Apr 15, 2011

Shanghai Shanghai 紅豆食府


Address: 台北市忠孝東路四段45號11樓
                No. 45, Section 4, ZhōngXiào East Rd, Daan District
Phone #: 02-2778-1088
Business Hours: 11:00-14:30, 17:00-21:30
Price Range:   $$$$
Accepts Credit Cards: yes
Attire: casual
Good for kids: yes
Take out: yes
Waiter Service: yes
Outdoor seating:  no
Alcohol: yes


Food Quality: 4 out of 5
Decor:  4 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Overall: 4 out of 5
Recommendation: Good Shanghainese Cuisine in Modern Dining Space


"Shanghai Shanghai" is an upper-mid level restaraunt that offers authentic Shanghainese Cuisine from its multiple locations in Taipei. "Shanghai Shanghai" offers an extensive menu with classic dishes like Dong Puo Pork and Wu Xi Ribs. For those who don't know or can't decide, they also have recommended family set meals where you get appetizers, dishes, soup and dessert for a price of $2550 NT for 3 people. They also provide lunch sets for 450 NT a person. In terms of their a la carte menu, most dishes average around 450 NT, but seafood and beef items tend to cost more. "Shanghai Shanghai" offers a classy Chinese family dining experience with a family friendly price tag.

 As you can see the dining space is quite modern looking. They pride themselves in the modern decor and affordable luxury in their website. The tables are spaced out a lot more than the typical restaurant that tries to maximize the dining area occupancy. They use dark red and black as their primary theme colors, and the granitesque flooring gives the restaurant a weightiness and sense of grandeur. There were a sufficient number of servers to cater to your needs, and they do small things that make you feel even more served. For a few items like soup and peas and shrimp, they split it into new individual bowls for us. Also, they had a thermos tea pot, which I thought was a great touch to keep the tea at the right tempertaure throughout the meal. I appreciate the thought and care they put into their dining space design and their customer service.

We ordered the 3 person family style set meal, which includes all of the items shown in the pictures below except for the little basket baos and red bean cake.
First up were the appetizers. This one up here is the drunken chicken. The alcohol taste was toned down in their version. The flavors of the oils dominated the chicken instead. The meat was rather too chewy, and could have been a lot more tender.
This appetizer is the marinated jellyfish cold dish. They mixed it with what seems to be strings of radish. The jellyfish is very crunchy yet somewhat elastic. The radish paired well with the jellyfish, and it had a palate cleansing effect. The flavor of this dish is not very heavy, and you just get a hint of whatever soy sauce based marinade they used to season the jellyfish. It was a very faint.
This is quite a delightful dish which is river shrimp and peas. These peas aren't the type that are soft and chalky in the inside, but they pop in ur mouth when you bite on them. The shrimp seem quite small due to being river shrimp. They have a prepared the shrimp in a special way. They first marinade the shrimp in a special egg whites and then preliminarily stir fry the shrimp. Then, they stir fry it with Yellow Liquior. This gives the shrimp and additional silky texture from the egg coating, and they carry the pungent aroma of the Yellow Liquor. This is a fun dish to eat cause these peas be popping.

We also got an order of basket baos. These are the little soup carrying dumplings that are really famous at Ding Tai Fong. Still, if you want to eat these things you should go to Ding Tai Fong, cuz they have better skin and a more savory filling. These were just ok, and they only gave us one sauce bowl to share, so obviously this is not a primary dish here. This is a famous item in Shanghainese cuisine so I thought i'd give it a try here. However, these basket baos only lost to Ding Tai Fong by a narrow margin.

