Those who know me know that Chinese food is usually not my first choice when deciding what to eat. But when I get the urge to have some, it’s usually regional Chinese. What that means is no generic chow mein or kung pao. That’s about as original as McDonald’s in the realm of Chinese food.
I usually go for braised meats in hearty sauces, dumplings with flavorful fillings, or noodles with distinctive ingredients. That’s usually cuisine that hails from northern China. Southern Chinese food is more about rice and family style dishes, whereas northern Chinese food is more about doughy foods. Hence the noodles, dumplings, etc.
I visited East Shanghai Restaurant in San Mateo when the craving hit a few nights ago. My hubby and I had never been, and we didn’t feel like driving to our favorite Shanghainese restaurant in Millbrae (the awesome Shanghai Dumpling Shop on Broadway). The place was pretty clean and everyone eating there was indeed Chinese. Two good signs!
We started with the Fish Fillet and Yellow Chives. A wonderfully mild dish with fresh veggies, sweet yellow chives, and a mild super tender fish. I loved the clean flavors in this dish with a hint of garlic and ginger. I’d definitely order this again.
Next up was the Shanghainese Sweet and Sour Spareribs. This is sweet and sour like I remember my Grandmother making it. No orange sauce, heavy breading, or green and red peppers on the plate. That stuff is gross to me. These pork sparerib pieces were covered in a deep, rich, vinegary brown sauce. Sugar cuts through the sour tang of the vinegar and adds viscosity to the sauce. The flavor was wonderful, but the meat was on the tougher, drier side. It looked like there just wasn’t enough fat on the meat to make it perfectly flavorful and tender. It was a big drawback, but I’d order it again because of the flavor, and in hopes of getting a better cut of meat.
And last on the table were the braised Lion’s Head Meatballs. This is one of my all time favorite Shanghainese dishes. Unfortunately, East Shanghai just didn’t deliver. The texture was way too fatty and the sauce lacked depth. There wasn’t any detectable hint of star anise or cinnamon, which is what makes this dish so distinctive. And the meat’s texture was way too greasy and fatty (they could have used some of this fat in the sparerib dish). A real disappointment.
The total tab (with steamed rice) came to $26, without tip, which was very affordable. But I’d have a hard time going back when there are so many other Shanghainese restaurants in the area that could probably do these dishes better. In fact, there are two other places on the same street I’d probably try the next time my craving hits.
East Shanghai Restaurant – 105 W. 25th St. – San Mateo – 650.522.9098