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[Industry Nights]: Austin Hu

Portrait by Tobias Chu of Sixsixty Studios. See more here. Industry Nights is a semi-regular column featuring the haunts of chefs, restaurant owners, F&B managers, and other marginally sane peopl...
2010-07-21 12:07:00

Portrait by Tobias Chu of Sixsixty Studios. See more here.

Industry Nights is a semi-regular column featuring the haunts of chefs, restaurant owners, F&B managers, and other marginally sane people with good eating recommendations.

Austin Hu is the chef and owner of Madison. He brought back a local-first ethos from his years in NY and made it the backbone of his new (and first) restaurant. He grew up between China, Japan, and the States, and so did his taste in food. Being a broke high school student in Kobe gave him a taste for casual Japanese. Like anyone who's spent a little time in New York, he laments the lack of a good real hot dog in Shanghai. And like a lot of chefs, he thinks Coca-Cola is brilliant. Here's a few of his favorites, in his own words.

1. Tang Gong's Crispy Pigeon

I go to the Tang Gong on Dongzhu'anbang Lu, in the same building as the original Da Marco. The pigeon is delicious... like finger-licking, juice running down your chin delicious. For people who want a little shock value, they also provide the roasted pigeon heads to munch on; I've been told to avoid the beak. They usually cut the pigeon in quarters, but quarters dry out too fast. Ask them to cut the bird in half.

Tang Gong also has much of the other regular Canto-fare, decent weekend dim sum, large tanks of oversized grouper, mantis prawns and other nameless delights. There's also a great faux abalone dish, though I think the sauce is actually abalone based, so it may not be for vegetarian purists...

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2. Xiao Nan Guo Yakiniku's Garlic Stone Pot Rice

This is at the Hongqiao Lu Xiao Nan Guo Yakiniku, next to the school for the blind. I won't say this is the best Japanese barbecue in town but it's pretty decent. They serve a garlic rice in a blazing hot stone pot, similar to a traditional Korean dolsot bibimbap. If you've got enough self-control, let it hang out at the table a bit and develop the tasty guoba, the charred bits of crispy rice on the bottom, infused with garlic.

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3. Daikichi's Yaki-onigiri with Cheese

It's really a very simple dish. Take some rice, pack into a rough triangle shape, and dip into the super secret yakitori sauce a couple of times on both sides. Then grill, turning occasionally until both sides reach a great savory crunch. And then, the crowning glory: lay a piece of off-white processed cheese on the whole thing and watch it melt. Serve with additional pool of umami-laden sauce.

Daikichi is a great little place. I usually go to the one on Guyang Lu, next to a place with very good Taiwanese beef noodles. As far as I know, there's two branches of Daikichi in Shanghai, both in the Gubei area [Ed note: yep, and yep), but the chain's arm reaches all over Japan and to Hawaii as well, hence the English menu. Other winners are a respectable grilled beef tongue, foil-wrapped baked potato with a massive cube of butter/margarine, and a solid ton-toro with onions. Good stuff.

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4. Bellagio & Charmant's Peanut Shaved Ice

There are a couple of these Taiwanese restaurants around town -- Gubei, Xintiandi, one on Huaihai Lu near Madison.

I like these places for a lot of reasons, but especially because they're open late. The peanut shaved ice is what childhood dreams are made of -- a massive chunk of peanut butter in a blender with ice and some simple syrup, with more crushed peanuts on top. Because you can. I also have a thing for their shrimp-stuffed you tiao with mayo and pineapple. Sounds so wrong, but why do I always finish it?

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5. A nameless stall's Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

It's out in Qibao, somewhere on the road to Jiu Xing, the big, big suburban restaurant/hotel supplier market. My purchasing manager brought me there when we were gearing up to open Madison, and doing almost daily trips to the market. It's a real deal mom-and-pop shop; seats probably 12-16 people. Everything's wrapped to order. There's a clear refrigerator where you can see all the various fillings, carefully laid out in individual stainless steel bowls and securely wrapped with plastic cling film. It's immaculately clean. The couple that runs the place are friendly and humble. Their daughter is going to college in Boston right now....

They make their own suan cai for the dumpling filling, and they make their own chili sauce with ginger and pears. It's just a great place to be. It makes you appreciate food for what it is. I have 75 of their dumplings in my freezer right now. Admittedly, it's not the same, but until my next trip out there, it'll have to do. One word of caution: use the bathroom before going.

6. A Dongbei place's Sweet and Sour Pork Chop

I can't for the life of me remember the name of this Dongbei place, but seeing as I've had to wait in line every single time I've been, it's pretty well known. [Ed note: it's a branch of the Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King]. It's basically sliced pork, dredged in sweet potato starch, fried, and drizzled with a honey and Chinese vinegar sauce -- called guobao rou. It's not the only good thing there, though. They have this great braised beef joint, where they mound however many joints you can order on a big plate and hand out plastic gloves. You literally dig in, caveman-style, but the gloves let you retain an air of modernity -- or at least spare you a trip to the bathroom to wash your hands. There's also this awesome veggie dish with strips of tofu skin and Chinese watercress tossed in mustard oil, perfectly decent dumplings, plentiful bai jiu, and big bottles of cold Coca Cola. What's not to like?

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