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[On The Radar]: BOR Eatery, Chili's

Dueling cuisines out there in the city: chef-driven Danish mini-hotdogs (and more) versus company-mandated baby back ribs (and more).
Last updated: 2019-07-05
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places we find interesting. Sometimes we stumble upon these places, and sometimes we are invited, but in both cases, we are never paid to write an opinion, rather, these are our honest first impressions, and not a formal review.

BOR Eatery

Quick Take: Hot hot hot new restaurant from the former Pelikan chef. This time it’s not Nordic.

What It Is: Kasper Pedersen’s shedding of the Nordic label and cooking whatever the hell he feels like. That might be the Danish mini-hotdogs you’ve seen on all the blogs, which is kind of Nordic, or a creamy burrata buried in charred radicchio leaves, as if it was grown in place, which is definitely not Nordic. There’s really not much rhyme or reason to the menu, which feels scattershot, other than that it’s all things “Pedersen likes to eat”, he told me. In that regard, it’s in the same genre-bending spirit as other recent hotspot, Heritage by Madison.

So what does Pedersen like to eat, judging by the menu?

A lot of vegetables, which come every which way, from zucchini noodles in an Asian dressing to his classic – and very delicious – roasted beets glazed with a dressing made from beet pickling liquid and butter.

A lot of seafood, which can mean grilled prawns with a pretty fiery chili dip, grilled sardines with almonds, hot smoked salmon, fried scallops with grapefruit and salted caramel and fried halibut with bacon.

And a lot of butter. A lot. From the bread, which comes with an ice cream scoop of semi-melted butter, to grilled baby corn (brown butter in the corn dip) and that halibut (brown butter hollandaise), the grilled lobster (smoked butter sauce) and roasted cauliflower (butter foam).

There are other things on the menu that are not vegetables, seafood or butter, of course, but if I have to pick three defining elements, those are it.

First Impression: The dining room is handsome, light, airy but loud. The open kitchen – breaking the fourth wall! – was a nice design idea and gives customers maximum ogle opportunities of Pedersen’s model good looks. Forget “the pass” – this is his runway. I picked out the 1980s post-punk girl band Au Pairs on the soundtrack. Someone up there in the speaker is paying attention. The tables are too close together.

The rest? I liked some dishes more than others. The bitter radicchio, salty ham and creamy burrata was a nice combination, as was the scallop and grapefruit. Brown butter hollandaise also a good idea. I was less thrilled with the zucchini noodles with the Asian dressing, which is a nod to Pedersen’s time in Asia but feels like it came off a recipe website for the Keto diet, and an apple dessert which was basically cooked apples and whipped cream stacked in a ring mold. My favorite of all the dishes, on both evenings I went, was the beet dish, a clever take on the often one-note root vegetable that managed sweetness, sourness and the richness of butter.

How does it compare to Pelikan, Pedersen’s last perch? It’s more casual. Less Nordic. No bloody, raw deer heart and foraged sidewalk grass here. A little less pricy (a table of two will spend 700-800rmb). I like that Pedersen has been given the freedom to cook whatever he wants and he’s clearly a talented guy, though I wish he would tighten up the menu and edit away some of the dishes I don’t like as much, like the zucchini noodles. But, hey, who am I to say. BOR is white-hot right now, just burning up in the media spotlight, and the feedback I’ve heard has all been highly positive, so clearly the BOR team is doing something right.

I’d put it in the genre of places like Apollo, Together and Heritage, casual chef-driven restaurants that are so common in other major global cities, but until just recently, fairly lacking in Shanghai. It’s a testament to Shanghai that talented chefs are not just staying in the city and exploring their own heritage and ideas, instead of shuttling off to the next international destination for fine dining, but that their dining rooms are often full. Reservations suggested.

— Christopher St. Cavish



Chili's Shanghai

Quick Take: Baby back baby back baby back ribs

What It Is: The first Chinese branch of an American institution, the artery demolishing Chili's empire, built on sizzling fajita plates and super sweet margaritas. It's occupying a chic glass-fronted semi-circle on the Huangpu Riverside Trail, with a court-side view of the barge traffic. Looks more like a mid-level bistro than where your Roller Derby team would celebrate their round of 16 qualifiers on a Tuesday night. I might've guessed they'd classed up the interior for the Pudong financial hub crowd, but it's apparently part of the wider Chili's brand shucking off its scruffy suburban decor. Hard when your logo is a giant chili, but they're imaginative; they've rendered it in platinum, like a mini Cloud Gate, and put it on a pedestal on the outdoor terrace.

Chili's Shanghai
Chili's Shanghai

What's on offer, you ask? Fajita platters! Heaping bacon burgers! Hotwings lathered in Buffalo sauce! BBQ ribs sticky enough to seal concrete! America! Suburbia! Freedom! MAGAritas!

Chili's Shanghai
Chili's Shanghai

It's gut-busting American chain food, like what you might've gotten at a TGI Friday's, with more emphasis on the Tex-Mex. There's a decent array of greens and veggies, salads and fusion-y dishes, as a concession to people who don't eat like they plan to die at 40. Headliner mains like the ribs and burger cost 108rmb.

Chili's Shanghai

Chili's Shanghai

The margarita selection isn't as wide as I'd hoped, but they are 35-40rmb each (they use Jose Cuervo), come in a plastic soup bowl on a stem, and are so, so sweet. Great way to get a good buzz going before your board meeting at 4pm. Order the Presidente, which tastes like sour boozy apple juice with a sugar rim, and they'll shake it all the way to your table. Then they leave the big plastic shaker for you to top yourself up. Service!

El Presidente Shanghai

Speaking of which, the staff struggled a bit with English, but the menu is huge, illustrated and easy to point at, if you only speak American.

Chili's Shanghai

First Impression: I'd never been to a Chili's. That bit in Austin Powers with Fat Bastard, talking about baby back ribs? Fwoosh. Right over my head. My entire research prior to going involved just listening to that jingle on loop for four hours, but I did bring two actual, freedom-loving Americans with me. One was immediately awash in rosy nostalgia for his eighth birthday, when his aunt took him for hotwings because his parents were arguing. The other was contemptuous of the whole thing, but warmed to its charm after the second margarita. Both agreed that it's pretty close to what you'd get back home.

Chili's Shanghai
Chili's Shanghai

As a European raised on goose liver pate and wine made by Franciscan monks, I found Chili's to be unsophisticated, gauche and––haha just kidding, it's great! Heavy on flavor, doused in your choice of sauces, stuff you need to eat with both hands, washed down with novelty size margaritas to a soundtrack of Maroon 5, Taylor Swift and the sizzle of fajita platters passing by. Western exceptionalism at its finest.

Chili's Shanghai

Hope it does better than the demolished TGIF's just behind it.

— Alex Panayotopoulous