Monday, May 1, 2023

Three Meals in Three Weeks

I happened to eat at Shanghai Fraternity Association on three different occasions in the month of April with three different group of friends. Tasked with sorting out the menu for each of the dinner, I managed to go through quite a number of dishes in this clubhouse restaurant known for classic Shanghainese cuisine even with a handful of new dishes (not new on the menu per se, but items that we haven't ordered here before)

We largely went with the tried-and-true dishes on our first dinner which happened right before the Easter long weekend. "Tiny peas" and "Tiny Shrimps" were the request from our friend R, so that's what we ended up having, the sauteed snow peas with ham 火丁甜豆  and sauteed river shrimps with longjing tea leaves 龍井蝦仁 are both signature dishes at the restaurant and they never disappoint. April marked the beginning of the Spring bamboo shoot season, and the sauteed bamboo shoot 油燜春筍 was excellent with clean flavor and crunchy texture. 

We often call the Broad Bean "Cake" 豆瓣酥 as the Shanghainese version of "Mushy Peas" because of its similarities in appearance, but this one is served at room temperature with sesame and scallion oils mixed in for a smoother texture and aromatic flavor. And we ended up with a few more dishes ordered on the spot, including the "oil-splashed" chicken 油淋雞, the technique involving spooning of hot scallion oil on top of the steamed chicken to baste the skin slightly before serving, and bowls of noodles with scallion oil 蔥油拌麵, another home-style classic Shanghainese dish made using the burnt scallions for a hint of smokiness. Was a bit disappointed by the dessert of egg white souffle with red bean paste 高力荳沙 this time - just not quite enough filling. Went with a single bottle - the new released junmai from Ehime in an interesting packaging (an environmental-friendly aluminum bottle) with refreshingly dry flavor and fruity aroma. 

When? April 6 2023
Menu Highlights? Sauteed Spring Bamboo Shoots 
Isizuchi Tezukuri Junmai "Ubu", Isizuchi Shuzo Co, Ehime Prefecture
石鎚手造り純米 初 - 愛媛県石鎚酒造

A week or so later we returned for yet another meal, with a slightly more elaborate menu and more drinks to send off two of our good friends. The star of the night was the dish I dare not name, and the best of it was the rich gravy-like sauce that was prepared with superior broth thickened and reduced. Even just that with the sauteed pea sprouts was heavenly. The steamed river eel 清蒸河鰻 was another excellent dish, served with chunks of freshwater eel, ham and mushrooms with sauce rich in rice wine lees aroma and flavor. Just the spoonful of that sauce was amazing enough. 

The whole pork knuckle 元蹄 was often done braised but this time I requested the deep-fried version which involved a more complicated preparation process and finished with a crispy batter crust seasoned with salt and peppers (椒鹽元蹄). I probably still prefer the traditional version but this one was good too, for a change. 

I have never had the beef tendon and tenderloin dish 紅燒牛筋牛塊 here and we all enjoyed this simple appetizer with both super tender and flavorful. That's on top of the few appetizer dishes we ordered to start, including the tea smoked egg (again!), crispy eels and drunken pork knuckles, all of which delicious. 

We started with a bottle of champagne then moved on with a few Bordeaux (from mid-80's to early 2010's which we drank in chronological order) and finished with a few whiskies our friend J has generously contributed for our enjoyment. 

When? April 15 2023
Menu Highlights? Steamed River Eel 
Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV
1986 Chateau Lagrange, St-Julien AOC
2005 Chateau Batailley, Pauillac AOC
2008 Chateau Pape Clement, Pessac-Leognan AOC
2011 Chateau l'Eglise-Clinet, Pomerol AOC

Then a couple of nights later I went back to the same floor, same room, same table for a long-overdue get-together with another group of friends. This time we largely stayed with the classics but with different dishes from my previous meals, with the exception of tea-smoked eggs and crispy eels to start. The "tiny shrimps" were done two-way this time, including the one coated with salted egg yolk 金衣蝦仁 (which I called the "devil version" and normally not on the menu). Having both versions side by side was perfect for the balancing flavor - one being clean and delicate, the other with a strong touch of umami and a hint of refreshing tea taste.

Stewed cuttlefish and pork 墨魚烤肉 is the textbook example of the old Shanghainese dish described as "Rich Oil and Dark Sauce" 濃油赤醬 and this one was excellent, the chunks of cuttlefish perfectly tender and pieces of pork belly juicy and flavorful. Smoked eel 煙燻河鰻 was another of my favorite with the delicate meat topped with a slightly sweet soy-sauce glaze. Was happy for a repeat of sauteed spring bamboo shoots while the ingredient is approaching its prime of this year. The Yanduxian 醃篤鮮 soup didn't quite have the rich flavor as I expected and not quite enough filling of bamboo shoots and bean curd sheet "knots". 

Saw the "Four Happiness Dumpling" 四喜蒸餃 on the menu and was curious to try, and they turned out to be small pork dumpling with four types of toppings in four different colors - I still prefer the traditional xiaolongbao for the overall taste but this one certainly got brownie points for presentation. Didn't plan for an evening of heavy drinking but still ended up with a few bottles. The sake was perhaps the most interesting one. The "label" looked like it's hand-written with a marker with the Yamadanishiki rice grown from their own plot in Hyogo Prefecture and water from Kyoto's Fushimi which was widely considered the best type for sake brewing. Well rounded with a hint of sweetness, melon and banana from this new sake brewery getting quite a bit of attention recently.

Went with a pair of desserts with Shanghainese pastries with red bean and red date paste, and our friend H graced us with a handmade Basque Burnt Cake which is available for order in her new bakery venture, and the cake, done without flour and without sugar but with the creamiest texture and great flavor, was definitely the highlight of all. 

When? April 17 2023
Menu Highlights? Stewed Cuttlefish and Pork 
Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut NV
NichiNichi "Our Rice Field" -  NichiNichi Jozo, Kyoto Prefecture
日日 秋津山田錦 自社田 - 京都府日々醸造
2019 Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils "Les Clous" Meursault AOC
2008 Kevin Sherwood Cellar Theresa California Merlot, Napa
Kamonishiki Umechu, Kamonishiki Shuzo, Niigata Prefecture
加茂錦梅酒 - 新潟県 加茂錦酒造

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