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Xixi Bistro

Jul 1, 2015
by Ian L.

Area: The highlight of sleepy, shaded Wuyuan Lu used to be a local uncle dealing rare meats and steak sandwiches, but the block between Wulumuqi Lu and Changshu Lu now includes Senator Saloon, Fat Mama, Bar del Castello, Nicolson's butchery, new Chinese restaurant WANG, a couple clothing shops, and gangs of trees. On the other side of Wuyuan is naked BITE, and around the corner you've got the Avocado Lady and friends on Wulumuqi Lu, and Anfu Lu and Yongfu Lu are a quick walk away.

What it is: A lane house renovated into a laid–back, affordable, and sharply designed Chinese restaurant on the first floor, a cocktail bar on the second, and a huge garden in the backyard. Originally built in "probably the '30s", until a few months ago this underutilized space was a shop for imported Korean clothing. Then the lease expired and Piercarlo Panozzo and Ivan Icardi -- the hospitable Italian proprietors behind wine bars UVA and FUMO -- snatched up the space.

Let's back up a bit. These dudes also run a wine trading company here, and Ivan's mother and father both have their own wineries in Italy's prestigious Piemonte region. Pierre used to deal in garment, but linked up with his university friend Ivan in 2012 to create UVA (Italian for grape -- not an acronym). Both bars have been successful ventures in Italian wine and eats, and Madame Xixi is their first venture into more local fare. Shanghainese Chef Tony -- also of UVA and Fumo -- will turn out 90–95% Chinese dishes with hints of the West. For example, they might use olive oil instead of veg oil. The food is a mix of jia chang cai -- classic home-cooked dishes -- and Shanghainese. And while Italian selections dominate UVA and Fumo's wine lists, Xixi's will feature more global selections.

The name of this place comes from alleged real life character Madame Xixi, who lived in Shanghai in the 1920s and often associated with foreign friends. Initially, Xixi will open for dinner and wine, then get into lunch, brunch, and afternoon café territory within the next few months. The garden will also house another bar. Though that space could likely fit 200 people, neighbors live just next door so this will close around 10.30pm. The garden is not quite ready yet, and currently houses an odd, life-size wireframe statue of a horse that was given as a gift when they signed the lease. Some neighborhood cats were scaling the high walls on this visit. Downstairs will probably close around 11pm, when guests will be ushered to the upstairs bar.

Atmosphere: Somewhere between a restaurant and a bar. They've cultivated those 1920s / 1930s throwback vibes, but with better success than most. Far from tacky, and rather elegant without feeling posh. The furniture is all custom made, as is the dragon that leads up the stairs to the cocktail bar. That's the most impressive feature here. They won't even advertise the cocktail bar, but those who follow the dragon upstairs shall find it. Apparently they brought in a dragon-making team from Ningbo for that, and they built the scales one by one. So there are three distinct areas: that cocktail bar with a small terrace and a few private spaces, the restaurant downstairs with its perfect height bar counter, and that immense garden. Extremely nice wallpaper and lamp selections in here, too.

Music Policy: They still want a young crowd, and that throwback Chinese decor might feel stuffy if they played Shanghai Lounge Classics or faux-30's revival swing. Thankfully they are not, and on this visit, the soundtrack was mostly jazzy hip hop like Gang Starr, leading to an anachronistic vibe like Samurai Champloo.

Damage: Super reasonable. House wine is De Martino, and going for 32rmb per glass or 168rmb for a bottle. Coming from a winemaking background, they naturally have some high-end options, too. For food, small dishes like a zucchini and goat cheese roll, fried rice, and jiaozi -- made with ingredients like pumpkin, ragu, or spinach, mozzarella, and pine nuts -- are all in the 20–40rmb range. Mains are all under 200rmb, except for a grilled wage ribeye m5 with hot sauce for 218rmb. Draft beer starts at 30rmb and goes up to 55rmb for a pint of LaChouffe.

Who's Going: Right now, just friends of the owners coming in for testing, but likely a lot of folk from the neighborhood -- especially because they're doing 20% off for the first month. Proper soft opening. Expect this place to become a destination, especially after they open for lunch and brunch.
Opened: July 2, 2015 Address: 89 Wuyuan Lu,near Changshu Lu | Full Listing Prices: House wine, 32rmb | Pan-fried spicy potatoes, rosemary, and croutons, 25rmb | Spinach, mozzarella, and pine nuts jiaozi, 25rmb| Slow-cooked pork ribs with BBQ sauce and baby potatoes, 112rmb.
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