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New Eats: Wishbone

Here's a quick look at the latest from Jing'an, a hip, minimalist rotisserie chicken joint. Just in time for the grand opening tonight.
2015-03-20 16:11:25
Rotisserie chicken. Eduardo Vargas and David Laris, two erstwhile fixtures of the food scene here, tried building small empires on it a few years back. They fizzled out. But I wonder if that was only because they had investors who were hell bent on mindless expansion. In Jing'an Wishbone is taking a stab at it, and it looks to be off to solid start.

It's a narrow slot, stripped down with concrete floors and dangling incandescent bulbs. 25 diners would make it a packed house. This is what it looks like at near full capacity.

I know what you're thinking, and you're right. It looks like every other restaurant that has opened here in the past three years. Oh well, the kitchen makes up for it.

It's run by Samuel Norris. His most recent work in Shanghai was at Dogtown, where he cobbled together a decent little menu of Mexican snacks in a kitchen the size of a broom closet. The press material that Wishbone put out also says that Norris has worked in the kitchens of Nobu (though it doesn't specify which one) and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Whether or not these were paid positions or stages (the culinary equivalent of an unpaid internship) I'm unsure. Regardless, Norris is doing some worthwhile stuff with this new project.

Much like Dogtown, it's a limited menu. Roasted chickens are the centerpiece, and you can get them in quarters, halves, or the whole bird (75, 140, and 250rmb respectively). This is what a half portion looks like.

The menu says it's meant for two, but I beg to differ. I could easily polish this whole thing off. And while the 140rmb price tag seems a touch steep. It's a quality bird, basted generously with butter, stuffed with gremolata, and, most importantly, moist and tender throughout with a perfectly crisp skin. It comes with a homemade jalepeño mayonnaise and a mustard sauce for smothering or dipping or however you like to dress your bird.

As the birds roast, he collects the drippings. They're an excellent addition to roasted new potatoes, which make great side dish for 25rmb.

The same goes for Norris's okra. He roasts them, which helps to dry out some of that goo inside that turns so many people off from this fruit. They're plated with fresh tomatoes and a tangy lemon herb vinaigrette. Nice.

He also does a simple, rustic country paté with shiitake mushrooms for 35rmb...

Again, pretty solid stuff. It's good to see more chefs realizing that you don't always need to keep pushing the envelope with gimmicks and ever more outlandish flavor combos.

I also like that he's dusting off and updating old school dishes food that probably only our grandparents would have found tasty, like pickled mackerel (35rmb)...

That's fish, not raw beef. He cures the fillets in salt before pickling them with beets and onions and then serves them alongside fresh, thinly sliced pears. My only grievance is that the pickling slightly overpowers the flavor of the mackerel. It tastes more, like pickled beets than it does fish. But that's really just minor issue in execution, not an inherent flaw in the dish. Still, it's a gesture I appreciate. You're not seeing many dishes like these around town.

And even the dishes that don't I particularly like I at least like in theory, like Norris's homemade ricotta with roast pineapple and fresh thyme (not pictured). It's a plate of disparate and poorly matched flavors and textures. So it didn't work. Oh well, back to the drawing board. I still like it when chefs try to push diners out of their comfort zones like this. And it's curiosity and experimentation like this that will keep me coming back.

For a listing of Wishbone click here.