I was somewhat fascinated when Chef Zhu opened a couple of months back, a feeling of curiosity combined with a touch of trepidation. The old Shanghai City, was kind of a favorite of ours, though we'd had some good and some not so good meals there over the years. I was a bit sad when they closed in 2010. So why did I wait so long to visit? Well, I didn't really, I basically made several visits over the last couple of months to check things out. Also, the Missus has been pretty down on Chinese food in San Diego, after a pretty lousy meal at Chin's a while back....so She's a bit gun shy.
So one night when the Missus was busy at work, I asked Candice if she'd like to check out Chef Zhu. She had only been there once since they opened, so she was curious as well.
There's an interesting mix of customers, forks adorn the tables and are removed when Chinese customers (or at least Chinese by marriage customers) are seated. Remember when Shanghai City had the ABCDE $5.99 lunch buffet? We were lucky enough to get a few tips from Candice's Dad on ordering from the menu.
Candice loves Ma Lan Tou and having had the wonderful vegetable in Suzhou and Hangzhou, I thought it made a nice start to the meal.
This was a decent version of the dish....you really can't get fresh ma lan tou here. I've seen it frozen at T&L and figure it's pretty much the same product everyone uses, but at least they didn't kill whatever flavor was left. In case you're wondering Ma Lan Tou is commonly known as Indian Aster and the vegetable is a staple of "Su Cai" - Jiangsu Cuisine, one of the Eight Great Traditional Cuisines of China.
We also got the Chao Nian Gao.
You have to be careful when ordering this; the standard version is drenched in soy sauce, which kind of detracts from the nice flavor of this dish. Shanghai City had a habit of overcooking the rice cakes and adding too much sesame oil. This was spot on. Loved the chew, the slight bitter from the vegetables......
Candice's Dad recommended the Yin Doo Xin, a very Shanghai style soup made from pork and chicken stock, and flavored with preserved pork (think ham), lovely bean curd knots, and crunchy winter bamboo shoots.
I believe it's called something like "Shanghai Soup Pot" on the menu. This had good flavor and that "aaah" factor that I find comforting, simple, yet hints of smokiness and saltiness from the pork added to the flavor. I took the leftovers home and it tasted even better the next day! I've been back to order this twice for take-out, eating a day after.
The Pork Pump looked pretty impressive....... A quick note, if you've got a bunch of customers ordering "orange chicken" around you and want to make a splash order this......you'll get folks asking you what this is, but in terms of this dish.....
But I've had much better, this was on the tough side and that sauce is too thick, almost like glue which was a rather unpleasant texture for me. It also tasted amazingly under flavored for a dish like this.
I thought the Xiao Long Bao at Shanghai City was passable, so why not, right?
This reminded me of the rather terrible XLB from The Dragon's Den, too thick wrappers, not enough soup. Chef Zhu was a partner in that business with the owner of Dumpling Inn for a while....I think the XLB rubbed off and not in a good way.
Most of the dinner was decent, that soup really hit the spot, and the company, as always was superb! So I decided to return and try some other things on the menu.
Starting with the "Shanghai Duck" ($6.95).
I'm a big fan of Su Cai cold dishes.....I'm not particularly fond of this rendition. That glaze is much too thick....the texture of caramel is great on ice cream, it ain't so great here. It was also slightly unpleasantly bitter. Lots of duck with not much flavor. I took the leftovers home and the Missus had one bite.....
I always thought that Shanghai City made a decent Niu Rou Mian....I mean, it wasn't Dai Ho, but it did hit the spot, so you know I had to try it here.
As a whole, I didn't enjoy this. I preferred the thicker, more doughy Shanghai Noodle that Shanghai City used to use. The noodles were also overcooked. The meat was on the tough side, thought the flavor was okay. At Shanghai City, the broth tended to be on the anise-heavy side, but there was just enough beefiness in it to balance the scales. Here it wasn't so, too much anise, not enough beed flavor, not rich enough either.
And yet, not to be denied, I returned on a very hot day, going Paleo all the way.....hey TFD, aren't you proud?
I started with a favorite of mine, the Jellied Pork - I believe it's something like "Salted Pork" ($6.95) on the menu.
And while I prefer a bit more aspic, on the dish usually called "jellied pork", I loved the fat to meat ratio. The texture was excellent, think of that wonderful piece of cold ham, except nice and meaty. The sodium level was on the high side, which I also enjoyed.
I didn't enjoy the Jellyfish Salad ($6.95) quite as much.
This wasn't terrible by any means, but it basically fulfilled the bare minimum, like a student just trying to get a passing grade. The jellyfish had a nice crunch, was cold, and didn't have that telltale sign of poor preparation; the acetone flavor. It was however, very bland, the (supposed) sauce just watered down, like this was rinsed and not drained well, sauced, and thrown on a plate....it was very bland.
By this time, I'd come here, what, five times (twice for take-out soup), so why not a sixth. And why not go for the gusto and order the Steamed Pork with Preserved Vegetable?
This was a decent dish; the pork a bit more crumbly, than the rather nice waxiness I prefer, but it wasn't too sweet, the sauce didn't kill the flavor of the pork, and yet it was salty enough to for me to eat way more rice than I'm used too (take that TFD!). I actually only ate three slices of the pork and some preserved vegetable; I was pretty much done after that. Still, a decent dish, one I'd have again.
So what to say? For someone who eats on Convoy, perhaps Chef Chin's makes some dishes better....but if I lived in, say, University City, I could make this a rather regular stop....at least for the Yin Doo Xin. Plus, I get a kick out of some of the Server's here. One of them is a hoot......she doesn't understand how someone of Japanese ancestry can be happily married to a mainland Chinese, so I explained it to her. "Everyday is a battle, but the peace treaties make it all worthwhile"!
1011 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014