Shanghai: Healthy Eats at Hunter Gatherer

Meal at Hunter Gatherer

Meal at Hunter Gatherer

One of my friends recently asked me if I knew of any gluten-free restaurants in Shanghai. I had zero clue, but I suggested Hunter Gatherer (308 Anfu Rd; 安福路308号) as it had been on my radar as a healthy option. It didn’t feel right recommending a restaurant that I had never tried before so I decided to check it off my list.

Grocery Concept Store

Grocery Concept Store

Hunter Gatherer is a two-story hybrid grocery store/fast casual eatery. Throughout the store, you’ll find fresh organic veggies, artisanal sauces, healthy snacks and even a DIY peanut butter and almond butter machines. It’s really quite impressive and reminded me of Green & Safe in the French Concession. Besides the myriad of groceries, you can also sit down for a quick meal.

Pre-made Meals

Pre-made Meals

For 62 RMB, you can have a Chipotle-style, nourishing bowl. My understanding is that the menu rotates based on a seasonal produce, but you start with a base, add a protein and then pick two veggie sides. My plate had a quinoa and spinach base, oven-roasted chicken, brussels spouts and an apple & kale salad. For 20 RMB more, you can add a bowl of soup.

Meal Options at Hunter Gatherer

Meal Options at Hunter Gatherer

It’s not a huge portion so if you tend to eat more, I’d recommend getting a bowl of soup or saving room for one of their baked goods. The food is a solid meal for a fresh and healthy option. The chicken was very tender and actually moist and I ended up like the brussels sprouts best out of my assortment plate. It’s not terribly flavorful food, but they have a wide variety of different homemade sauces that you can use to liven up your bowl (their hot sauce definitely had some heat).

Hunter Gatherer Seating Area

Hunter Gatherer Seating Area

I like that there are more healthy options in Shanghai and hope the trend continues. While I was sitting there, I felt like I was in a hip grocery store in New York or San Francisco. I would definitely go back and happily recommend it to any friends who had dietary restrictions (or just plain wanted to eat healthy).

Buon Appetito in Turin and Milan

Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio in Turin, Italy

Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio in Turin, Italy

Last month, I had a business trip to Turin and Milan, Italy. While it was a jam-packed and busy trip, there was still plenty of time to enjoy the magnificent food in Italy. I’ll start with highlights from Milan.

Trattoria del Pescatore in Milan

Trattoria del Pescatore in Milan

One of my Italian colleagues is also a big foodie and he had recommended a couple of restaurants in Milan. He raved about Trattoria del Pescatore (Via Atto Vannucci, 5). I ended up eating there last minute and I kept calling in hopes of making a lunch reservation. Since they didn’t pick up the phone, I showed up right when they opened at 12:30pm (hence the photo of an empty restaurant). The restaurant owners and waiters were so kind to me and gave me a corner seat. I ordered the bottarga (salted cured roe) and clams spaghetti and Catalan-style lobster. The lobster is not for the faint of heart. It’s definitely a lot of work to eat. I rolled up my sleeves, used my lobster cracker and dug in with my fingers. While the lobster flesh was incredibly tasty, it was much smaller than I expected and expensive. I’d gladly go back and try other dishes. Reservations are an absolute must. The place was packed and they had to turn people away. I really enjoyed the atmosphere because the customers were all locals and a lot of them were regulars. It was really fun to watch the interaction of the staff with some of their most loyal customers.

Giulio Pane e Ojo in Milan

Giulio Pane e Ojo in Milan

Giulio Pane e Ojo (Via Ludovico Muratori, 10) was also recommended to me for their Roman-style food. It was a really quaint restaurant and extremely popular. I enjoyed a delicious bucatini with a slightly spicy tomato sauce with slices of pancetta and a beautiful medium-rare steak. I basically ate red meat every chance I could get since the steak in China is so expensive. Giulio Pane e Ojo must be written up in a lot of tourist reviews because the entire restaurant was foreigners. Next to me was a Russian couple, across from me was British couple and on the other side of the room was a table full of Americans. It didn’t quite have that same local Italian feel that Trattoria del Pescatore had.

Il Giardino dei Segreti in Milan

Il Giardino dei Segreti in Milan

I’ve written about Il Giardino de Segreti (Via Pasquale Sottocorno, 17) before, but I had to mention it again. It was the best meal I had in Milan and it was just as good as I remembered. It’s the best bottarga spaghetti I’ve ever had and the tagliata (rare meat) was amazing. The tagliata is very thinly sliced beef and they serve it rare. I made the mistake of ordering it medium rare. Since the plate it’s served on is very hot, the beef actually continues to cook after being served. So my medium rare became too well-done for my taste. It’s better to just let them serve it their classic house style.

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Shanghai Sandwiches: Co. Cheese Melt Bar vs. Market 101 by Goga

Co. Cheese Melt Bar

Co. Cheese Melt Bar

I love sandwiches. It’s one of the things I miss most from the States. Recently, more and more sandwich shops have popped up in Shanghai. I felt it was my duty to try them and report back.

Co. Cheese Melt Bar (32 Yuyuan Dong Lu; 愚园东路32号) opened just a few months ago in Shanghai. It’s a small establishment with mostly counter seating and only a couple of high tables. You definitely can’t come here with a big group of people. While you can choose your own sandwich fixings, I’d recommend picking one of the twelve gourmet cheese melts.

Avocado, Ham, Pear, Brie and Arugula Grilled Cheese

Avocado, Ham, Pear, Brie and Arugula Grilled Cheese

There were too many choices to pick from so my friend and I decided to split three sandwiches between the two of us. We ordered: 1) Avocado, ham, pear, brie and arugula, 2) Double Glouchester cheese, mashed potato, cranberry sauce, turkey and stuffing, and 3) Kraft Mac & Cheese, cheddar and gouda. All sandwiches are served with a small serving of potato chips and homemade pickled goods. The avocado, ham, pear, brie and arugula sandwich felt like a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. I really enjoyed the combination and it was the “lightest” of the three.

