Shanghai: T for Thai

T for Thai

T for Thai

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Cuivre, one of Shanghai’s hottest French restaurants. The same chef, Michael Wendling, recently opened T for Thai (1502 Huaihai Zhong Road; 淮海中路1502号2楼) right above Cuivre. Chef Wendling spent the past year traveling back and forth to Thailand, learning the local delicacies from the top restaurants and the down-and-dirty street food stalls.

When you first walk up the stairs to T for Thai, you’re greeted by two cute tuk-tuks with a backdrop of Thailand. Inside the restaurant, the mood is modern with dark lighting and a glowing green bar in the back. I was definitely digging the vibe. Looking around at the other diners, I felt like I was in one of the hippest restaurants in Shanghai.

Top: Nahm Prik Kai Kem (Salted Duck Egg Relish)

Top: Nahm Prik Kai Kem (Salted Duck Egg Relish)

Just like Cuivre, the menu is on a iPad. My friend and I ordered the nahm prik kai kem, yum som-o, pad thai gung sod and gaeng massaman nong gae. The nahm prik kai kem is a salted duck egg dip served with some raw vegetables/fruit and grilled calamari. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was a really interesting relish. It’s definitely on the salty side and tastes almost fermented, but the boldness of the dip paired well with the plain vegetables. My favorite combination was actually the relish with starfruit. I really enjoyed the sweetness and crunch of the starfruit with the saltiness of the dip.

The yum som-o is a shrimp and pomelo salad that is topped with toasted coconut, bell peppers and mint. With my first bite of this salad, my first thought was: “This is so flavorful.” My second thought was: “Everything tastes so fresh.” I really enjoy pomelo, which is like grapefruit but isn’t quite as acidic and has larger kernels. The tartness from the citrus complemented the spiciness of the sauce and I enjoyed the crunch from the coconut and fried shallots. The roasted shrimp was also cooked perfectly.

Top left: Pomelo salad; Top right: Pad thai; Bottom: Massaman lamb curry

Top left: Pomelo salad; Top right: Pad thai; Bottom: Massaman lamb curry

For our main dishes, the pad thai gung sod is solid but nothing incredibly unique. I always have a soft spot in my heart for pad thai, but I wouldn’t need to order this dish again from T for Thai. However, the gaeng massaman nong gae is incredible. This was a slow-braised lamb shank cooked in massaman curry with small chunks of potatoes. I loved how the curry was thick, signaling that it had been simmered for a long time. The lamb easily fell off the bone and was so tender. My friend and I were getting really full, but we couldn’t help but polish off the bowl of rice.

I really loved the food at T for Thai. While I’ve never been to Thailand and can’t vouch for authenticity, it didn’t really feel like “fusion” food to me and it also didn’t seem like it was a French chef trying to do a European take on Thai food. Everything was so incredibly flavorful and fresh. I actually think I like the food even better than at Cuivre (a bold statement, indeed). I do want to warn you that the restaurant gets really loud when it’s full. I think this is because the sound bounces really easily off of all the concrete surfaces. Of course, this is just a minor detail, but it may not be the best place to go on a first date if you want to have a meaningful conversation with someone.

My only other complaint is that I had a really difficult time eating the food with the silverware and plating given to me. The plates were small and curved in a really weird way. I kept finding myself crudely using my finger to get the food on my fork/spoon so I could eat it. Then, my bowl was really light, but my silverware was significantly heavier. It felt awkward to eat and the bowl even slipped out of my hand. Maybe, I’m the only who suffered from this problem. But, I’m willing to deal with it because I found my new favorite Thai restaurant in Shanghai.

Shanghai: Enamored by Mercato and Chef Sandy Yoon

Mercato Shanghai

Mercato Shanghai

Mercato by Jean Georges (3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, 6/F; 中山东一路外滩3号6楼) is one of the most talked about restaurants in Shanghai. I’ve had multiple people tell me it’s their favorite restaurant in the city. Known for its “farm chic” Italian food, Mercato is surprisingly warm and welcoming, despite being in one of the poshest buildings in Shanghai– 3 on the Bund.

