Elegant Shanghai Dining
Dark wood panels, a sleek granite counter top around the open bar, elegant dining-room furniture, crystal fixtures, and red velvet curtains in the lounge area put the recently opened Shanghai Restaurant in San Francisco a notch above the many casual eateries of the hip Mission Dolores neighborhood.
The obvious sophistication of the place doesn’t stop with the décor. Shanghai’s menu, conceived by Shanghai native and proprietor Francis Tsai, and executive chef Leo Gan, who worked as the opening chef for Shanghai 1930, is brimming with Chinese delicacies equally intriguing in a variety of tastes and presentations.
An appetizer combination of our six-course tasting menu for two came on a large rectangular plate with smaller square bowls containing bites of traditionally offered fish, tofu, veggie, and meat surrounding the blasting prawn cocktail – with prawns grilled in mild honey nectar. The fish was a sweet-tasting sole filet smoked in oolong tea. The tofu was called vegetarian duck, and tasted just like a roasted crackling skin of a soy-sauce duck. The veggie came as a crispy hot and sour cabbage, and the meat was presented as drunken chicken simmered in Shaoxing wine.
Lemongrass Hopper cocktail, one of many drinks created by the beverage director Michael Petri, seemed a great match for the flavor-forward appetizers, and was made with vodka, mango, Midori, lemon, soda, and lemongrass.
Our second course was my favorite xiao long bao, a.k.a. Shanghai soup dumplings. They are very delicate, filled with pork and broth, and should be sprinkled with Shanghai black vinegar to reveal their ultimate comforting effect. These dumplings I eat with a spoon, making a little bite at the top first, so no delicious broth would escape from the steamed dough purse.
For the third course, we had fish broth – a dense gelatinous soup of julienned white fish with sweet flesh mixed in with slightly beaten egg white. Another comforting dish for a chilly San Francisco evening!
The fourth course of the tasting menu was actually three courses. Chicken flambé – with cubes of white breast meat braised in sweet vinegar sauce. Whole red and green grapes, chunks of pineapple, strawberries and kiwi graced this very special take on sweet and sour chicken.
Fish on the vine –a deep-fried fish fillet with a red wine reduction. This one came decorated with a real vine with shiny green leaves.
Napa cabbage – a small head of cabbage braised in real cream sauce and sprinkled with bacon crumble. Warm and satisfying, this dish made a great addition to protein-filled plates of more “serious” players.
The fifth course was poetically called two golden faces, and presented a nest of crispy noodles over prawns, mushrooms, and three-color bell peppers in light sweet sauce.
Our sixth course was rather simple – a plate of sweetened pan-fried sticky rice with dried berries and a twig of fresh mint, but after a lavish meal we just had at spectacular Shanghai no other dessert would do.
My dessert cocktail was called Anna’s Perfect Pink, and contained gin, hibiscus, pisco, coconut, lemon, goji liquor, and orange flower water.
The full bar at Shanghai, besides classic, contemporary and original cocktails and the international wine list, offers a late night happy hour service with bites menu Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 p.m. to midnight.
Shanghai is located at 2029 Market Street, San Francisco. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 pm, a dim sum brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm, and a late-night small-plate menu. A specialty of the house is private dining and special functions with traditional Shanghai dishes. Reservations: (415) 701-8866 or SeatMe.com. More info at their website.