The entrepreneur chef behind Cantina Agave, Boxing Cat, and The Alchemist on where to get an umami fix and where not to take a first date...
Portrait by Tobias Chu of Sixsixty Studios. See more here.
Industry Nights is a semi-regular column featuring the haunts of chefs, restaurant owners, F&B managers, and other marginally sane people with good eating recommendations.
Does she even need an introduction? Kelley Lee is the chef and entrepreneur behind Cantina Agave
, The Alchemist
, and Boxing Cat
. Here's her top six...
"Meat. You want it? They got it. Benjia is the most consistent place I've been to for the real K-town experience. When I was back in L.A., I used to eat Korean food at least once a week, but in Shanghai, few and far between. Ever since I found Benjia, I've had a really hard time prying myself away to try other Korean joints. It's a bit far out for us downtown city folk but it's worth the trek. Notably, their meats are marinated and served up raw for you to barbecue at the table. They give you a boatload of fresh veggies (when I say boatload I mean BOATLOAD, there have to be at least 20 different kinds) to wrap your delicious meats in. The different kinds of panchan (korean small plates) they give you to whet your appetite are awesome. Try the seafood pancake, kalbi, marinated pork and kimchi stew. My mouth is watering just thinking about it."
"This is a really great hot pot. It's a little different from most hotpot places as it comes with everything already in it. With each guodi
comes a pot of meaty broth filled with bones (you get plastic gloves to so you can grab them and gnaw on them, and straws to suck out the marrow), all kinds of mushrooms, dried bean curd etc. All you have to do is order a few veggies and maybe some other meat. Don't
go crazy, there is already a lot of stuff in the pot when it comes. I would recommend going there, ordering the guodi first, then after seeing what is inside, tacking on veggies, meats etc. Make sure you get the one with bones, that is the best thing about it. Whatever you do, though, DO NOT go there on a date,....gnawing on bones in front of people you just met, not so cute."
"This is a Taiwanese-run sushi restaurant, now, now, before you skip this section, let me tell you that this is some of the best sushi that I've had. They have great service and very fresh fish. When you walk in the restaurant you will find mostly Japanese salarymen or Taiwanese who surprisingly have very high standards for sushi. When in season, the first thing you see is a tank full of live king crab 20 or 30 of them. HUGE! If it's one thing I recommend getting there, it's the king crab. Other than that, they have a smattering of other sushi from sea urchin to toro all very good quality, as well as some tasty izakaya-like food. Overall, not too expensive, well, after all, it's sushi, it's not supposed to be cheap."
Many yakitori aficionados already know this place, but for the people who don't, you can thank me later. This dingy little joint sits on the side of Changle Lu next to two or three other Japanese places. It only seats about 15 people (including the bar seats) so if it's full, they'll just tell you to come back. They open late and although their decor has not changed (unless you count the fact that the walls get more and more yellow) since they've opened, they really do have the best skewers in town. Try the intestines, chicken meatballs, liver with sauce, garlic soy fried rice, ramen (most of the Japanese come for the ramen) or crispy chicken skin (ask for it extra crispy). One of my favorite things here is the ika-shiokara (fermented marinated cuttlefish). Take heed, it is not for everyone, it's really fishy, salty, and full of umami, but wash it down with a nice cold Kirin Ichiban and you've got a small slice of heaven."
"Hands down, best Indian I've had in Shanghai. Imran, the manager always takes great care of us when we're there. It's slightly pricier than the other Indian restaurants in town but it's got a live Indian dance show and the service is impeccable. I usually let Imran take care of the order for us, but I would definitely recommend the potato chat (delicious chewy pancakes of potato that are covered in fresh yogurt and sprinkled with tamarind sauce), butter lentils, bhindi masala and tandoori chicken. I love my food spicy, if you do as well, you should tell them you do. Beware, though, Imran gets this evil look on his face and may try to make it so spicy your @ss will hurt the next day. But, it hurts so good."
"Granted, this place just opened and I've only been once, but I would recommend it to anyone who asked me what a good new place to check out was. Wendling, the chef, deserves a pat on the back. What can I say? The guy can cook! We had the escargot, pate campagne, truffle risotto and black pig (I think he must sous vide it because the color and texture were great). Portions were big and the didn't skimp on the quality. Everything that I had was stellar and the price was reasonable. I would go back in a heartbeat."