On my first visit to Mercato, I was surprised just how hip the restaurant was. With low-hanging lights, plenty of dark, exposed wood and leather chairs, this is a stark contrast to Jean Georges’ signature restaurant located 2 floors directly underneath Mercato. While Jean Georges is quiet and formal, Mercato is a little bit more boisterous and comfortable.

When you first walk in, you walk pass the bar/lounge and quickly see a dedicated pizza bar (talk about my kind of restaurant). If you’re lucky enough to score a window seat, you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous view of the Bund. There are communal tables to encourage the family-style vibe as well as more private tables. I saw many couples sharing a cozy meal together over candlelight and wine.

Mercato- Top right: Warm Seafood Salad; Bottom right: Burrata Cheese

Top right: Warm Seafood Salad; Bottom right: Burrata Cheese

Perhaps my favorite dish at Mercato is the warm seafood salad with avocado. It’s a beautiful mix of perfectly-cooked octopus, calamari, shrimp, mussels and scallops drizzled with lemon juice and served with a healthy-sized chunks of avocado. Whenever I see avocado on a menu, I’m always drawn to it. Since avocados tend to be more bland, it didn’t overwhelm the natural taste of the seafood, but the creaminess added an extra complexity to the salad.

Cheese is really expensive in China, especially after living in Paris for a year. I always feel like I’m giving my first-born child up whenever I splurge on it. When I saw burrata cheese on the menu, I could have cried (yes, I am overly dramatic about my cheese). How can you really go wrong with fresh mozzarella and cream in the middle? The burrata was topped with Sorrento lemon marmalade, plenty of cracked pepper, a dash of olive oil and a sprig of basil. I honestly could have eaten the entire plate for dinner and left perfectly content afterward.

Mercato-- Top left: Asparagus wrapped in proscututo with fontina cheese; Bottom right: Endive salad

Top left: Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with fontina cheese; Bottom right: Endive salad

On my second trip to Mercato, I got to meet head chef, Sandy Yoon. Sandy is one of the most buzzed about chefs– a Korean-American who started as a line cook at one of Jean Georges’ restaurants in New York and then was hand-picked to run Mercato. Although our meeting was brief, she was incredibly friendly and so humble. Also, she humored my parents who took about 5 photos of us together.

Sandy chose our menu and gave us a sampling of her dishes. We started the meal with the endive salad, warm seafood salad, octopus salad and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. The endive salad was light, refreshing and a great palate opener. The octopus was grilled and served with a lovely mix of roasted potatoes, green olives and fennel. My two favorites of the starters were definitely the warm seafood salad and the asparagus. The addition of fontina cheese to the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus took a seemingly simple dish and made it much more decadent and rich.

Top left: Pizza with sausage and kale; Top right: Octopus salad; Bottom left: Eggplant Parmesan; Bottom right: Fried Seabass

Top left: Pizza with sausage and kale; Top right: Octopus salad; Bottom left: Eggplant Parmesan; Bottom right: Fried Sea bass

For our main dishes, we had the sausage pizza, eggplant parmesan and fried sea bass. The pizza was topped with spicy pork, kale and fresh cheese. When I bit into my slice, I immediately felt all the delicious cheese ooze out and melt in my mouth. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of kale. I know it’s a super food, but I find it too bitter. However, the cheese was so abundant that I couldn’t even taste the kale, which I was perfectly OK with because I can tell myself I got some “nutrients” while indulging in pizza. You definitely need to eat the pizza while it’s hot and the bottom is still slightly crispy.

