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[On The Radar]: Urban Diner, Tai'an Table, Xinle Mian Guan

This week's new venues: A diner at Joy City serving damn good nachos, a private dining club from Stefan Stiller, and a solid Shanghai noodle house on Jinxian Lu.
2016-05-18 17:09:33
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places you might like to know about. Sometimes we stumble across these venues and sometimes... we are invited. As such, these are our first impressions and not a formal review.
On The Radar is a weekly SmartShanghai column where we profile 2-3 new venues that you might like to know about. Here are the facts and our first impressions.

1. Urban Diner


What It Is: Diner food on the rooftop of Joy City mall, with a prime view of that big Ferris wheel. We're talking heart attack classics like beef neck nachos, burgers, chicken wings, chili-cheese fries, and steaks. The diner is run by a real chill couple from Beijing. The husband, Jacky (Zou Bing), is an old-school DJ who's been friends with legacy Beijing headz DJ Wordy and MC Webber for like a decade. Nice to hear some Beijinghua in Shanghai. They used to have an Urban Diner on Nanchang Lu near the Science Hall, but that closed a while back. This is V2.0 for the 2-0-1-6. If at first you don't succeed...

The menu comes courtesy of a couple of chefs who have been doing quite a bit of consulting around town lately. Some are gonna compare this place to Al's Diner, but this is more straightforward diner food without the Asian influences and ice cream.

We're calling it: 2016 is the year of sandwiches, comfort food (whatever that is), and diner fare.

(Actually, every year is the year of sandwiches.)

Area: The roof of Joy City Mall, which is really chill on a clear day. Going along with the DJ theme, the boss of The Shelter has the second outpost of his restaurant, Magnet right next door. Also recently opened is another of those My Little Italian Kitchens and this Spanish chain called Alma by DN, a beer shop, a 3D-printing store, and, of course, that Ferris wheel.  

Atmosphere: Modern, minimalist diner vibes and a decent-sized patio. White walls and neon signs. Music is well-selected, old-school funk and boogie. Heard some Prince and Morris Day on a recent Friday.

Damage: Dishes around 60rmb to 90rmb. They're serving diner-size portions, though -- huge plates, ideal for sharing. Probably looking at about 100rmb per person. A bit more if you're getting steak.

First Impressions: Welp, it's a diner and they still don't have bottomless coffee. Hopefully, they get that soon. But they've got some of the best nachos I've tried in Shanghai. Huge chunks of slow-cooked beef neck, lots of cheese, and chips cooked to order. Again, huge portions -- enough to share among 2-3 people. Wings are similar to Hooter's wings but spicier. Also great. Milkshakes would be a nice addition to the menu. Overall, a solid option for Western food in this part of town, if the kitchen can keep up the quality once the consultants leave.

- Ian L.

2. Tai'an Table


What It Is: Longtime Shanghai chef and restaurateur Stefan Stiller (Stiller's, East Eatery, Stiller's Cooking School and Catering) and a partner just renovated a lanehouse and turned it into a private dining club, serving set dinners of contemporary Western cuisine with some subtle Asian influences.

Let's run some numbers: 28 seats; options for a 10-course or 14-course set meal; first seating at 6pm, last seating at 8pm; zero windows; five chefs; one brand of champagne (Duval-Leroy); seven signature cocktails; no phone number. The only way to get a seat is to RSVP on their website, which has a lengthy FAQ.

(One highlight from that: "We ask that you please keep cell phones and cameras off your table and the kitchen counter during your meal." Damn, that's intense.)

The degustation-style menu changes once a month, and the current one features dishes like:

Mackerel | Smoke | Potato | Horseradish; Octopus | Quinoa | Dill Mayo; and Pigeon Consommé | Vegetables | Kombu

Very minimal. Very "fine dining". The wine list is short but carefully curated, with a mix of old-school and new-school. Some highlights include 2013 Dr. Wehrheim, Riesling "Kastanienbusch Koppel", 2011 Vilafonté "Series C", and the Champagne Duval-Leroy 2004 Clos des Bouveries Blanc de Blancs.

Area: A quiet street somewhere west of IAPM and east of Yuyintang. It's kinda close to a Yoho Da Wang, a stones throw from a good Dongbei restaurant, and not far from a really great bar by some people from Guiyang.

Atmosphere: Stripped-back and high-end but casual. Somewhere between a speakeasy, Kung Fu Komedy Club, and a showroom for high-end German kitchenware. I say comedy club because it's the same vibe: dim lights, no windows, and all the attention is on the cooks. They're performing and interacting with the audience, and the venue is actually encouraging this interaction to create more of a dinner party vibe. Design studio AIM fitted the place in blacks, greys, and browns, and some really comfortable booths.

Damage: The 10-course dinner is 988rmb and the 14-course meal is 1288rmb. These numbers could fluctuate a bit as the menu changes. For cocktails, you're looking at 75rmb to 95rmb.

First Impressions: The place definitely has that step-into-another-world feeling, owing to the darkness, the lack of windows, and the sleek modernism. Stiller has a well-deserved reputation for quality food, and he's brought in this young dude named Jeno Racz as the Chef de Cuisine. His resumé includes Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London and Joël Robuchon in Singapore. No smoking in the dining room is always great. Seems like an intriguing option for those in search of memorable, offbeat dining experiences. We'll be back for a full review.

- Ian L.

3. Xinle Mian Guan (心樂麵館)


What It Is: A new noodle shop by Xinle Mian Guan, a nearly 30-year-old brand whose original shop in Hongkou has been dubbed "海上第一肠" (No.1 intestine in Shanghai) by locals for years. They do 15 types of Shanghainese-style noodles, all made on site, with classic flavors like chao dachang (stir-fried pig intestine), chao yaohua (stir-fried flower-shaped pig kidneys), chao larou (spicy shredded pork) and zhugan (stir-fried pig liver), all well-executed, tender, and savory. Basically, it's heaven for offal-lovers, and they're open until 3am.

They also serve sides like the classic breaded pork chop with lajiangyou (Shanghainese spicy soy), stir-fried red spinach, jimaocai and kongxingcai (water spinach). They're all good renditions of homemade, easy to prepare Shanghainese dishes people grew up with. Xinle Mianguan got a lot of hype after a few food bloggers wrote about it, and even more when "China's richest son" Wang Sicong paid a visit to the new one. The ingredients are fresh and limited, so they always run out of one or two flavors before the end of lunchtime.

Area: Towards the end of Jinxian Lu, close to Maoming Lu. Lots of small restaurants, bars, and salons on that tranquil street, including Southern Barbarian, beer bar De Refter, and underrated cafe / clam chowder joint Pier 39.    

Atmosphere: Just a normal-but-modern, medium-sized noodle shop, with a few tables downstairs and some Japanese influence on the decor. Busy at lunch but not packed on a weekday evening, though they get busier after 7pm. Noodles come out really fast, and the staff here are nice and efficient. 

Damage: Noodles are around 30rmb, with the exception of the crab roe version (88rmb). You can add a few kuai or so to add toppings like fried eggs and breaded pork chops. They also sell these jiaotou as single dish, mostly from 38rmb to 43rmb.  For the ballers, they've got all kinds of fried snakes, crayfish, and mantis shrimp starts from 120rmb and goes up to 800rmb. 

First Impressions: A cleaner, more expensive version of a Shanghainese noodle shop, which the younger and older generations will approve of. Good option for a quick meal or late night yexiao with friends.  

- Jin Qian