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[Radar:] Steam

May 20, 2009
by Christopher St Cavish

Area: Steam sits at the head of Xintiandi, behind Starbucks in what used to be Latina (now here, in the mall). Xintiandi's French Quarter - PAUL, Pavillon Costes, Visage - is just across the way and it's a brief jaunt from Steam over to the new South Beauty Private Kitchen, which gobbled up both the former Collection and their short-lived downstairs neighbors, Planet Caviar.

What it is: Steam is a new direction from the people behind South Beauty, the upscale Sichuan chain. This time they graft, eh, every steamed Chinese dish ever conceived to a Western health-conscious sensibility. There's a fresh fruit juice bar, a wine list, and a cocktail list with Champagne cocktails and a raspberry Cosmo. The focus is, of course, on steamed food but that's about the only thing a lot of the dishes have in common. There's steamed eggpplant with chopped chili peppers, steamed lamb with scallion and garlic, steamed crab with glutinous rice, steamed tofu with with olive pickles and minced pork, steamed steam with steam sauce.... And that's just the first page of the menu. It goes on like that for a while. Eventually it hits a few other sections of things that are not steamed, like "casseroles" -- the stir-fried dishes that come to the table in small woks -- and a host of Sichuan cold dishes from South Beauty. There's also a bit of Cantonese dim sum in there for good measure. The whole mess is meant to be healthy, light, pure, and so on, and certainly a considerable portion of the food is. It's not spa-food, though. Fatty pork belly doesn't get all that much better for you when it's steamed, but it still tastes pretty good.

Atmosphere: It's as white as heaven inside this place. There's not a single thing that hasn't been painted, colored, or draped in pure, virginal white, including the gloved hands of the service staff. There's three different looks here. On the first floor, they've got the Xintiandi Outdoor Seating. Upstairs, there's a modern dining room anchored by a glassed-in kitchen full of bamboo steamers (the only non-white thing around), and on the third floor, a mod lounge with white chandeliers and a vibe that feels like linen pants and expensive flip-flops. There's a great terrace up there, too, on the third floor.

Damage: Steam feels fancier than the prices. It's a good trick, that. Without getting into the businessman dishes of various difficult-to-catch animal parts and nests, a meal at Steam is somewhere around a hundred and fifty per person. Not so bad, considering the nearby alternatives.

Who's going: Man, lots of people. Who's heard of this place yet? I guess that's irrelevant when you're in the center of the Xintiandi tourist shitstorm. But I think I spied some people I know who work in the area shuffling through the steamer baskets, too. Basically, it's safe Chinese food with drinks and a hip environment, and a nod to your toxin-riddled, degenerate body. So, guilty people. Guilty, health-conscious people. That's who's going.
May 2009

Xintiandi North Block,
Lane 181 Taicang Lu,
near Madang Lu
Taxi-Printout and Map

5306 6678


Local and international cards accepted

Cold dishes: 20-40rmb
Steamed dishes: 20-200rmb
"Casseroles": around 50rmb
Bottled beers: 30rmb
Lunch set: 100rmb
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