Friday, July 26, 2019

Good Old Jesse

We did two other serious meals during our short stay in Shanghai – one that we have been to before, one that was new to us. First, the good old Jesse Restaurant (or Lao Ji Shi 老吉士 as known by the locals) right in the center of the French Concession neighborhood. What started of as a home-style restaurant in a quiet block serving classic Shanghainese cuisine has grown into an institution, with multiple branches around the city and other places in China. We had a memorable meal there during our last visit to Shanghai so we were dying to go back, and we made a reservation at their original branch right after our flights were confirmed, helped by our friend M who was a regular at the restaurant during her days living in Shanghai.

Nothing really changed from our memory except they have expended slightly taking over the space next to their original shop with a few more tables. Heard it’s almost impossible to get a table without a reservation these days – and true there’s quite a long waiting line developing on the night we were there.  The interior was simple and tables were tight together, but obviously it’s not the settings that drive people keep coming back from near and far. Jesse is known for its authentic interpretation of Ben Bang Cai which represented the true flavor of original Shanghainese cuisine with liberal use of rich seasonings such as soy sauce, vinegar, wine and sugar.

With just the two of us we tried to order as much as we could finish. We started with a few cold appetizers, including their signature salted chicken (吉士鹹雞). We were more familiar with the similar dish made using duck instead, but this version was marinated perfectly with the tender texture. The marinated jellyfish (老醋海蜇) was another recommended dish, and it has a salivating taste with the crunchy jellyfish cured with black vinegar and topped with chopped coriander for the extra kick in aroma and flavor. Then it’s the beef tendon (麻辣牛筋), sliced paper thin and marinated with red hot chilies this time – that’s also a perfect summer starter course with that spicy touch.

The selection of main courses presented quite a dilemma for us as their portion was more suited for groups of 4 or more, so we could only pick two from the many that we wanted to try. It’s not the prime crab season (though it’s available year-round in the city) but their crab meat with jelly noodles (蟹粉炒粉皮) was absolutely amazing. On the large oval plate was the mixture of crab meat and roes plus the soft jelly noodles, flat and made with tapioca. The portion was generous – we got plenty of crab meat and roes in every bite – and the noodles took up all the rich flavor. Probably not the best food for our cholesterol level, but I regret not ordering one dish for the each of us.

Braised pork (described as using the recipes from old grandma) (外婆紅燒肉) was the dish that everyone ordered with a few choices of variations. We ordered just the pork and I love it rich. The meat was of the perfect texture – soft and tender enough but still with a bite and without feeling overly fatty, and the brown sauce – reduced from a mixture of soy, sugar and herbs – was on the sweet side as I expected and worked perfectly well with the pork. And they didn't hold back leaving most of the fatty bit on. I wish I had room to fit in a bowl of rice that would have been the perfect side for the dish.

We finished with a bowl of noodles – the traditional version served with burnt scallions and oil (蔥油拌麵), plus red dates stuffed with sticky rice (心太軟) as our dessert. Noodles got to be one of my favorite Shanghainese food and only a few in Hong Kong did it half as good as the one at Jesse, which didn’t hold back on the oil which gave the noodles the right texture. The red dates were just of the perfect sweetness, with the fruit slightly candied and stuffed with the cooked sweet sticky rice, which was the perfect ending to a satisfying home-style dinner at this classic. Glad to have come back – this alone is the good reason to come back to Shanghai a little more often than we did for the past few years.

When? June 30 2019
Where? Jesse Restaurant, 41 Tianping Lu, Shanghai, China 
老吉士酒家 中國上海天平路 41號
Menu Highlights? Jelly noodles with crab roes and meat 蟹粉炒粉皮

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