Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another Food Blog

No pictures this time because I'm trying not to be such a tourist food geek when sitting in the restaurant.

Pretty routine life the last couple of days, work keeps getting in the way of my adventures. But I did have string of interesting meals, starting with a trip back to a restaurant near the design firm that I visited last time I was over here.As always, I let whatever local person I am out with do the ordering. Not that I can't do it, rather it prevents me from running the table with safe choices - chicken, beef, pork - and opens up the door to things I would never consider ordering on my own.Again, many courses and I broached the subject with my host, Ling. He explained that in general you order by the number of people. Two people, two cold dishes and two warm. Four - four of each, and on down the line. While this presents an enormous amount of food, it also plays into the expectation that you always leave some behind. To not do so is an insult to the host, or even the restaurant. The message being - you didn't feed me enough.

This time, the line-up was impressive. Crispy duck with the sad little duck head on the plate overseeing the consumption of his browned body parts. Meat-ball soup – a vivid yellow with a giant sphere of ground pork floating in the center. A cold plate consisting of tripe and sliced tongue – representing the complete digestive tract of the cow and his friend. A hot pot of bull frog, bones and skin intact garnished with bamboo shoots and big, juicy cloves of garlic. Frog bones are interesting, and a bit hard to extract from your mouth with chopsticks. A little like stiff cellophane paper. Another soup of pork and a plate of small shrimp in sort of a corn starch glaze. Incredibly challenging for novice chop stick users. Rounding it out was the vegetable course, cold zucchini tossed in some sort of vinegar sauce. All of it was outstanding.

Anand, one of our fellow diners desired a glass of water so I mustered my restaurant Chinese and ordered it. The waiter looked a bit dubious and poured us more tea. Ling explained that green tea is the water that’s served with meals, but Anand insisted. So I ordered him cold water. The waiter asked for clarification from Ling regarding the vessel, and a glass was decided upon. Still, he was hesitant – he told Ling that cold water was a bad idea because it would make Anand feel sick. We finally bottomed out on a bottle of cold water that the waiter attempted to deliver to me. I pointed at Anand and the circle was complete.

Working here in Shanghai Mart allows us to visit a couple of restaurants that fall between here and the hotel. One of them is a Japanese noodle house called “78” and it’s a favorite of mine. I’ve been in there twice this week and sampled two different dishes. The first, called Square Pork Ramen is a big hot bowl of soup with a square slab of pork loin floating amidst noodles and vegetables. To call the stuff we eat in the US “ramen” is an incredible disservice to a ramen like this. Wonderful, tasty, inexpensive food that carries you thought the day. Today’s choice was a beef hot pot – a big stone bowl heated up to about 1000F and filled with pieces of beef, bean sprouts, rice and noodles. Oh yes, and a small pile of greens with Thousand Island dressing. And an egg, over easy. Same comment as above – the best imaginable $4 you can spend on lunch.

The other meal of note was last night at Xintiandi in a place called La Luna. Ostensibly a tapas restaurant, it’s pretty much a case of Asian-American fusion run by a Sri Lankan couple who also likes to do Mexican food. We shared a tapas sampler – pita with some spreads, chorizo, lamb satay, spicy meatballs and a couple of empanadas with an undecipherable filling. Accompanied by a Guinness from the tap at a temperature just a hair above correct yet still proffering the Taste of Dublin. I topped that off with a filet mignon served on a bed of mashed potatoes and covered in crispy onion strips. The service was slow but the staff was cheery and so it worked out to be another fun food outing.

We also managed to hit People 7, that concrete block, unlighted, hipper than hip emblematic food institution. As always the food was wonderfully set off by the columns of cigarette smoke illuminated by the paucity of super-bright halogen lamps dotting the ceiling. The girls still wear the lighter flashing bike lights on their fingers and around their necks and the beer glasses still come in two parts – a flute and a lucite block to plug it into, almost guaranteeing that sooner or later you’re going to set it down just like a glass and watch in horror as your Qingdao pours into your date’s lap. But we love it, right down to the backwards bathroom doors and the code you need to get in the front door.

Last stop on our culinary adventure was the Parrot Club. Suffice it to say, that adventure is hardly blog appropriate.

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