My picture does not do the eggplant parmesan justice. I’m a huge fan of eggplant parmesan and tend to always order it at Italian restaurants. Most of the time, I’m sorely disappointed in the execution of the dish, but my love for eggplant parm transcends all else. Hence, I find myself ordering it whenever I see it on the menu. Mercato’s eggplant parmesan is absolutely worth ordering. The eggplant is lightly breaded with panko and so the batter isn’t too thick. Within the layers of eggplant is fresh tomato sauce and plenty of cheese. Eating Sandy’s version is the reason why I continue to order eggplant parmesan at every Italian restaurant. Because when it’s done right, eggplant parm is so good (I like it even better than lasagna).

The sea bass reminded me of high-end fish and chips (minus the chips). It was battered and deep-fried; it was a nicely cooked piece of fish. However, it was the accoutrements that really tied everything together. The fish was served on a bed of spring peas and a soft boiled egg gribiche. The gribiche was like super fancy tartar sauce and the peas had wonderful sweet hint to them. When you ate all of it together with the fish, it formed a beautiful combination of textures and flavors– sweet, creamy, crispy and savory at the same time. The gribiche made the fried sea bass outstanding.

I would definitely recommend Mercato to any of my friends, especially if you wanted to celebrate a special occasion. You get the benefits of dining at 3 on the Bund at a Jean Georges restaurant but at a much more reasonable price. You don’t have to break the bank to eat at Mercato. However, be warned. You may be tempted to order everything off the menu. Your wallet may not thank me, but your stomach will.

Shanghai: Authentic Shanghainese Food at Jesse

Hot Dishes at Jesse in Shanghai

Clockwise: Fried Shrimp, Spicy Fried Chicken, Eggplant in Claypot and Stir-fried Shrimp

I’ve had quite a few people tell me that Jesse 老吉士 (41 Tianping Rd; 天平路41号) has the best Shanghainese food in the city. When Austin and Garrett Hu told me that Jesse was the restaurant they always take out-of-town visitors to, I had to try it. In my perpetual quest to be BFF’s with Austin and Garrett, I somehow convinced them to arrange and invite me to a group outing at this iconic establishment (I am officially one step closer to BFF-dom).

Austin Hu Orders the Spread

Austin Hu Orders the Spread

Jesse is a tiny restaurant and definitely requires reservations. There are two rooms that can fit four tables each. I witnessed walk-ins promptly get turned away. I’m so glad that I went with Austin and Garrett because they knew exactly what to order. With a party of nine people, there was a cornucopia of dishes, including three specials that require 24-hour notice.

Jesse: Cold Dishes

Cold Dishes (clockwise): Mixed Mushrooms and Bean Curd Sheets, Kumquat Skins, Beef Tendons and Smoke Pomfret

I apologize now for not knowing the name of every single dish. This is what happens when you let the regulars order and you just sit in awe of them. We started our meal with a bevy of cold dishes like the mixed mushrooms with bean curd sheets, kumquat skins, beef tendons, smoked pomfret, braised duck, sweet and sour pork, and red dates stuffed with glutinous rice.

Dates Stuffed with Glutinous Rice

Dates Stuffed with Glutinous Rice

I loved trying so many different things and all of the cold dishes were good. I definitely found myself turning the Lazy Susan and reaching for the mixed mushrooms with bean curd sheets, smoked pomfret and dates with glutinous rice multiple times. The smoked pomfret was tender and surprisingly not dry. It’s a popular dish in Shanghai and it’s really easy to get wrong, but Jesse definitely serves it so right. 

Huang Jiu, Chinese Yellow Wine

Huang Jiu, Chinese Yellow Wine

If you’re going to eat Chinese food, you might as well go big or go home. That means partaking in huang jiu 黄酒, Chinese yellow wine. Part of the charm of Jesse is watching the waiter serve the huang jiu. He presents the wine heated in a blue and white porcelain bottle with a cork stop. It is then gingerly poured into a small pitcher and doled out in tiny tea cups. Huang jiu is meant to be sipped slowly and it definitely helps cut the sweetness of Shanghainese food.

