Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fraternity Food

There is no secret that the best Shanghainese food in town was served inside an old building in Central at the clubhouse of Shanghai Fraternity Association. What started as a meeting place for people sharing a similar cultural heritage some 30 years ago has grown to become an exclusive, members-only venue best known for its exquisite Shangainese cuisine served at their restaurant.

When our friends A and C asked us to join them for a hairy crab dinner there, we knew it's something we wouldn't say no to. It's good that we finally worked out a Saturday evening that we were all available, just before the prime hairy crab season was slowly slipping away.

In the past I had this theory that all hairy crabs were equal and thought it's a waste of money to order the steamed hairy crab at a restaurant at a hefty premium when one could enjoy the same comfortably at home, but I realize how wrong that was when I had the crabs here for the first time a few years ago. It's just much better, for whatever reasons - both in size and taste. I still don't understand why - maybe they do have some exclusive suppliers giving them better crabs not available elsewhere and very good buyers to pick out the best batch. The crabs all came in very good size, were meaty with plenty of delicious roes inside. It's so delicious I didn't even see much need with the dark vinegar for extra seasonings.

Of course it's not just the crabs that set this restaurant apart - all the dishes we had in the evening were exceptional. The finely chopped ma lan tau and tofu may be a common Shanghainese appetizer found everywhere but this is one of the best I have had and came with the well-balanced, earthy herbacious flavor. Two of my all-time favorite dishes here were the tea-smoked eggs and the crispy eels, and both of them were decent tonight, though I though the egg yolks were a bit overcooked - not as oozy as ones I had before.

Well we had a few other crab dishes as well - including the sumptuous crab roes with tofu, sauteed rice cake with mud crab and pan-fried dumplings with crabs. They were all classic home-style Shanghainese dishes given an upgrade with the delicious crab meat and roes. I was told this has not been the best crab season but so far I have had pretty good ones, here and elsewhere.

Both the Eight-treasure Chicken and sauteed sugar snap-peas were labor-intensive dishes and I swear nowhere else do those better. And there were just way too many must-try dishes at this place if Shanghainese food is your thing - I could simply go on and on, especially this evening we ordered more than we normally would. Thank God we went light on our lunch to save up room for the many dishes we had and we ended up finishing almost everything on the table.

When our friend found out the golden prawn dish was not available, she asked for a similar dish using the smaller river shrimps instead. And OMG that was devilish good, with the sweet, firm and compact shrimps covered in a thick salted egg yolk batter and deep-fried in oil. Maybe the dish should come with a label warning of fatally high cholesterol intake but who really cares. At least we had a doctor on standby at the table if anyone got a heart attack from it.

I also loved the dessert - the flaky lotus flower pastry with red bean filling. I haven't seen this being available elsewhere and it's still so good even for the leftover piece I had the next day. It was light and fluffy, and with just the right amount of sweetness from the sugar coated on top and from the smooth filling.

Many of us brought our bottles of wine to share so we had a few glasses along with the 10-year-aged Hua Diao, the Shanghainese yellow wine made of glutinous rice said to be perfect for pairing with hairy crabs. The first champagne showed youthful energy with decent acidity, hint of wheat and plenty of ripe citrus fruits on the palate. A pair of Ruinart non-vintage Blancs de blancs - two bottles with different labels and we started with an older one first - were both lovely and very enjoyable. Lighter in color with an amber hue, the biscuit nose was definitely more intense than the previous one, along with a pleasant white flower aroma and fuller body.

I was in the mood of an old claret so I brought along one which has been sitting in the wine fridge for some time (perhaps too long). It was poured immediately from the decanter after filtering out the sediments and the bits of the broken cork. Light garnet color with brownish rim, medium body with an aroma of Chinese herbs. It looked a bit worrying when it's first poured but opened up better than I expected given a bit more time in the glass. Surprisingly some jammy fruit remaining but mainly it's preserved plum and earthy characters on the palate with a medium finish. I particularly loved that velvety mouth-feel from the smooth tannin.

My wife didn't call this her most anticipated dining event of the year for nothing. It was good all around.

More pictures in my Flickr album:

When? November 28 2015
Where? Shanghai Fraternity Association, 1-3/F, South China Building, 1 Wyndham Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Steamed Shanghainese Hairy Crabs
Champagne Trepo Leriguier Brut Petite Soiree Entre Amis NV
Champagne Ruinart Blancs de Blancs Brut NV
Gu Yue Long Shan Shaoxing Hua Diao, 10-year-aged (古越龍山十年陳花雕酒)
1983 Chateau Leoville-Barton, St Julien

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