For this inaugural Eater's Digest, I'm clearing out a mish-mash of magazines I've accumulated this month, some recent, some a couple of months old, some major, some minor. Next month, I'll try to stick to just the recent rags. All the Chinese ones are available at newsstands. The Japanese ones are free and freely scattered around bars, restaurants, and cafes.
Restaurant Review, September '09(Ganlan Canting Pinglun; ��魲�������)
The cover story of Restaurant Review's September issue is 30 Southeast Asian Restaurants -- a dry, confusing snooze that starts with a picture of a French dish and dies from there.
Shen Hongfei, one of Shanghai's notable food writers, who's always slipping sexual references into his columns, revives things after that. He starts off with an essay bemoaning the quality of hairy crabs these days. Even the Dutch are farming them now, in Holland. Shanghai is importing hairy crabs, though he doesn't mention a specific restaurant serving the traitorous buggers. Supposedly the fresh crabs you see out of season (September to Chinese New Year is the season, more or less) are Dutch. He's pledged not to eat any more hairy crabs, and denounces them all -- from Yangcheng Lake, Tai Lake, wherever -- as devoid of fragrance and firm roe. It's gotten so bad, according to Shen, that the farmed crabs are no longer "cold", and as such, the traditional accompaniment of warming huangjiu is obsolete. Shen recommends white wine. And then he goes into in a round-up of recommended hairy crabs dishes around town. Maybe he's talking about just plain, steamed crabs.
Of the ten dishes Restaurant Review features in no particular order, seven are in Shanghai:
1. The chrysanthemum crab at Wang Baohe. It's a picked crab, reassembled to look like the original with legs carved out of carrots, and the shell placed back oh-so-carefully.
2. Stir-fried crab meat crowned with shelled river shrimp and a side of green, spinach noodles at Xia Wei Guan.
3. Xiefen shuchuan at Zhizhen Huiguan, which is stir-fried hairy crab meat and roe in a deep-fried potato skin -- hairy crab meets TGI Fridays, basically. Also, Zhizhen's crabmeat mapo doufu.
4. A simple and thick soup of potato and hairy crab (xiefen tudou nongtang), at the original Jesse restaurant.
5. Crabmeat and egg white served in an egg shell, a la Jean Georges' signature egg dish, at Fu 1088.
6. The slightly outmoded French hairy crab gratin, served in the shell, at Hongfangzi. When they started serving this, in 1993, they used 150 kilos of crab per month, just for this one dish. These days, it's down to a third of that.
7. Crabmeat xiaolongbao, their skin tinted orange by carrot juice, at Cai Jia Shipu, the restaurant of Hong Kong food writer Cai Lan.
Bros Life, September '09
"You Lunch: Bros Lunch select yourself" screams out in electric yellow from the September issue of this minor Japanese monthly. The ads in the Japanese lifestyle rags are almost as fun and informative as the articles. The first page is a lady embracing an ugly turbot, with ocean and mountains in the background -- an ad for wholesale fish from the Korean island of Jeju. Shortly after, you've got a page for Music Egg, fancy Japanese eggs with shockingly orange yolks (available at Freshmart; they are good) and a double-spread coupling a special imported water and Oyama-favorite Kogumaya. Kogumaya uses that water for cooking kamameshi, one of their rice specialties. From their ad, they're also doing a lunch special on the weekends: 222rmb for a set of temaki sushi. Limited to ten sets, total, per day.
The main feature is a spread about lunches, but it's pretty boring. The most interesting thing in the whole magazine is a tiny feature on Kushishou, a modern izakaya. The joint is run by a chef named Asada Hideki who's intent on lightening up the environment of an izakaya -- typically the darker, dirtier haunt of the drunken salaryman -- to make it friendlier to the ladies. He takes some leeway with food traditions as well, and the Bros feature highlights his take on sunagimo. Sunagimo are chicken gizzards, a tough little grinder-stomach that supplements a chicken's first stomach, and a pretty popular piece of offal. Usually skewered and grilled, Asada serves them like the French serve snails: seasoned with garlic, tucked into holes in an indented ceramic dish, with toasted baguette on the side, for 40rmb.
