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Afternoon shadows, Monument Valley

Monday, July 6, 2015

Gāoxìng*

Beef jerky salesman, Del Mar Fair

The fourth of July weekend is always my favorite time of the year and this one didn't fail to chart either. Saturday I went to a nice barbecue at Kent B's, met a lot of great new people and some great people that I already knew. Passed Leslie on the road, she went to Corrie's for a nice top side view of the Grand Tradition fireworks show.

Learned a few things this weekend. Never, never fire a firework off of the top of your head, like the poor fellah did up in Maine. Somebody mentioned Darwin but it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Steering around the notion of blue eyed alcoholics completely, I also learned that people that are chronically late just might be more optimistic than the rest of us.

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u.s.a. today
Our women's soccer team is the best in the world, their first title since 1999. Pardon me for being a boorish male, but the girls were not only wonderful players but gorgeous to boot. Movie star hot.

America deserves a pat on the shoulder. Read somewhere that there are more girls and women playing soccer in the United States than the rest of the world combined, over 2 million.

More players in San Diego County than the entire country of Japan, over 28,000.

And we can bitch and moan over here at the slow pace for social change but the reality is there is good reason why we have more women playing the game, it's because they are allowed to here, we are still ahead on the suffrage curve. You try a header wearing a hijab. Bravo America.

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I had an idea recently that coalesced quickly thanks to consultation with Leslie and Dixon. We decided to get a whole room at the Shanghai restaurant in Temecula and have an Independence weekend feast. And feast we did.


I emailed a bunch of people I know that were adventuresome eaters and invited them to our fete, cutting it off at 20 head to fill the two large tables, each which was topped with a large lazy susan. People started showing up around two.

After the customary starter of spicy peanuts, we were quickly served a metal tray of xiao long bao, the lovely soup dumplings that are a must at any Shanghai meal. At Shanghai in Temecula, they are served in a round metal steam tray and not the usual bamboo one and in small aluminum pie tin dishes. Probably on orders of the local health department. 

Not the most beautiful pleats but my stomach didn't mind. In any case these are some of the best I've ever had and I've been around. You pierce the pastry shell, let a little hot steam escape and then either slurp the broth and eat the dumpling or just throw the whole thing in your mouth like I do, bombs away.

I told Dixon that I wanted to get up and give a little preamble, a short discussion about the culinary cuisine of Shanghai and he said I could have three minutes. I think I went over

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As you know, my knowledge base is a mile wide and a quarter inch deep. Permit me a small ramble.

Once in America we only had Chung King. Chinese food in the fifties was usually over sweetened glop or some other horrid sino/american monstrosity, like chop suey or egg foo yung, the initial inspiration supposedly being Cantonese style.

If you were lucky enough to live near a metropolitan area in the early seventies, things began to change, suddenly sichuan and hunan style became the rage, Americans finally having consumed enough Mexican hot sauce to prepare their now deadened upper palettes for the fire of Chinese chilies. Suddenly we got a taste of real regional Chinese food, something beyond walnut shrimp and the general's chicken.

I was lucky. I spent my formative years going to Hung Wa and Sam Wo in Chinatown in New York. My mom taught me to love snails in black bean sauce. After you ate the delicious meal in these quite spartan restaurants, the server would pour your remaining tea right out of the pot to clean the worn formica table.

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The culinary roi and French titan Escoffier maintained that the Chinese had the most supreme epicurean tradition of all, with over 1000 different ways to cook an egg. The Chinese historically have had a different concept about food in general, stressing color, layers and texture, a whole bunch of different colored crayons in their box. The currently, so fashionable concept of umami actually came from the earlier chinese xianwei.

There are, depending on who you believe, eight or ten main schools of Chinese cuisine and over 21 subregions, not to mention individual city styles, and also ethnic minority cuisines like the Uigher. The main eight are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan, and Zhejiang. I think that Shanghai is principally from the Anhui, which covers the Yangtze River region.

I always wondered about the difference between Hunan and Szechuan and I finally looked it up. Hunan dishes tend to focus on a dry heat, Szechuan an oily heat.

In any case, back to Shanghai. The most populous city in the world, with over 24 million people, Shanghai sits on the Chinese coast in the area where the Yangtze River hits the sea. Shanghai literally means shang upon hai river 上海, upon the river.

Shanghai is a very interesting place, a place I have never visited by the way, but who knows? Ken Seals won an award at the fair this year for a great picture he took of Shanghai. A unanimous award. Many jews fleeing Hitler found their way to a much needed safe haven in Shanghai.

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I started eating Shanghai food about five or six years ago, in San Francisco. Got hooked on the dumplings, the pan fried too, the succulent shengjianbao. Even the onion pancakes and I hate onion. 

Shanghai food is principally divided into two camps, Benbang and Haipai. Benbang means local, hai pai is all embracing. There is evidently a lot of culinary motility in China, regions slowly influencing different regions. Hai Pai tends to reach out and borrow from Cantonese style. Shanghai cuisine also borrows from neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Their delicious dongpo pork belly comes from Zhejiang to the south. Their use of peanuts and cabbage comes from Shandong.

Often Shanghai food is cooked in wine and tends to the sweet and sour. They emphasize fresh ingredients and the food is said to be mellower than in some other regions. 

We are lucky to live in an area with some incredible asian food. One need only travel to Convoy to get all types of great food, from Vietnamese to Korean, Broken rice Kuomming style at Spicy City, Shanghai at Dumpling Inn, great dim sum at Jasmine and China Max. And now a place with an extraordinary menu in Temecula, Shanghai.