Chinese people always say that food in the north tends to be salty while food in the south tends to be sweet. Even though I lived in Beijing for a year, I didn’t quite believe that Shanghainese food is truly sweeter. I think my palate was already used to it. However, Jesse made me realize just how sweet the local food is. Many of the dishes are braised in that sweet soy-based sauce that made me crave more of my huang jiu/cold beer.

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Shanghai: Weekend at Madison’s

Top reft: Me & Chef Austin Hu; Top right: Madison Tonic; Bottom: Ginger Carrot Soup

Top left: Me & Chef Austin Hu; Top right: Madison Tonic; Bottom: Ginger Carrot Soup

I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to title this blog post “Why I want to be Best Friends with Austin Hu (and his cousin Garrett),” but I decided that was probably borderline creepster. A few months ago, I wrote about brunch at Madison and how it was one of the best brunches of my life. One month ago, Austin Hu actually commented on my blog and I had a mini freak-out because he liked my blog!

I’ve been dying to try Madison for dinner and now I wanted to meet Austin. When my sister came into town (who is a bigger foodie than I am), it was the perfect reason to book a dinner reservation. At dinner, Madison actually has two sides to the restaurant: a more casual gastropub called Madi’s and the more refined dining experience at Madison.

Seared Foie Gras with Strawberries

Seared Foie Gras with Strawberries

As soon as we sat down, I asked to meet Austin and asked him for his recommendations of what we should order. My sister and I were slightly overwhelmed so when Austin offered to make us a personal tasting menu, we couldn’t refuse! The man made us a nine-course tasting menu. It was so much fun being surprised with each dish. While I won’t talk about every single course in detail, I will highlight my favorites!

Top left: Kanpach wrapped in seaweed; Top right: Pork Belly with frisée and apples; Bottom left: Perch on top of a Kimchi Stew; Bottom right: Duck ragout with Spinach Pasta

Top left: Kanpachi wrapped in seaweed; Top right: Pork belly with frisée and apples; Bottom left: Perch on top of a homemade kimchi stew; Bottom right: Duck ragout with spinach pasta

The definite star of the night was the kanpachi. It was seared perfectly with that raw pink center. The fish is wrapped in seaweed and gently sliced, topped with puffed black rice, mushrooms and fried pickled ginger. I was loving every single bite of this dish and I didn’t want it to end. Everything worked so well together. The cold fish with the crunchy bits of rice made the textures so interesting. Once you added that sweet and spicy ginger into the combination, then it created a party in your mouth.

My second favorite dish was the spinach pasta with duck ragout. The pasta was cooked that perfect al dente texture and the sauce was rich and hearty. I wanted to drink it up. Once you added the slight tangy, creamy crème fraîche-like topping, you had the perfect bowl of pasta. It reminded me of flour + water back home, making me nostalgic for San Francisco.

Top: Squab served two ways. Seared foie gras on top of squab breast with squab confit leg. Bottom: Short rib with a sweet potato purée.

Top: Squab served two ways; bottom: Short rib

The squab was served two ways. Another slice of perfectly-seared foie gras was served on top of the squab breast, while the confit leg was flash fried. The combination with the sweet potato purée was divine. The real winner was the short rib that Austin specially prepared off menu. Keep in mind, I was so full at this point, but I still managed to eat my plate. This was because the short rib was unctuous and literally melted in my mouth. I couldn’t let such delicious food go to waste!

Austin is constantly changing the menu since his food is locally sourced. If you ever see the kanpachi, duck ragout or short rib, order it immediately! After our amazing dinner, Austin actually talked to my sister and I for a good 45 minutes and we even got a tour of the kitchen. I just loved the way he talked about food. It was absolutely fascinating and I felt like I was learning so much (hence why I want to be his eating friend). We also met his cousin, Garrett, who works the front of the restaurant and is super welcoming and friendly.

It was not planned at all. My sister was only in town for less than two days. The next day, we made a last minute decision to go back to Madison’s for brunch. My sister had seen “duck fast disco fries” on the menu and she was sold. Yes, we ate at Madison twice in the span of 12 hours.

