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.
Daniel Avery is the proprietor and chef behind Taco Mama's, Shanghai's newest Mexican delivery joint. We asked him for some dining suggestions that didn't require a tortilla...
"My first few years in China were experienced in Beijing, a different Beijing than exists today. My office was inside a stunning courtyard nestled away in an old hutong that was just walking distance from the old gulou drum tower. And it was during this time my love affair with local Beijing food blossomed. Other than cooking my old Beijing favorites at home, I was unable to satiate my cravings until I discovered Feng Sheng Hutong. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s located smack dab in the middle of Korea Town, so I can kill two birds with one stone. If you’ve never had it before, you absolutely must try the zha jiang mian – warm hand pulled thick and chewy noodles topped tableside with an ever so slightly pungent soybean paste riddled with fine ground pork, bean sprouts, diced celery pieces, julienned cucumbers and xin li mei – a violet red radish, as well as soy beans. On a recent Saturday afternoon I not only feasted on these lovely noodles, I also ordered a delightful order of cold mustard-infused pickled cabbage rolls, radish skin with chili oil, sautéed shredded pork with leeks that you eat wrapped up in tofu skin sheets, thin sliced lamb stir fried with cumin and other spices, fried tofu in black bean sauce, and finished with a sweet, chilled smashed pea cake. Oh, they have English menus with great photos of all their food as well…"
"There are many reasons why this place has a crowd of people waiting every night, literally, to eat here but it’s their great tasting food that tops the list. While sister locations share the same menu, there is something special about this specific location – the food just tastes better and there is something to be said about the equally impressive number of people from the Middle East who choose to dine here too. The food is genuine, flavorful and cooked with passion. I’ve been coming here for years and have never been disappointed.
My perfect “light meal” begins with several lamb shashlik meat sticks, followed by their western regions mixed meat platter. It consists of grilled chicken, grilled beef, lamb sausage, lamb rice, grilled tomatoes, peppers, onions, pickled and shredded red cabbage, carrots, and Xinjiang flatbread. Usually, half way through this, the hot and sour fern root noodles arrive. The next part of my meal involves eating three items : a cold mixed salad of sliced red onions, cucumbers, red bell peppers and cilantro tossed in a light vinaigrette; the salty yogurt made fresh and in-house; and the stewed lamb tenderloin with pancakes. I like to take a pancake (my brain thinks tortilla of course), spoon in some of the minced lamb, drizzle on some yogurt, and top it off with the salad. Wrap all of that up and enjoy! It’s my own little Xinjiang fajita. If I’m especially hungry, I’ll finish it all off with a big bowl of noodle soup with mutton, which I am looking forward to doing when it gets a bit colder outside."
"The taste and quality? Dare I say they might actually be better than the ones I had at a recently opened five-starred hotel on The Bund during their Sunday brunch buffet? These farm fresh beauties are available freshly shucked atop a bed of ice with a buttery texture and creamy, sweet taste. With each mouthful you can taste and smell the ocean. The alternative is to enjoy them grilled on the half-shell, basted with garlic oil or gratinéed with mozzarella cheese. In addition to the oysters, they offer grilled scallops on the half-shell, which stand on their own. Then, enjoy a split whole eggplant doused in garlic and BBQ seasoning and then grilled over an open flame because it’s simply amazing!"
"Many times I am accused of chasing after and eating memories, and this is especially true for me at Cha’s. I’m not an old Hong Konger pining for the good old days; I’m just reminiscing about the old-school Hong Kong movies I watched growing up. Stepping into Cha’s is a bit like stepping onto a b-grade movie set. To me, it’s all Hong Kong comfort food and I enjoy the quirky mish-mash of menu items that include a few childhood La Choy favorites like the fried crispy noodles with pork and bean sprouts with sweet and sour pork. Last night, I enjoyed both of those and a fried egg and corned beef sandwich on white bread, as well as a bowl of instant noodles with Sichuan style pork. Oh, and a tall glass of iced milk tea – yep, real stocking tea right here in Shanghai. Cha’s food matches its décor, 1950’s post war food. To be honest, there are many better places in town if you want more modern Hong Kong diner food. But, at the same time, the place is open late and it’s on my way home. When you work in F&B you sometimes crave simple things."
"Walking back from dining at Cha’s one late afternoon recently, who do I run into standing proudly at the entrance of his new Malaysian-inspired dessert oasis? Brian Tan, of HoF fame. When it comes to S.E. Asian desserts, I am like a moth to a flame. The mere mention of coconut and sago and all things mango and I get weak in the knees, but at Tang Pin, the much loved/hated durian takes center stage. So much durian, in fact, that the English name of this dessert-eatery might aptly be HoD – House of Durian. That’s his angle, and a nice one at that. Don’t let me mislead you, a wide array of more healthful, not typically heavily sugared, yet refreshingly delicious desserts are on offer here, it’s just that one of them is the star. The desserts here are definitely Malay, making this place the first of its kind in the mainland. The first few sips of the mango & crunchy sago smoothie with a scoop of durian ice cream on top at first had me wondering because I am so used to the very sugary sweet and artificially “flavor enhanced” ones typically served in Hong Kong; but it wasn’t long before I began appreciating the subtle richness and purity of this drink. And that’s what I think this place is all about – being true to the ingredients that make up each treat rather than masking them with sugar and additives. It’s a refreshing change and there much to discover, like his take on panna cotta, as well as his dessert made of tarot root paste mixed with lotus seeds and topped with a thick and silky smooth coconut cream. I especially loved the chilled ginger-infused sweet yam puree and a chilled durian 'soup.'"
"I always get a chuckle out of watching locals posing out in front of Greek Taverna. I doesn’t matter if it’s for wedding photos or simply for pretending that they’ve traveled overseas, because in many ways, I too feel like I am being transported abroad when approaching this blue and white Greek rustica-styled restaurant. I like that these guys know that little details matter, even going so far as making their own feta and other dairy products at their farm. Be sure to try their fresh feta and their tzatziki that’s baptized briefly on the grill before serving. I love the grilled and roasted meats here, but it is their yemista (stuffed bell peppers and tomatoes filled with rice and ground beef) that I have a personal connection with. Also, I never leave without having a piece of their revani cake - a moist sweet semolina cake soaked in an orange-infused honey syrup."