Three new spots that are solidly in the "comfort-food-with-ambitions" area. Milkshakes, milkshakes, milkshakes, and skewers.
What It Is: Milkshakes! Milkshakes! Milkshakes! What did you think it was? Milkshakes! Each one 1,000 calories heavier than the last. There are close to ten varieties, from plain vanilla to more adventurous and thoroughly delicious ones like cucumber and avocado. I know, right? You don't order cucumber at a milkshake bar. It's the chicken dish at the steakhouse. But it's good.
All of the milkshakes come with laughably over-the-top embellishments, like cornflakes glued to the side of the cup with whipped cream, a deep-fried sweet rice cake thing, skittles, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, liquid gold and the tears of angels. No shit -- you can request them to add fireworks to your milkshake. Shanghai is just so... right. Finally. Breaking the strangehold on Bar Rouge's fireworks-and-drinks monopoly. Party like it's 2001 on Changshu Lu, and then go home and lay on the couch while your body tries to come to terms with your hate for it.
First Impressions: Cucumber and avocado make excellent milkshake friends. Who knew? My second impression was, why is there a menu of diner food, like a sous vide Wagyu burger and a quesadilla made with Bang Bang chicken? Who let the fusion machine loose? To that end, I spoke to Charles Zeng of Charlie's, which runs about half of this block, and he explained that the Milkshake Bar is, beyond a milkshake bar, Charlie's Test Kitchen. He's getting ready for a massive rollout of new restaurants, and this location will be his playpen for new dishes. Besides the milkshakes, of course. Thumbs up. Those are some delicious milkshakes.
What It Is: Burgers, shakes, fries, chicken wings, root beer, and highway and trucker memorabilia. It's an American-sized space, big enough for the cooking of Matthew Ona, who has traveled around Shanghai kitchens and is now fully in his element with the blue-collar American diner canon.
To give you an idea of just how far they are going to be authentic, there is most of the front cab of an actual Mack Truck suspended from the wall (right above a POS station -- don't want to be the guy who works there) and big-ass containers of Louisiana Hot Sauce -- not Tabasco -- for the wings.
First Impressions: First I had a vanilla milkshake. Then, because there was a little ice cream left, I had an A&W root beer, which I poured into my milkshake to make a float. Then I had half of an excellent double-patty, heavily griddled cheeseburger. Then I had half of a pastrami sandwich, easily some of the best pastrami in town. Then I dipped into the loaded fries, which were covered in chilies, bacon bits, meatloaf bits, "gearhead" sauce, blue cheese and god knows what else. Then I had a few chicken wings, because it's hard to get proper American-style chicken wings here. Then I had a Diet Coke, because that cancels everything else out, right?
I left thinking 'damn, I wish this place was downtown' and 'thank god this place isn't downtown' and two hours later, I'm still too full to sit in any position except 90 degrees to the seat of my chair, and I'm wondering if this burning feeling in my chest is acid reflux or patriotism.
Oh, I also had a slice of red velvet cake.
What It Is: A damn good idea. It's about time somebody expanded the skewer world beyond shabby low stools and the questionable end of China's food supply chain, stuck and grilled. Styx does that with a rotating menu informed by the owner's upbringing in Singapore -- hence the Indonesian sate influence and a Bali pork skewer -- and France -- hence the grilled duck tenderloins with mustard cream sauce and potatoes cooked in duck fat. The dining room has some serious flair, with a seriously busy tropical theme going on.
First Impressions: It's all up to the execution. The owner is on to a great thing here, a Skewers I've Known and Loved theme, and as long as he can get his kitchen organized and deal with the inevitable crowds, Styx is going to be a winner, and a strong draw for this maze of a development, which wends around the back of the Hengshan Lu Metro Station. I loved what I tried -- the sate and the duck -- and I'll be back for more as they start to change the menu.