Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Highlight 162: More elegant eats (Shanghai)

Besides the street style eats, Shanghai is also full of white table clothes establishments. Some are more style over substance, but there are many that are indeed very good. Jade garden is one of the later. It specializes in Shanghainese dishes and do them very well.

We started our dinner with our friend's favorite cold dish - a soy abalone. I am not really a fan of soy imitation products, but this one was very likable. Primarily it's a dish one eats for the very interesting toothsome texture.

The classic preserved vegetable was surprisingly mild compared to the too-salty ones often found in grocery stores. The soy base had a hint of sweetness that really worked well with the slight fermented flavor.

The smoke goose was very lean, but not pasty. The roasting process must have been very well controlled to produce the tender mouth feel.

The stewed beef with daikon looked much lighter and leaner than the versions I've eaten before, which is probably a reflection of the current trend for healthier dishes. Unfortunately, the overall taste was also less intense and luxurious.

The stewed soy tofu on the other hand was absolutely wonderful. Each large ball of almost liquidy tofu was breaded and lightly fried before its introduction to the hot pot. As such, the hot tofu balls had a slightly chewy skin that, when broken, released hot pools of flavorful tofu liquid. Without a warning label, this is mighty dangerous but very delicious stuff.

We chose the prized seasonal river "rock" fish. This is one of the few river fishes that do not have that distinct fishy or muddy smell. Rather, the flesh was of a pristine white and very very refreshing in taste.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a photo of the crab rice while it was still in the lotus leaf wrapping. The server was simply too fast in dividing up the portions. Let me tell you, this stuff was down right outrageous. Each grain of rice was so imbued with flavor, it burst in the mouth to release the most intense crab essence. The abundance of crab pieces also had plenty of bright orange roe clinging to them and rewarded our effort to get to the meat with each mouthful.

Of course, we had to get the soup buns at every Shanghainese meal. These were of the thinner skin type that is pretty much the norm now.
I took this close up to show this superb example of a thin skinned soup bun. Translucent, the thin, but resilient skin was see through under the light and revealed the plentiful soup inside. The filling did not disappoint either. Plenty porky and mighty savory, it rendered the aged vinegar served on the side completely unnecessary.

Dessert was my friend's favorite custard buns. Custard buns can be found everywhere in Shanghai, but my friend claims these his favorite and I can see why. The bun was so full of the intensely eggy stuff, it threatened to split open under the lightest pressure. The custard ranged from liquidy in the middle to a very smooth paste towards the bun skin. Hot from the steamer, these were as good as custard buns get.

I have so many more meals to cover, it will take a long time before I can catch up. Hopefully I can manage to get a few out this week, but the amount of work that I have piled up may completely destroy that plan. I'll try my best, but no promises...

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