Shanghai, China / May 19, 2010 / dinner
Winederlust Rating (details below): 8 out of 10 / Winederlust Worthy: Yes
About a week before we arrived in Shanghai, Jay and I tried to get a reservation at what we thought would be the best “Shanghai cuisine” restaurants — Jesse (Jishi) or Fu 1088. But what we didn’t count on was how many people were in town for the World Expo who apparently cared about eating good dinners, so both of the restaurants were fully booked.
Luckily, we discovered an alternative called 1221. Though perhaps not as local as the other two (it’s a favorite of expats and locals with out-of-town guests because their menu includes an English version, plus the servers speak some English, still somewhat unusual in Shanghai). That said, we heard 1221 still served fairly authentic Shanghai food — normally a little on the sweet and greasy side, but in this case de-greased somewhat to appeal to foreign tastes.
Even better, it turned out that 1221 was only a 10-minute walk from our hotel, on the edge of the French Concession area. While it was a bit of a harrowing experience walking over (we narrowly missed being hit by one of the many electric bikes that, it turns out, do not stop for pedestrians in crosswalks), we arrived without harm to a modern, lively space at the end of an alleyway. Though Jay said the padded walls (we guessed to drown out some of the noisy conversations) made him feel like he was in an insane asylum, the big red painting that took up the entire back wall of the restaurant and splashes of red roses made us feel like we really were in China (though the trendy black-clad crowd did remind us of NYC).
We started with some lightly flavored green tea, sprinkled with goji berries and poured a fair distance away from the teacup, which was pretty cool. We also tried our first Chinese wine, a Dragon Seal cab sauv. It smelled and tasted of macerated cherries and had absolutely no finish — drinkable, but far from good.
Our first course was the Shanghainese smoked fish, which was unlike any smoked fish we’d tasted before. This version was lightly flash-fried and a little sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. It was also full of dozens of tiny bones that we had to pluck out of our mouths. In any case, it was pretty tasty.
Our second dish was the Shanghainese fried noodles, thick, sticky, smoky, and a little greasy, but delicious. The noodles were studded with bok choy, mushrooms, and a mystery meat, which we guessed was chicken but weren’t totally sure.
Our third dish was the shrimp with dried orange peel, which Jay declared was so tasty he could eat it all day long. The flavor was slightly spicy and slightly sweet with a nice orange and ginger kick and a touch of crispiness.
Our final dish was the seasonal vegetable plate, which ended up being pea shoot sprouts, fresh and crisp with a hint of bitterness.
Finally, we asked what they had for dessert…and waited and waited. When we asked a second time, the server said “it” was coming. It turns out “it” was mushed-up banana topped with crunchy brown rice, raisins, and walnuts — a light, not-too-sweet ending to a great introduction to the tastes of Shanghai. (And best of all, the entire meal cost less than $40.)
Winederlust Rating Details (out of 10):
Food: 8.5 (preparation, presentation & taste)
Wine: 6.0 (selection, recommendations, pairings & taste)
Service: 8.0 (helpfulness, attentiveness, knowledge & pacing)
Place: 9.0 (location, view, decor & vibe)
Price Range: $-$$ (Cheap-Moderate)
1221 Ya’an Xi Lu West Shanghai
Direct Line: (021) 6213-6585
Open daily 11:00am-2:00pm; 5:30pm-11:00pm. Reservations recommended.