A few other tidbits in there: an ad for the Shanghai Chef's meeting, a monthly gathering of the Japanese chef community and a list of locations of Shinsen-Kan, a small Japanese grocery store who carry the same stock as Freshmart at significantly lower prices.
Food & Wine, October '09
(Meishi yu Meijiu; ��ʳ�����)
Food & Wine goes with "20 Reasons To Fall In Love With Chengdu, Again" for the October cover. Their purview is national, and they quickly launch into a broad and mayonnaise-heavy salad feature that spans Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou. It's fairly irrelevant for food people, as is much of the content. It's aimed more at teaching the affluent class how to be classy. There's lots of wine coverage (including "12 Wines to Drink with Hongshao Rou"), a spread featuring nine kinds of fancy tobacco pipes, pretty pictures of a European couple's fancy home kitchen, lists of expensive whiskys, soft-focus travel features -- basically everything except recommendations on things to eat in Shanghai.
Pictures like the one below give you an idea of who they're speaking to, and for. The main feature runs through twenty things to do in Chengdu. Yu Bo, an imaginative and highly skilled Sichuanese chef who's been championed by Fuchsia Dunlop shows up early on for his restaurant, Yu's Family Kitchen. The rest is stock standard: pandas, pretty ladies, and food with a lot of chilies and Sichuan peppercorns.
There's one funner feature about different kinds of chili peppers, chili pepper sauces, and what chefs do with them, but basically Food & Wine is a glossy waste of time. It's a guide to being a middle-class aspirant, not food. Maybe we'll skip this one in the next edition.
Concierge, October '09Concierge, one of the most popular Japanese lifestyle magazines, runs an interesting food-themed cover feature for October: a survey of 100 Japanese managers ranking the ten best places for fancy business dinners. The outcome? An outline of Shanghai's high-end Japanese dining scene, with specific recommendations.
Number one slot goes to Yamazato, in the Okura Garden Hotel. At the moment, they're running a 600rmb Hokkaido crab kaiseki menu. There's a wonderfully honest tip from the chef in there, too: "Try to bring your business clients in around Tuesday, when our fresh tuna comes in from Japan." Kaiseki menus start at 400rmb.
Number two goes to the fiercely proud Maekawa and his eponymous restaurant. Choice quotes include "If I'm not there, the restaurant is closed" and "We won't open if we can't get nice fish." Selling points are his singular collection of shochu, many unavailable elsewhere in Shanghai, the variety of the fresh fish he imports from Nagasaki, and the chef's attention to detail, like only using Japanese water to wash his rice.
Misato, a floor above Pinnacle Peak in the City Hotel, takes third for the strict reputation of its elderly owner, the sense of safety an old Japanese guy provides when entertaining your boss or potential clients, and its new chef, who's now serving sushi at the counter, which wasn't happening before. Plus, they're getting fresh fish every day from either Nagasaki or Tokyo's Tsukiji market. (Incidentally, the owner told me a funny story once about getting busted at the Hongqiao airport with a suitcase full of dry ice and toro; 30,000rmb of tuna, confiscated.)
Also up in the mix is Uokura, who cut out the middleman and import fish directly to keep prices (relatively) low and quality so high that the "Hokkaido crab is so fresh you can eat it raw", Ninsei for their current 288rmb hairy crab kaiseki menu, and Aoi, for serving uncommon fish, like the golden sea bream (diao yu).
And then, there's a special section of honorable mentions, titled something like High Cost Performance Restaurants -- the expensive and/or outside favorites.
In that category, you've got Karaku, a tempura restaurant from Osaka that goes back four generations and starts at 490rmb; Sushi Oyama, from 680rmb; Den, which was opened in September by the owners of a literally anonymous Gubei restaurant, and is recommended for their combination of traditional and creative dishes, 300rmb omakase menu, and beef shabu-shabu; and Kagura, a casual, modern-style restaurant that's not very expensive and is part of a much, much larger restaurant group -- comfort in a corporate environment.