amount of vegetables versus bean curd was nice. The dish had a nice savoury flavour but was not outstanding. The taste could use a little more savoury, or even sweet, aroma. For me, it was a little bland, or perhaps plain; I was looking for a more complex flavour.
The 熏鱼 (Shanghai Style Smoked Fish) was exceptional. The fish was crispy on the outside but still had some tender parts on the inside. It was nicely fried but not oily at all, just giving it enough crunchy texture. It soaked up the sweet marinade sauce really well. The smoky sauce was definitely on the sweet side, with some ketchup, soy sauce, and a few other ingredients. It was not watered down and very flavourful; the strong flavour certainly went well with the fish, making it an absolutely scrumptious cold appetizer.
Next came yet another traditional dish – the 南翔小笼 (Shanghai Style Juicy Pork Bun). The skin was thin, stretchy, chewy, and not overdone. There was some soup inside, but I thought the pork was not rich enough. More soup was definitely possible had it been fattier ground meat. It had a nice flavour, but again, I am missing that delicate freshness crucial for Shanghai food. The malt vinegar had just enough thin ginger strips and added a nice acidity to the pork. These were decent xiao long bao but they are not the best around town.
A traditional Shanghai-style soup is the 腌笃鲜 (Salted Pork in Hot Pot). It is basically a clear soup with salted pork belly cubes, bamboo shoots, bean curd knots, and bok choy. Due to the salted pork, the soup had an extremely refreshing and slightly savoury taste while not becoming oily and heavy. This also gave the soup its cloudy appearance. The pork was a little tough; the lean parts were slightly on the drier side and the fatty part was not exactly soft and melt-in-you-mouth either. The bamboo shoots and the bok choy were crunchy and refreshing, which I clearly loved. The bean curd knots were hard to get wrong and they added a nice texture to the soup, which in itself was quite good.
I am not sure how much of a traditional Shanghai dish 干锅茶树菇鸡 (Wok-fried Chicken with Chinese Mushroom) is, but I certainly loved this dish. It was extremely spicy and full of bold flavours. The tea tree mushrooms soaked up the flavour, as did the onions, bamboo shoots, and a few other vegetables in the dish. They were perhaps coated in a little too much of the chili oil, but at least the spiciness was much appreciated. The chicken was slightly fried so some parts had a little crispy outside. I found it to be a little dry and tough, the meat not being tender. It soaked up some flavour, but it could have been done better for sure. Despite all the oil in the sauce, I loved just how strong the spicy chili and other flavours were.
The 红烧走油圆蹄 (Braised Pork Hock w/ Brown Sauce) was also decent but not the best I have had. The sauce was slightly sweeter than usual, which was absolutely fine by me. I think they might have added a little ketchup, although I am not sure. It was, however, not very strong in flavours: a little sweet, a little savoury. I think a thicker sauce would be nicer, and it was also a bit too oily for me. The pork was mostly tender but a few parts were a little dry and tough. It did not completely soak up the flavour, which also did not help it become moist and very succulent. The skin for the most part was soft; however, it was not melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The whole piece of meat just seemed to be a little overdone in my opinion. The bok choy offered a refreshing contrast in both flavour and texture. This is where I really would have appreciated a less greasy sauce, so the bok choy could be flavourful but not oily.
Finally, we had 素什锦 (Stir Fried Deluxe Mixed Vegetables) for something with more vegetables. It was a mix of some of my favourites: black wood ear fungi, shiitake and button mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots, napa cabbage, bean curd slices, and wheat gluten. All the vegetables were cooked nicely, coated in the sweet sauce. Again, this was a sweet dish, which I absolutely loved. The sauce was more of a sweet soy sauce but nicely thickened. The vegetables soaked up the flavour while maintaining their freshness and for some of them, the crunch. My favourites were the napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and black wood ear. The bamboo shoots were also good. I am just a fan of sweet dishes so this matched my palate perfectly.
The dinner that slightly expensive but offered great Shanghai food turned out to be an excellent way to celebrate. I loved the new renovations. While it was quite noisy, the service was friendly and the place looked great. The silverware and plates and such were all new, without chips on the side, and had some designs instead of just the traditional white round dishes. New restaurants are just so much nicer than ones that have been around for years. I think I would still go back to Richmond for Shanghai food but this was definitely not a bad choice for dinner.