BRUNCH AT MADISON

BRUNCH AT MADISON!

The sister and I wanted to sample a bunch of dishes. Between what we ordered and what Austin made for us, we had 8 dishes at brunch. You should have seen the table next to us. They literally thought we were crazy when our entire table was filled with plates and then MORE plates of food came.

We sampled the banana-stuffed French toast, donuts, duck fat disco fries, cornbread, poached eggs, scotch eggs, flower pot sourdough bread (dinner menu normally only) and finished it all off with a S’more sundae.

Left: Duck fat disco fries; right: Donuts

Left: Duck fat disco fries; right: Donuts

There was so much goodness happening on the table that I will honestly try and recap as best as possible. Duck fat fries were so amazingly good. They were seasoned, crispy on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside, and served with a rich gravy. The donuts were like churros that were light and fluffy without being oily. Austin explained that they were Jewish-style and I could not get enough of the raspberry sauce which accompanied the donuts.

Cornbread

CORNBREAD!

I talked about my love of the skillet cornbread in my previous blog post, but I had to mention it again BECAUSE I learned that Austin coats the bottom of the skillet with caramelized honey! Dear me, no wonder it tastes so good. The sweetness of the honey cuts the savory cheese, bacon and Tabasco butter.

Top left: Duck Scotch eggs; Top right: Flower pot sourdough bread; Bottom left: Poached eggs

Top left: Duck Scotch eggs; Top right: Flower pot sourdough bread; Bottom left: Poached eggs

The flower pot sourdough bread is on the dinner menu, but they were cool enough to make us a batch. I miss good bread. When the sourdough came out warm, I literally was sitting at the table listening to the audible crunch of the bread. My sister was smelling it to see how sour it was. We looked like a couple of crazy people fondling bread. BUT THE BREAD WAS OUTSTANDING. While not as sour as the bread back home, I was more than happy to pair it with the warm, creamy chive butter.

The poached eggs are Austin’s favorite dish. I can definitely see why because the hollandaise sauce was mind-blowing. We learned that Austin adds his own homemade XO sauce to give it that slight kick. I really enjoyed the mustard seeds that popped in your mouth– almost like caviar. The sauce was creamy and lemony, without being too heavy. The poached eggs were served on top of pork trotters and toaster muffins. We were digging the combination of the eggs with the more gelatinous texture of the pork trotters. I discovered the best combination was taking the sourdough bread and sopping it in the hollandaise sauce.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

A HUGE thank you goes out to Austin and Garrett Hu for being such amazing hosts and also for not judging two sisters for totally pigging out at their restaurant. Madison is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Shanghai (and not just because Austin and Garrett are so cool), but because the food is absolutely delicious, the ambiance is fun and the cocktails are also inventive.

And now, I will end this blog post with a photo of the S’more sundae. If you were able to read this blog post without salivating, I commend you.

Madison: S'more Sundae

Madison: S’more Sundae

Shanghai: American Chinese Food at Fortune Cookie

Shanghai: Fortune Cookie

Shanghai: Fortune Cookie

I have to admit that American Chinese fast food is a total guilty pleasure of mine. I love Panda Express. There’s something so delicious about a giant bowl of orange chicken or even better, a giant bowl of leftover cold chow mein noodles. It’s even more satisfying when you eat it straight out of the white and red carton with a pair of chopsticks.

Leave it to two Americans to open Fortune Cookie (83 Changshu Road; 常熟路83号)– Shanghai’s answer to every foreigner craving Westernized Chinese food. With familiar dishes like orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and hot and sour soup, I was ready to order practically everything on the menu.

