Shanghai: Coquille

Superior Oscietra Caviar at Coquille

Superior Oscietra Caviar at Coquille

Coquille (29-31 Mengzi Road; 蒙自路29–31号) is a French seafood bistro and sister restaurant to its Italian neighbor, Scarpetta. Opened by John Liu in February 2014, Coquille has chef Anna Baustista at the helm, the former chef of Madera in Menlo Park (close by my hometown!). The menu boasts French dishes with a slight Vietnamese/Asian flourish. I’ve been wanting to try Coquille for ages, but my friends had warned me about the pricier menu. When my parents came to visit me, I thought it would be the perfect place to take them (and benefit from their generosity).

Coquille Seafood Bar

Coquille Seafood Bar

I had eaten at Scarpetta and really enjoyed the warm, trattoria environment with hearty pizza and homemade pasta offerings. Coquille is definitely a little bit more refined with a cute French twist to it. The restaurant is two floors and if you’re looking for a more private meal, I’d recommend requesting a table upstairs. We sat downstairs and I found it a little bit noisy.

Top: Foie Gras; Bottom Left: Escargots; Bottom Right: Garlic Noodles

Top: Foie Gras; Bottom Left: Escargots; Bottom Right: Garlic Noodles

We started our meal with caviar, foie gras au torchon and escargots. I rarely get to eat caviar, so it was definitely a special treat to eat it with all the fixings (egg white, egg yolk, sour cream, onions and chives). The foie gras was absolutely delicious, melting on my tongue like butter and causing all my taste buds to dance in delight. The escargots were served with a red curry and kaffir lime leaves sauce. While the sauce was flavorful, I was slightly disappointed in the consistency of the escargots, which I found to be too mushy. I expected more texture. I don’t know what caused the discrepancy in texture… perhaps the source of the escargots?

For our main dishes, we ordered the wild Icelandic cod, crispy duck leg confit and bavette steak frites. I couldn’t resist getting a side of garlic noodles. My cod was served in a light tomato broth with fennel and a medley of fresh seafood (clams, shrimp and scallops). The seafood was all cooked beautifully, but I found the dish lacking flavor. For my father, he had the crispy duck leg with a side of chicharrones. The duck was atop cassoulet, a classic French white bean stew. It was definitely a much richer and heavier dish– a complete 180 from my cod dish. My father ended up liking the garlic noodles best, which were spaghetti noodles cooked al dente with plenty of garlic and onions. While incredibly tasty, it is definitely not a dish where you want to dine and then kiss someone.

Coquille: Main Course

Coquille: Main Course

My favorite of all the mains was definitely the bavette steak with fries. It probably sounds ridiculous, but I think I miss good red meat the most from America. This bavette steak was probably one of the best steaks I’ve had in China. It was incredibly tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The portion was also very generous and my mother couldn’t finish all of it (more red meat for me). In addition, the frites were crispy, hot and addictive. I would come back to Coquille just to order this dish.

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Coquille, but it is definitely a pricier restaurant. I would only recommend it if you were trying to impress some guests or celebrating a special occasion. I enjoyed the ambiance and a small part of me felt like I was back in Paris. I think Coquille’s neighbor, Scarpetta, is a little bit more affordable and casual. I’d probably find myself frequenting there more often.

Shanghai: House of Lasagna, Henkes and Mr. X

Lasagna Bolognese with Garlic Bread

Lasagna Bolognese with Garlic Bread

The House of Lasagna (174 South Xiang Yang Road; 襄阳南路174号 opened in Shanghai a few months ago and I was eager to try it because lasagna is total comfort food to me. Growing up, I used to eat Stouffer’s microwavable frozen lasagna whenever my parents were on a trip and my sister used to babysit me. It’s a strange memory to have, but I instinctively link lasagna to good times with my sister. The House of Lasagna is in a tiny space with only about 4-5 tables and little stools. They offer the classics like Lasagna Bolognese while venturing out to some interesting combinations like Curry Seafood Lasagna.

Carbonara Lasagna at House of Lasagna in Shanghai

Carbonara Lasagna at House of Lasagna in Shanghai

I was craving a classic so I went with Lasagna Bolognese (classic ragu with mozzarella and parmesan) while my friend ordered the Carbonara Lasagna (bacon, mushroom and parmesan in cream sauce). We ordered the homemade shaken lemonade and Arnold Palmer. What I liked about the lasagna was that they served it in a clean beautiful plate with two delicious pieces of garlic bread. My lasagna bolognese was solid with plenty of cheese and a hearty meat sauce. I was only wishing there was more of the red sauce for me to dip my garlic bread in. Then again, maybe this is also just a personal preference because I always love a lot of sauce with my pasta.

House of Lasagna Delivery

Loving the cute delivery packaging! Carbonara lasagna on the left and pork belly and mashed potatos on the right.

The carbonara lasagna had a wonderful cream sauce with layers of ham and mushroom. I actually liked it better than my lasagna bolognese, but it is definitely rich and I don’t think I could have eaten an entire serving by myself. Since the restaurant is small, it’s not the most comfortable space in the world. House of Lasagna currently has free delivery and I have totally taken advantage of this service. When I ordered delivery, I tried their pork belly and mashed potatoes. I really like the pork belly. The meat was tender and actually tasted more like a pork chop and it came with worcestershire sauce to dip the meat in. I enjoyed the mashed potatoes but I felt like they needed more salt. I would definitely order the pork belly and mashed potatoes again.

