Friday, October 16, 2020

Food Pairing Experiment

We ended up having dinner in a group of 9 people over 3 separate tables on a Sunday evening at Shanghai Fraternity Association Restaurant, a rare occasion these days given we were not allowed to have a table more than 4 people at a restaurant.

There’s no bad time to visit this old-school members only establishment founded by Shanghai natives a few decades ago and famous for their true-to-tradition cooking style, but I particularly enjoyed their seasonal hairy crab dishes that were available only once a year at around October/November. 

We started the night with a trio of chilled appetizers. The jelly fish was a bit blend in flavor on its own, seasoned with only a few drops of sesame oil, but I love the crunchy texture and worked well with a dip of vinegar. The smoked egg and drunken pigeon were both excellent as usual, with the egg perfectly cooked with the slightly gluey yolk in the center and a distinct hint of tea smoke flavor. The whole pigeon was poached and infused with Shaoxing wine overnight – the meat was tender and rich and every bite came with the nice rice wine taste. 

Sauteed river shrimps with Longjing tea leaves and the Shanghainese “Lion Head” meatballs were two of the dishes we often ordered and they were right on par. And this time we also had a couple dishes that were new to us. We went for the double-boiled giant river eel which normally required pre-ordering but somehow available as special dish this evening. The eel was humongous – each of us ended up with a big chunk served in the rich consommé. We were told it’s only half the eel that was shared among us. Its meat was firm with nice balance of being intense and delicate in flavor. Deep-fried Marble Goby fish (筍殼魚) was recommended by the restaurant manager after he told us the pan-friend pomfret that we wanted has sold out. That turned out okay, with the whole fish deep-fried so both the bones and meat were edible.  I thought that made perfect dish for wines. 

I was specifically coming here for crab this time and the jelly noodles with hairy crab meat and roes (Xie Fen Fen Pi) certainly satisfied my craving. The whole dish was covered entirely with the decadent gravy-like crab sauce made of picked crab meat and roes and every bite full of rich umami flavor. With the meat hand-picked from the crab that also saved me much effort of dealing with the messy crabs with the shells on etc. Another of my favorite dish here is the pan-fried red glutinous rice, which was served as the dessert course at the end. Rice was first steamed, pressed into cake in flat-bread thickness and mixed with nuts and dried fruits. Then it’s chilled until ready to serve – that’s when chef will pan-fried the “cake” in a flat pan with just a tiny bit of oil and served with a generous sprinkle of caster sugar on top. It’s just of the right sweetness and I like the sticky texture with a bit of crispy crust at the bottom. 

It’s always my opinion that Balsamic Vinegar would work well with Shanghainese dish and as the substitute of the traditional dark vinegar which was made of glutinous rice wine and has a sharp acidity flavor. And I was eager to put that into a tasting experiment this time and brought along a bottle of  Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena – made with grape wine vinegar and aged in wooden cask for a deeper flavor and thicker texture – to pair with a few dishes. I thought the test was a success, with the vinegar did give the dishes a new dimension of sweetness and more mellow taste with slightly more balanced acidity. The best pairing belong to the sauteed river shrimp, and also the jelly noodles with hairy crab. Will definitely try to "BYOV" again next time. 

When? October 11 2020
Where? Shanghai Fraternity Association Restaurant, 1-3/F, South China Building, 1 Wyndham Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Xie Fen Fen Pi – Jelly noodles with Crab Meat and Roes
Champagne Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut NV
2005 Chateau Figeac, St Emilion
2013 Chateau Gloria, St Julien
Notoji Junmai Daiginjo, Kuze Shuzo-ten, Ishikawa Prefecture (能登路 純米大吟釀 - 石川県 久世酒造店)

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