Christine Asuncion is the bagel queen of our city. Originally from San Diego, she spent some time in Brooklyn before moving here and starting Spread The Bagel (STB), a magical bagel shop / deli on Nanchang Lu that has saved my day more than once. They play a lot of Prince in there.
Her operation started from the bottom and now they're here. I first met her at a grilled cheese cook-off years ago (she won), when STB was strictly delivery, operating out of an apartment. She's self-taught, and her shop now supplies bagels for the Ritz-Carlton, the Waldorf-Astoria, The Langham, the Grand Hyatt, and a bunch of international schools in town. STB also collaborates with a range of fine Shanghai institutions, like Little Catch, Strictly Cookies, Nosh, and Austin Hu, who makes all of STB's deli meats.
I asked for her top five spots, and she hit us with some suggestions for al dente pasta, Taiwanese hotpot, posh French food, Singaporean comfort classics, and a yakitori joint where people get crunk.
"If there is one thing I love more than bagels, it’s pasta. This place does it right. The intimate and cozy atmosphere reminds me of the buzzing Italian bistros that I’d frequent in NYC, and the service and of course the food… amazing. Oh man, where do I begin. First of all, if you like your pasta al dente like I do then this is definitely the place to go. My favorite dish is their handmade linguine with steamed South African lobster. Pair it with a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon and you’re in heaven.
If you’re not feeling like pasta, their wood-fired baked pizza is a good bet. It's thin crust with just the right level of crispiness. You can’t go wrong. Cap your night with their Affogato (vanilla ice cream and espresso), a delicious pick-me-up if you’re up for a stroll on The Bund after dinner. Their focus on quality and authenticity without breaking the bank also makes it a great place to bring a date. But remember to make a reservation because it's always packed!"
"Most of you know this Taiwanese hot pot chain's location in this beautiful two-story villa on the corner of Hengshan and Taojiang Lu. Before moving to China, hotpot was something I had once, maybe twice a year. Now, I have hotpot at least a few times a month, even in the blistering Shanghai summer (seriously). Elixir is one of my two favorite hotpots in Shanghai (Holy Cow is the other). We always order the half-half (spicy/non-spicy) soup base.
It’s not as oily and greasy as most other hotpot places, which is one of the reasons why this place tops my list. Along with their quality beef and amazing signature bread tofu, I appreciate the simplicity of the menu. The ambiance is also really nice. The staff are polite and in-tune with their surroundings. They’ll come around and refill your pot with soup base and their bread tofu… that bread tofu… so damn good, melt-in-your-mouth good. "
"When I’m feeling like having a fancy dinner (which is not all that often, being a starving entrepreneur), Coquille is at the top of the list. Restaurant manager Vincent always does a great job of making us feel special. Chloe, the mixologist, knows how to make the perfect cocktail -- delicious… and POTENT (believe me when I say this!). I highly recommend the escargot in curry, clams with pork belly, foie gras with crème brulee and the NY-sirloin. Coquille’s steak is one of the best I’ve had in Shanghai -- medium rare, succulent.
The level of ingredients and quality is exceptional. Presentation is impeccable, just what you would expect at a good French restaurant. They also have a wide selection of oysters at the bar, which make for a great pairing with an aperitif (they ‘re a bit pricey but also some of the freshest on the market). Take your date here and win some brownie points, or even better, splurge that wad on yourself."
"This place serves up some seriously delicious Asian comfort food. Being just a few blocks away from Spread The Bagel Nanchang makes it the perfect spot to grab a bite and a beer after a long day's work. It’s a no frills Singaporean joint with friendly service and reasonable prices. However, what keeps me coming back is the shrimp paste chicken wings… crispy, savory and juicy. They are incredible!
I also highly recommend their homemade chicken curry. The curry is a bit thicker than what you're used to but this only adds to the profile. You can opt for spicy or non-spicy -- go for the spicy! It has just enough kick to it and the chicken meat falls right off the bone. "Now that the weather is getting colder, I’ll be seeing more of Miss Dong."
"It can get rowdy here but what else would you expect from a joint serving grilled meat on sticks? I’ve been coming here for a while now. It’s the perfect little hideout to unwind with friends for some tasty yakitori and ice cold beer. Come for the grilled chicken skins, hearts, liver, wings and ox tongue. The cherry tomato wrapped in bacon is fantastic. There are other yakitori places in town that are closer to home but the fun and vibrant atmosphere of Toriyasu has me coming back all the time. When you go you’ll notice many Japanese enjoying their yakitori, surely a testament to how great this place is!"
Portrait by Brandon McGhee