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.
In San Francisco, George Chen is the man behind Betelnut and Shanghai 1930, two very successful restaurants. Here, he's the man behind Roosevelt Prime Steakhouse and The Strip. I asked him his favorite places to eat in Shanghai. Fortunately, I was able to get him to pare it down to six.
Forget all the related Xinjishi outlets, especially in Xintiandi, where quality and prices have become inversely proportional. Make resos at this joint that has been in business at the same location for more than 20 years! Almost all the dishes are well-executed. Check out the advance-order items like chuan xiang yu tou (川香鱼头). This large wok-braised fish head has plenty of collar meat which is infused with heaps of spring onion tangles that give it that unique unctuous umami taste that is haunting to the last bite. Then there is zuigao xie (醉膏蟹). This is a large mitten crab that is essentially pickled raw in yellow rice wine. This dish used to be seen in a lot of restaurants around town until the government banned it for the obvious potential health risks. But Jesse actually have a purchasing manager who knows all the best purveyors and shops fresh everyday. They pickle the crab with spices like cracked anise and peppercorns so the balance is just fantastic and the meat is translucent and luscious! And last not not least, there is yangrou duantang (mutton soup/羊肉炖汤), which is slow-cooked with turnips, radishes and cabbage. It’s a great robust, homey dish that warms you up on those bone-chilling Shanghai winters.
The owner, Mr. Wu, is fanatical about his food. I've seen him presiding daily over dishes around 2.30pm with all his cooks standing at attention around his table listening to his critiques. It's an almost a daily routine still after so many years. There are too many excellent dishes here to choose from, but since they started out as just a noodle shop, I'll pick the galimian (clam noodles / 蛤蜊面). This is perhaps the best linguini with clam sauce you will ever taste. Just go try it. Other standouts include oxtail in red sauce and sea cucumber in various preparations. Oh, and they do the best tangyuan (glutinous rice balls in wine soup/汤圆) because they use purple taro instead of regular flour. [Ed's Note: More on Lan Gui Fang on SmartShanghai here.]
This place offers the finest Cantonese cuisine in Shanghai. Period. Yes, quite expensive but the young head chef there is trained in HK and the waitstaff do a great job with service too. Their Menyu (braised live fish/闷鱼) is out of this world. At 1200rmb it’s a bit expensive but you will not leave anything but the eyes on the head. It’s wok-braised with tofu, mushrooms etc. and the flesh retains a bouncy yet firm texture. Delicious!
Sushi Oyama opened this place about 6 months. I love their chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) with winter truffles. It’s simply heaven. The woodsy scent is perfectly matched by the silken egg custard.
Also straight to the heart is their simple Ramen noodles. The bowl is exactly what you will find in Tokyo and the subject of the cult film Tampopo in which, like the movie, I want to pick up the bowl and drink every last drop of the soup. When owner Shao Yang is there it is simply a perfect bowl of ramen noodle soup. The ramen is served with 2 slices of pork, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), half a hard-boiled egg and few sprouts in a pork and chicken stock.
This place is owned by the Seki family, who have been in the restaurant business for four generations. They fry each order of tempura in a fresh batch of safflower oil!