Pig ears in spicy sauce
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Shanghai RestaurantAddress: 27725 Jefferson Ave #104, Temecula, CA 92590 Phone:(951) 676-6777Hours: Open · 11:00 am – 9:30 pm

no website


I decided to play social engineer and said that no contiguous spouses would be seated at this meal. We pondered our extensive menus and discussed how to approach the job ahead of us. Discussed our choices and our approach. They consented to hold the msg and they did. 

On the bottom of the menu is a stapled piece of paper that says that we invite you to come to our restaurant. Try our food, you will like it and never regret it. Sincere and straightforward.

We had two tables of ten and the initial idea was to share between tables. Quickly that aim showed itself to be unworkable. Each table was served a duck, which I had ordered a day ahead. 

Each diner was furnished chopsticks, western utensils and a small plate. I familiarized the unfamiliar with the simple triumvirate of condiments, vinegar, soy sauce and red chili, all waiting to be mixed to a personal balance and preference.

Our table got the Shanghai duck, not sure if it was the eight treasures or a standard Shanghai duck. They got a peking duck, no pancakes and a great hoisin sauce.  I suggested that we trade ducks after a while and they started grousing that their duck was better than our duck and that we were working them. Things descended from there. Instead of two harmonious tribes, we were instead two separate camps, with forks held high for self protection. Sharing was out.

It was also obvious that by chance or by fate, I was in the much more civilized group, very witty and cultured. Who knows what passed for conversation at that other table? 

I am looking at the receipt and am going to give you the whole order run down. It was epic.

Steamed juicy pork buns
Beijing roasted duck
Shanghai duck stuffed with 8 treasures (so we did get it)
Pan fried juicy pork buns
Singapore stir fry vermicelli
Mushroom and bok choy
Onion pancake
Shrimp with Guanyin tea
Beef with mango and asparagus
Griddle spicy chicken
Griddle beef brisket
Kung pao chicken
Eggplant with garlic sauce
Stir fry hand ripped cabbage
Braised dongpo pork belly
Squid rolls in salt and pepper
Chive pork dumpling
Seafood clay pot
Fish slices in wine sauce
Griddle shrimp
Shredded pork with fried noodle
Spicy sauce pig ear
Hot pepper shrimp
Spicy crab with rice cake
Steamed rice
Sesame balls

Twenty six separate items plus some doubles. The meal was fantastic, both tables. They happened to order more vegetarian dishes than we did and so their ringleader, Leslie Sommers, thought their bill should be less than ours was and I said no way. Really no big, the bill worked out to a little over $22.00 per diner. For all that food.

Dongpo pork belly
The highlights for me, for the food I got to try anyway, was the squid in salt and pepper, the fish in wine, the spicy pig ear and the xlb. I hear the beef brisket and eggplant was phenomenal on the other side. The pork belly is almost too decadent, in fact I ate too much last week and overdosed on it. A little goes a long way but it has a unique textural quality, gelatinous on top and scrumptious flesh below.

This was my fourth or fifth visit to the restaurant. Dixon and I ate here one day last week, in preparation for our feast and to get his okay on the whole deal and we were blown away by the little tied noodles in the clay pot and the tofu skin bows in the pork belly soup. This is a restaurant I will be returning to again and again, so many discoveries to be made. I want to eat through the whole menu. Seriously. Except maybe for the frog and the jellyfish. This is a very serious menu.

Shanghai has been open less than a year. They are still working with their english. It is a family restaurant. The delightful daughter, Edie, who seems to manage the place for her mom and dad, was a student in San Francisco.

She takes great care of her patrons and helped me plan the meal. Couldn't have been nicer. I look forward to returning soon, with a much smaller crowd!

By the way, the place is incredibly reasonable. Edie is almost too nice. I want them to be around for a very long time. If you like their food please give them some love on social media. I plan to.

Squid, duck carcass, crab and shrimp

I want to thank my wife, Dixon, all of the diners who accompanied us and my fellow gluttons, you know who you are. We tore through the offerings like General William Tecumsah Sherman tore through Savannah.

I think that we will all agree that it was an amazing and wonderful food experience, great to spend time with all of you yesterday. If you weren't in for this one and want to go to the next feast, wherever it might be, just let me know.

Gāoxìng - happiness

7 comments:

Beth Jester said...

A sublime time - great food and conversation. Thank you for including us in this culinary excursion.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rob,
Just found a new place in Temecula called Pho Nomenom. Great food! Scallops on the half shell and tempura battered calimari with a lime chili sauce were the bomb! Beef pho, tofu veggie spring rolls, and squid, fish balls and shrimp with veggies over flat noodles were all very good! Some of the best that I've had in Socal. Super nice interior with a reasonably priced menu.
Let's get some soon! JH

Anonymous said...

Robert,
Shanghai Restaurant was great, thanks for inviting us.
Company was also great – a good afternoon.
Bob and Lois

brigitte said...

Oh the carnage! Loved seeing those try something they never ever would have willingly ordered. Thank goodness some authentic cuisine in the burbs for we foodies who crave it. Thanks Robert! and thanks to all of the interesting table mates. -Brigitte & Morgan

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for arranging and hosting a wonderful meal. I am so honored to be included in your epicurean adventure! Wow what a meal , great friends and conversation... Thx '

Anonymous said...

Robert,

Thank you for including us. We very much enjoy the feast and the festivities.

All the best,

Glenn and Tina

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for including Pat & I in the Chinese food orgy.We had a ball. So you were the cultured table? K