As I mentioned yesterday, loyal reader, my wife and I found ourselves going from restaurant to restaurant on Friday night looking for an available table. We checked pretty much the whole west side of Water Street without much success until we entered The Shanghai, an often overlooked Chinese eatery by MacMurdo’s Lane.
I have walked in front of the restaurant for years and its facade is so unassuming that I kept forgetting about it, so it wasn’t even on our radar. And what a pity that is because we missed out on a very pleasant experience indeed!
Upon entering we noticed how quiet it was. Only another couple was dining and they weren’t very loud. There was soft piano music playing on the sound system and it was a welcome oasis of calm after seeing a half dozen crowded, noisy restaurants.
The Shanghai has an interesting layout. You get in from the outside at the end of a hallway and the whole place is king of U-shaped around that hallway. It’s difficult to explain but it segments the dining area quite nicely. There is a slightly raised area with booths in addition to larger tables. We were led to a spacious and comfortable booth and given our menus by a friendly and energetic hostess.
She asked if this was our first visit and happily explained the restaurant’s concept. Rather than individual dishes, the menu features larger plates that are meant to be shared among the diners. It’s a concept I had experienced once in Montreal and really like. It gives every diner a chance to try a bit of everything and really brings people together. After all, breaking bread together has been the unifying ritual of choice for any human civilization.
Our hostess also helpfully recommended some popular items from the menu if we were new. She did such a great job of describing the dishes that she had our mouths watering and we went with her recommendation of a mango chicken dish with a plate of fried rice and vegetables. We also opted for an appetizer of steamed pork dumplings.
As we waited for our food to arrive, we took in the decor. I liked it, it was simple and matched the ambience: pleasant paintings, red Asian-style lights and plenty of space. It’s one of the most relaxing dining places I have had the pleasure of enjoying.
Our steamed dumplings soon arrived and we eagerly dug in. As an aside, both Erica and I have become more adept with chopsticks. The dumplings were tender and delicious and served with a rice vinegar sauce the really grew on me. It was a good start.
Before long we were brought one empty plate each, followed by a big plate of mango chicken and one of rice and veggies. We scooped about half of each on our plates and took in the delectable aroma. It smelled great!
And thankfully it tastes great too. The chicken was tender and the mango and coconut milk sauce it was in wasn’t too sweet at all, which was my concern. The rice was worthy of accompanying it and satisfied my standards by not being the least bit sticky. Every grain was distinct from the others. It was well-prepared rice indeed and most of you know I loves me a good feed of rice!
The serving sizes were perfectly decent. Even though I could have eaten a lot more thanks to the great taste and texture, I did not finish the meal hungry. It was just satisfying.
Two fortune cookies were included in our bill which came to $50.00 including three large Pepsid (I had a refill). It’s not bad at all for a quality meal for two in a relaxing atmosphere.
The only very slight area for improvement is that when we entered the place there was noone to greet us right away as the hostess was in the kitchen. I had to clear my throat to signal our presence, but it didn’t take long for her to come out with a welcoming smile. Perhaps another member of the serving staff wouldn’t hurt to make sure there I’d always someone to welcome patrons. Still, that is a very minor point that I chalk up to a very slow night.
Overall, The Shanghai has not dethroned Asian Taste as my favourite Asian place in town, but it’s right up there. After all, it’s a but hard to compare the two as they have differing styles. I like Asian Taste as a sushi place but there is room for The Shanghai for a more family or group feel to the dining experience. I heartily recommend it and give it a good 9 out of 10!