The meal also came with one onion oil cake slice per person. They might have thought that we would not be full with their small portions. Oh yeah, the portions are rather smaller sized, so you may need to order more in order to be just as full with the same amount of money spent at other restaurants. The onion oil cake was crispy on the outside, and slighty chewy on the inside. The proportion of onions to oil to flour was good, and so you did not feel like you end up chewing a ball of dough in the middle: Not too oily, not too dry, and oniony enough. The right proportions allowed each bite to be equally savory.
This dish is the abalone mushroom  stir fried with beef. It tastes just like the soy saucy look to it. Slightly spicy slightly sweet thick soy sauce covers the ingredients to this dish. They are united by this coating of flavor, but the mushroom has a more hard and stringy texture., while the beef is more chewy. Also, each bite of beef has that red meat bovinity infused in it which make carnivores scrunch with joy.
This dish is the lightly braised steamed catfish. The meat was tender and flakey and the sauce only added a dab of sweet soy sauce flavor to the meat. The fish's own flavor and texture dominate the experience. The only downside to this dish was that there just wasn't enough.
The meal also comes with this plate of Wu Xi ribs. I felt that these were not tender enough and it was my least favorite dish. Also, these came out last, so I was about done with eating, so that might have also taken away from my appreciation of this dish. The bak choi didn't really add anything to this dish, and is probably added mostly for color. Maybe i'm making a bad guess, but I think that Shanghainese cuisine leans toward a lightly sweet and soy salty flavoring of things. Most of these dishes gave me that impression. There aren't gratuitous uses of peppers like in Hunan or Schezwan Cuisine. I guess the Shanghainess are more into sweet stuff. In ancient times, sweet stuff was more prized and eating sugary stuff was considered a sign of wealth. It would be no surprise that one of the most affluent coastal cities in China would develop a taste bud for sweeter food over the decades.
They also had a pumpkin soup. The broth itself seemed like chicken, and it was cooked with pumpkin so the result was a soup of thick consistency with a slightly sour hint of pumpkin. They also added some of the popping peas for color, and the round circular things are this wierd crunchy things that I am guessing is fish maw, or some sort of vegetable that has the same texture as fish maw. They added no flavor, but were mainly there for the crunchy texture. 
Lastly, the dessert that comes with the meal is a fruit plate consisting of a slice of watermelon and a wedge of orange. Also, you get a red bean soup. The red bean soup was more dense in the red bean so the chalkiness is suffused throughout. They also added some forbidden/purple rice into this dish so there is something extra to chew on as you down the bowl of sugar and beans. This is better than the average red bean soup deserts you will find as a staple at most chinese restaurants.
Not completely satisfied, we also ordered this desert. It is called the Red Bean Loose Cake. This was Chiang Kai Shek's wife's favorite desert, which says a lot of this item because she must have had the fortune to taste a wide array of delicacies. The base is not flour, but glutinous rice. It is very soft and Q, and not chewy as you would imagine rice products would be. The rice base is mixed with sugar so the cake itself is a little sweet. They added sweetened red beans and peas. The version they brought out here was dryer than I would have liked. If you would like to try this classic Shanghainese desert you should order the ones at Ding Tai Fong instead of this one here. It's sad that the Red Bean Food House failed on the Red Bean Layer Cake. What a disgrace to their name[1]. Despite a fail or two for their family set meal, the overall quality of food, decor, and service puts them in the upper eschalon of the traditional Chinese family dining options in Taipei.

For those who would like to try this restaurant but deem a 850 NT per person price tag to be rather steep, try coming during the lunch time. They offer business lunches for two or three costing 450 NT a person. The business lunch is 2 dishes 1 soup for two people or 3 dishes and 1 soup for three. These value lunches also come with desert. Lunch time is a great time to try out restaurants which have a steeper Dinner Menu.

[1] I don't like the fact that they named their restaurant "Shanghai Shanghai." What a great way to trivialize your restaurant by giving it such a stereotypically bad english asian sounding name. Good, Good. Bad, Bad. No, No. Sorry, Sorry. Shanghai, Shanghai. In Chinese they are literally called Red Bean Food House. And they have this long poem on their website describing the reason behind the name. Basically, the idea is to recreate Shanghainese cuisine in Taiwan after the civil war caused some Shanghainese people to migrate to Taiwan. They chose to follow in the spirit of the red bean, which has the power to sprout up anew. So they hope that shanghainese cuisine will once again spring up on this island like the red bean through them. That is why it's sad that they messed up a red bean dish.

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