And so it goes, and so it goes. Here's a few new places vying for your patronage in Shanghai. Dig in.
1. Urban Grill
What It Is: Turkish cuisine and other Mediterranean miscellany. Urban Grill is the product of a partnership between a Turkish and Greek restaurateur. This is their second restaurant. Their first is a Greek concept on Hongmei Lu called Yamas.
The "opening menu" covers most of the requisite items any self-respecting Turkish restaurant would offer. They do the core dips and condiments, like hummus and baba ghanouj as well as those less-known outside of Turkey but equally important, like muhammara. It's a puree of walnuts, roasted red peppers, and pomegranate molasses. You should order it; it's delicious.
The main event is roasted meats, with lamb taking center stage. You can get chops, skewers, nicely seasoned meatballs, and more. They do chicken and beef in similar styles, too. The Mediterranean Platter is the best way to get a little taste of all the above and is available in large (398rmb) or small (198rmb). Lame people who prefer to dine within their comfort zones will also be happy here, with options like fried chicken strips, a chicken burger, and a hamburger. But why not venture out of your bubble and try a Turkish pide instead. What's there to be afraid of?
They also make an excellent lemonade with soda water, or you can try Ayran, a salty yogurt drink that's popular in Turkey. One of these sounds way more refreshing in Shanghai in late July. Oddly, two other distinctively Turkish beverages are conspicuously absent from the menu: tea and raki. Why?!
Atmosphere: It fits the contemporary Shanghai restaurant template, with dim lights, rough-hewn concrete walls, antiqued wood paneling, and exposed duct work. It's the exact opposite of what you would have found at erstwhile Turkish standby Anadolu.
Damage: A decent meal here will run you about 200rmb per person. Add 40rmb to 50rmb to that figure if you throw a moderate amount of booze into the equation. Most items range between 28rmb and 68rmb. Prices in the "Charcoal Barbecue" section spike up from there at 78rmb for a burger to 398rmb for a large mixed grill platter.
First Impressions: Quality food with friendly, attentive service. A solid option.
- Justin Fischer
What It Is: Universal Noodle, otherwise known as Nagi, not to be confused with Butao. The world of ramen is arcane. Nagi itself is straightforward: four types of ramen, in four colors.
"White" is the classic tonkotsu pork broth they build a reputation on in Shinjuku. The broth is creamy. "Red" is “spicy”. It is pork plus cayenne pepper and garlic. "Green" is basil. It comes with a mound of grated Parmesan cheese. Depending on your orientation to the world, it either manages to insult not one, but two great food cultures of the world in a single bowl; or it’s surprisingly good. Then there is "Black". It is made with eyes of newt, the collected works of Metallica (the good years -- 1983-1986), and squid ink. It tastes like garlic and bouillon cubes. A letdown, really.
People who write about ramen on the internet (Wait, is that me?) will quickly recognize this as the same menu as Butao, one of the popular ramen chains in Hong Kong. Yes, it is the same. Yadda yadda Japanese franchise yadda yadda stopped cooperation yadda yadda which one of these five degrees of noodle done-ness do you want yadda yadda no we don’t have any stores in Hong Kong anymore. That’s the sum total of my investigative inquiries. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening, so I’m going to go ahead and say this is Nagi’s first store in mainland China. They also have shops in Tokyo, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Atmosphere: You are eating ramen in a mall.
Damage: It’s mostly limited to your arteries, with secondary implications for the visceral fat of the abdomen. The Original King is 60rmb. The Dark King is 68rmb.
First Impressions: The waitstaff is the right balance of brusque and efficient, and the broths are fatty enough to make you feel a little queasy when you stand up. Just like Japan, then. The only thing missing is the vending machine menu.
- Chris St. Cavish
What It Is: With so many decent craft cocktails places in Shanghai, how does one stand out? In these digital times, you might need something shareable. Enter Tour, a place where a pink cocktail comes with pink pickled quail eggs, a fat-washed old-fashioned comes with a few slices of Iberico ham, and a Rudyard Kipling comes with a tiny piece of banana bread. After deciding on a drink, you can tear off a piece of the menu, roll up some peanut chutney in it, and eat the whole thing like a mini taco.
Aside from that, and making all their juices in house, they're doing "tours" (flights) of liquor, similar to beer flights at breweries. Say you wanted to know more about gin, or bourbon, or rum -- they can hook you up with a tour of three spirits for around 100rmb. The spirits have sub-categories, so like bourbon has a cask strength tour and a single-barrel tour. For single malts you can go around the regions and casks until you're spirited away to better lands.
Atmosphere: Clean, modern, and packed if there's 20 people inside and other 10 at the tables outside. Just a small concrete room with some wood and greenery. The Torontonian behind the place is a graffiti artist, and he'll have rotating works by local artists on the walls. The basement has ceilings lower than two-meters and no windows but they're looking for some way to use that space. Grimey hip hop shows? A crack den? Bottle service?
Damage: Cocktails average about 80rmb and top out around 100rmb. Negronis, old fashioneds, and daiquiris are 50rmb every day from 7pm to 9pm.
First Impressions: Nice little place with friendly people behind the bar who know how to make a drink. Could get crowded easily. Would love to see a 50rmb menu all the time, because sometimes it feels like there's a craft cocktail cartel keeping the city at an arbitrary 80rmb. And hopefully they get full-sized pickled eggs a la carte.
- Ian L.