Hey, if you serve it we'll eat it. If you open it, we'll go. If you build it, they will come. (Maybe.) This week we've got the extremes of the human dining experience: on the one hand, we finally checked out AkMe, an avant garde French fine dining expérience from French Algerian chef Akrame Benallal. We also tried out Zozzo's new central location and... stop the presses... a new American burger chain is in town. The Habit Burger Grill joins us from the LA.
Something for everyone...
What It Is: Strangely, a very little talked about French fine dining restaurant from the "world's youngest Michelin star-awarded chef", Akrame Benallal. Maybe the air up there is too rarefied for most proletariat food blogger types.
Not me, gentle reader, not me.
It's own little world on Wulumuqi Lu off Hengshan Lu, 55 by the Group is an upscale Cantonese restaurant, an all-day dining and cocktail lounge, a wine cellar, and more. Their prix-fixe fine-dining restaurant AkMe is the focal point, opened earlier this year from Akrame Benallal, a critically lauded upstart young chef who already has venues in Paris, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Apparently, he was recommended to the owner (a wine impresario and founder of the chain The Beast) by the French ambassador. Four (588rmb), six (988rmb,) and eight-course (1,288rmb) menus are available.
Benallal's style? Avant garde French fine dining. In interviews he refers to his menus as "collections" and takes inspiration from magnates of the European fashion houses for his zany concoctions. His food is meant to create sensations, arouse ineffable emotions, and recall his own childhood memories split between his French and Algerian heritage. He creates food meant to be marveled, revered, and lauded for it's artistic ingenuity — and maybe, somewhere down the line, eaten. The menu at AkMe offers the bedrock traditional French cuisine elements: the foie gras, pigeon roast, smoked lamb loin, as well as a range of lux seafood options — oysters, blue lobster, boiled turbot — but these are the jumping-off points for the idiosyncratic culinary pyrotechnics of the chef.
It's firmly in the school that is... one thing made to look like another thing. From the "Vegetables" and "Meats" program, two dessert-looking creations.
"Cauliflower "Gratin", Aged Comte, Nuts"
"Foie Gras Flan, Mango, Duck Sauce"
Dazzling presentation and plating finds its way into the seafoods. This blue lobster came out on a sizzling mini hibachi.
"Grilled Blue Lobster, Grapefruit, and Turnip (188rmb supp)"
The signature dish, looking like something Karl Lagerfeld would wear: The black vanilla ice cream with black pineapple slice. Off menu. You gotta know about it. Turns your whole mouth black like you've been drinking diesel oil. Probably not good for dates if you're dating someone with no sense of adventure.
First Impressions: You're a fan of the gesture of avant cuisine or you're not. For some diners, some of these flavors are too conflicting and incongruous to be a pleasurable experiences. I, for one, love food that looks better hanging on my wall than it sometimes tastes. What a larf. So dazzling. Of course, that other upstart Frenchman on The Bund has been making things that look like other things for over a decade now, but it's nice to have another perspective. Benallal offers a strong, unique, and challenging one. If you're a fan of the genre I'd recommend seeking it out.
One thing I feel needs to be improved upon is the dining environment, which comes across as that heavy, standard, nondescript banquet hall where employees go to die once a year with their drunk, smug bosses.
If you're going to be avant garde, go all the way. Bjork-ify that sucker or something.
Tucked around the corner from Peet's is Zozzo, which does pizza al taglio (by-the-slice?). It used to be in Metro City out in Xujiahui, but moved wholesale to their new spot on Donghu. There, they hope to find an audience who can appreciate square slices of pizza. Square pizza! Can Shanghai handle it? They're planning to stay open until 4am from Thursday to Saturday and serve up reasonably-priced booze to loosen your geometric inhibitions.
The pizzas evoke Italy rather than Brooklyn; Salami, Italian Sausage, a sweet little number wrapped in focaccia with ham and mushroom. 35rmb per slice (30rmb for Margherita). Some inventive stuff too; Pumpkin and Pancetta was... surprisingly okay when hot from the oven. When freshly baked, the slices are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, but a little lacklustre after reheating. Except that focaccia thing, that one's good. They've also got a "pizza hamburger," a sort of pressed focaccia street snack with tomato, sausage and lettuce, for 45rmb. Booze'll run 30-40rmb for Vedetts, or 40rmb for their Sprtiz. Which, they say with a vicious wink, they make without tonic.
As a late-night pizza spot a three-minute stumble from ALL, Elevator and Le Baron, with an easy to understand pricing scheme and a lively, welcoming staff, it's super great!
Fuxing Soho welcomes China's first outlet for the Santa Barbara burger chain. It's slowly getting a bit of a foothold, with something like 200 restaurants in the US, one in the UAE, and now, one in Shanghai.
Sandwiches (from 42rmb for veggie to 68rmb for tri-tip steak) and salads (from 30rmb for Ceasar, to 56rmb for kale-y Super Food) on offer but the headline items are 'Charburgers.' Original (28rmb), double (38rmb), teriyaki (32rmb), bbq bacon (38rmb), mushroom (38rmb) and Santa Barbara Style (56rmb) varieties. That last one's a beef patty with roast garlic aioli and cheese between two slices of toast. There're only 2 "menus" available; the Original (#1) for 52rmb and Original Double (#2) for 61rmb. For all the other burgers, you have to buy the coke (14rmb) and fries (16rmb) separately. Hmm. Oh, and there's an option to add avocado to every single burger for 18rmb, which... that's novel?
Consumer Reports reported in 2014 that Americans think the charburgers are pretty good. They are pretty good. Pretty cheap, too. The patties have that wonderfully chemical-tasting charred taste, which more than makes up for the rest of the ingredients being sort of middling. Lovely. Terrific. Welcome. More fastfood burgers. Enabling Shanghai's fast casual burger... habit. Oh ho ho.
- Alex Panayotopoulos