Henkes Brunch in Shanghai

Henkes Brunch: Pancakes with Bacon and Bananas; Four Cheese Pizza; Eggs Benedict with Bacon

In other news, I’ve been trying to find new brunch places in Shanghai (because I can’t go to Madison every weekend). I recently went to Henkes (1601 Nanjing Xi Road; 南京西路1601号), which is located on the 1st floor of the Reel Mall. Henkes serves brunch all-day on the weekends, which I really appreciate on days when I can’t get out of bed until 3 or 4pm. I ordered the pancakes with bacon and bananas and my friend ordered the eggs benedict with bacon. In Shanghai, when you see “bacon” on the menu, it’s normally more like Canadian bacon so non-crispy ham. This was literally the first time I’ve seen American-style bacon and my heart nearly skipped a beat. Truthfully speaking, that was the real highlight of the meal. My pancakes didn’t have much of a buttermilk taste and the consistency was too cake-y for me. I definitely enjoyed the eggs benedict more, which had perfectly cooked eggs and a nice Hollandaise sauce. However, after both devouring our meals, my friend and I were still hungry. We ended up ordering a 4-cheese pizza, which again was just OK. The pizza was soggy and disappointing. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at Henkes at brunch again, but it’s a reasonable option if you wake up late on a lazy Saturday or Sunday.

Mr. X Puzzle House

Mr. X Puzzle House

Finally, the last thing I wanted to talk about was Mr. X (550 Jumen Road; 局门路550号), an awesome puzzle/mystery house. They have 5 different themed rooms and you’re basically locked in a room and have one hour to try and figure out how to get out. Reservations are absolutely necessary and it’s best to go with a group of 6-8 people. I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but the rooms are super interactive and really fun. I’ve done three of the rooms and I’m totally addicted and want to beat all of them. I highly recommend it and it’s even a good team building event if you’re looking for something fun to do with your co-workers.

Shanghai: The Commune Social

The Commune Social

The Commune Social

I love the whole concept of Jason Atherton’s The Commune Social (511 Jiangning Road; 江宁路511号)– a tapas, dessert and cocktail bar. The Commune Social has different rooms for each course so diners can choose their own fancy. When you first walk into the restaurant, there is a small room with a few tables that also directly face the dessert bar. As you keep wandering through toward the back of the restaurant, you’re greeted by a warm, open kitchen surrounded by eager diners. When I visited this past weekend, the weather was cold and rainy, but I could see the open terrace, which would be the perfect spot to enjoy a fruity beverage on a warm summer day. Upstairs on the second floor is a cocktail bar. I really like the idea that you could come to the The Commune Social and fulfill any one of your cravings– a well-crafted cocktail, delicious tapas or a scrumptious dessert.

Top: Dessert bar; Bottom left: Duck empanada; Bottom right: Tomato tartar

Top: Dessert bar; Bottom left: Duck empanada; Bottom right: Tomato tartar

There were so many interesting items on the menu and it was actually hard to decide what to get. My friend and I started our meal with the duck empanada with pan-seared foie gras and one of the specials of the day, tomato tartar. The duck empanada was a beautiful stuffed pastry, chalk-full of shredded duck and it was served on top of a sweet onion relish. I couldn’t help but salivate when I saw the foie gras, which is one of my favorite foods in the entire world. While the empanada was tasty, the foie gras really stole the show and I ended up just taking my time and enjoying every single bite with the sweet onion relish. The tomato tartar was not anything special, but I wanted something refreshing since it was raining outside. I enjoyed the medley of fresh tomatoes, but some of the cherry tomatoes were still too raw and not ready to eat.

Top left: Suckling pig; Top right: Sangria popsicles; Bottom left: Peanut butter dessert; Bottom right: Dessert menu

Top left: Suckling pig; Top right: Sangria popsicles; Bottom left: Peanut butter dessert; Bottom right: Dessert menu

For our main course, we ordered the suckling pig, which was served with a sherry dressing with roasted pineapple and peppers. The skin on the pig was so incredibly crispy that it was almost hard to cut through. The meat was tender and fatty, but I was really digging the creamy, mashed apple sauce. I liked how it was a play on pork chops and apple sauce. The dessert was the probably my favorite part of the meal. We ordered the peanut ice cream with red fruit and salted peanut caramel, which the waiter told us was the most popular dessert on the menu. While there was a cylinder of peanut butter ice cream, there were also these scoops of peanut butter mousse. When I scooped a small piece, I heard the instant crunch when my spoon touched the mound. It was like they took wafer cookies, mashed them up and mixed them with this wonderful peanut butter mousse. It almost crackled in your mouth like Pop Rocks candy. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of peanut butter, but I loved this dessert. By mixing it with berries and a fruit sorbet, I felt like I was eating a fancy peanut butter and jelly dessert.

I definitely want to go back to The Commune Social again soon. I felt like I only tried a small snippet of their menu and there are so many dishes left to try. I’ve also heard really good things about their brunch. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so it may be difficult to go with a large party. But if you and a friend are cool with sitting on stools for a relaxed meal, you’ll definitely be rewarded with a delicious meal. Just don’t forget to leave room for dessert!

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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