Left: Shrimp Chow Mein; Bottom Right: Orange Beef

Left: Shrimp Chow Mein; Bottom Right: Orange Beef

My two girlfriends and I finally decided on shrimp chow mein, orange beef and Tsingtao can chicken. One of my friends has a severe peanut allergy, which makes eating Chinese food in China very difficult (often times the pots aren’t washed out well with lingering peanut oil/peanuts). When we told our server about her peanut allergy, he was really good about checking and letting us know which dishes to avoid. A few minutes later, one of the founders, David Rossi, even stopped by to reconfirm that the chow mein had peanuts in the sauce. It was a level of service that my friend has never found in any other restaurant in Shanghai (part of the reason why she likes to eat at Fortune Cookie).

Top Left: Tsingtao Can Chicken

Top Left: Tsingtao Can Chicken

Staying true to its American roots, Fortune Cookie serves American-sized food. With each bite of food, I was instantly transported back to my days in college when we used to drive for midnight runs to Panda Express. It was total comfort food. The orange beef was crispy, hot and sweet at the same time. The shrimp chow mein was exactly how I wanted it to taste. The Tsingtao can chicken isn’t exactly a dish you would find back in the States (or, at least I’ve never had it). Despite the 45-minute wait for the chicken (they warn you when you order it), it was well worth it. The chicken was tender and flavorful and served with a funky red sauce that tasted like a mixture of fermented tofu, sesame and peanuts.

Fortune Cookie Shanghai

The three of us polished off everything. If there had been leftovers, we would have gotten one of those classic white and red take-out boxes. Of course, there were fortune cookies to end the meal and each one had a funny message inside. While the prices are a little high compared to what you would pay in the U.S. (64 RMB for shrimp chown mein), it is totally worth it if you’re craving Chinese fast food. It’s the perfect restaurant to go with your expat friends when you’re all feeling just a little bit nostalgic for home.

Top 10 Instagram Moments from 2013

2013 was an amazing year. I don’t know if any other year will every compare, considering it was a year of great change. I lived in three different cities, visited 11 cities in nine countries, graduated from my MBA program, found a job that I love and relocated to Shanghai. I fully recognize that I probably will never travel that much in my life ever again. I definitely cherish every single moment of 2013. However, I’m excited for what 2014 will bring and for new Shanghai adventures.

It’s too difficult to rank my favorite moments of 2013, but I did want to capture 10 of my favorites (brought to you by the lens of my iPhone 4 and Instagram).

1. Invalides (Paris, France)

InvalidesI had just moved out of the suburbs of France and into Paris. After having a lovely brunch on a cold, snowy day, the Métro broke down and I had to walk home. What started out as a inconvenience, turned into an absolutely stunning walk and I got to capture this gorgeous shot of Invalides (which never would have happened if the Métro worked!).

2. Burj Khalifa (Dubai, UAE)

Burj KhalifaIt was my first trip to the Middle East and Dubai was such an eye-opening experience. I learned so much about the local culture and was also just stunned with the entire city. Everything was so opulent and it was more than I could have ever imagined. The Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world and I loved the way it was lit up at night with its own sparkling lights like the Eiffel Tower.

3. Château de Chenonceau (Loire Valley, France)

Loire ValleyI felt like I was on the set of Downton Abbey while wondering the vast halls and gardens during my Loire Valley Châteaux tour. It made me feel like a Pretty, Pretty Princess. The Loire Valley is definitely worth visiting and I personally enjoy it a lot more than visiting the palace in Versailles.

4. Victoria Harbor (Hong Kong)

Rubber DuckWho doesn’t love a giant, 6-story inflatable rubber duck? It was awesome to be in Hong Kong the same time as this wandering art installation from Dutch artist, Florentijn Hofman.

5. Arc de Triomphe (Paris, France)

Arc de TriompheThis was the night I found out that I was accepted for an amazing opportunity in Hong Kong and that I would be leaving the wonderful City of Light. It was such mixed emotions for me as I was excited to go to Hong Kong, but I was so sad to leave Paris earlier than anticipated. I took this photo right before hopping on the Métro. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized that I had captured a picture perfect “stolen moment” of a couple in love. I feel like this picture captured the true essence of l’amour and my own love affair with Paris.

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