Thanksgiving Dinner Sandwich

Thanksgiving Dinner Sandwich

The Thanksgiving dinner is an incredibly clever idea. It basically reminded me of the wonderful period of time after Thanksgiving when you basically eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a week. You can’t really go wrong with the combination of cheese, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. It’s definitely a filling sandwich.

Kraft Mac & Cheese Sandwich

Kraft Mac & Cheese Sandwich

I think my favorite was actually the Kraft Mac & Cheese sandwich. It tasted like my childhood in a sandwich. I really liked the creativity that the owner, Greg, had with all of his sandwich ideas. Next time, I would add avocado to the sandwich and order myself a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup to dip that bad boy in. While the sandwiches were delicious, my only complaint was that the wait was really long. The place wasn’t even full and we definitely waited over 20 minutes for our food. I guess on the bright side, while you’re waiting for your food, you can hop over next door to CinnaSwirl and get yourself an amazing cinnamon roll.

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Shanghai: Xinjiang Cuisine at Miss Ali

Miss Ali 阿里家

Miss Ali 阿里家

The first time I ever had Xinjiang food was when I lived in Beijing. There was this hole in the wall restaurant close by my school that I used to go to every week. It was one of the things I missed most about living there. In Shanghai, I struggled to find good Xinjiang food. Probably the most famous restaurant is Xibo, but I wasn’t really a fan. The restaurant was modern and hip and I also thought overpriced. Luckily, a friend recommended Miss Ali 阿里家 (380-1 Dagu Lu; 大沽路380-1号) and I’m so glad she did. I’ve finally found Xinjiang food that rivals what I used to eat in Beijing.

大盘鸡 (da pan ji) aka Big Plate of Chicken

大盘鸡 (da pan ji) aka Big Plate of Chicken

Miss Ali is a small restaurant on Dagu Road that could easily be missed. I would definitely recommend making reservations because it’s a popular spot and space is limited. I was overjoyed to see that some of my favorite dishes were on the menu. I love 大盘鸡 (da pan ji), which literally translates to big plate of chicken. Miss Ali’s version was exactly how I remembered da pan ji in Beijing. Chunks of chicken, potatoes, bell peppers and onions are served in a dark broth with chili flakes and a hint of cinnamon. Clearly, the chicken and broth have been simmered to perfection because the chicken is tender and incredibly flavorful. Probably my favorite part of the dish are the noodles that come with it. The noodles are smooth and slippery, the perfect complement to the broth. I will forewarn that da pan ji comes with chicken with bones so it’s definitely a little bit of work to eat.

Lamb Skewers and Lamb Wontons

Lamb Skewers and Lamb Wontons

In addition to da pan ji, my friend and I ordered lamb skewers, green bean skewers and lamb wontons. The lamb skewers were large with delicious morsels of meat. In the middle of the skewer is a piece of fat, which renders nicely on the grilled meat. I normally find lamb too gamey, but the mixture of spices on the skewers covers any offensive smell.

I really loved the lamb wontons. It was actually my first time having lamb in a dumpling and Miss Ali’s version is wonderfully seasoned. They were served in a clear broth, which was soothing and tasted like something my mother would cook. It was the perfect dish on a cold day. It was so good that I was tempted to order another bowl.

My last recommendation would be to order the homemade yogurt. While it’s technically in the “dessert” section of the menu, I like to get my yogurt earlier with my meal. With the little bit of chili in Xinjiang food, the yogurt helps cuts any spice. Plus, it just tastes so darn good. I can’t wait to go back to Miss Ali soon. The food was warm and hearty and brought me back to my time in Beijing. It’s definitely going to be my new go-to restaurant to take any friends visiting from out of town.

Shanghai: CinnaSwirl and Pom Pom Cookie Bar

Cinnaswirl

CinnaSwirl’s Cinnamon Rolls

I sometimes take for granted that I live in Shanghai. I live in a unique city in China, which has an international and diverse group of expats. Because of this group of expats, there is an entrepreneurial spirit in the city and a real need to fill unique niches. That is precisely what CinnaSwirl and Pom Pom Cookie Bar does.

CinnaSwirl was founded by Heather, an American, who bakes the most delicious homemade cinnamon rolls. I never realized how truly American cinnamon rolls were until I suggested ordering six for my Dutch Asian American Pie Club (DAAPC). My Dutch co-workers had never heard of cinnamon rolls before and ate them for the very first time. They loved them.

When I think of cinnamon rolls, two very distinct memories come to mind. One is baking them at home from the Pillsbury dough (we are not a “bake from scratch” family) and the second is eating them at the food court/airport at Cinnabon. The problem is normally after you eat them, you feel like you need to take a nap and/or you have a brick in your stomach.

Look at that cream cheese frosting goodness

Look at that cream cheese frosting goodness

Heather’s cinnamon rolls are the best I’ve ever had. They are surprisingly light and fluffy and not too sweet. Her homemade cream cheese frosting is to die for. I literally wanted to order extra frosting and slather it on all my food. She has a physical store behind Jing ‘An temple at 32 Yuyuan Dong Lu (愚园东路32号), but I haven’t been yet. You can order them for same-day delivery through Mealbay. They are closed on Sundays though!

Chunk cookies from Pom Pom Cookie Bar

Chunk cookies from Pom Pom Cookie Bar

I miss good chocolate chip cookies. The type that are slightly crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside. Pom Pom Cookie Bar answers all of my cookie dreams. I’ve been wanting to try them for awhile, but all orders require ordering a batch of 18. I finally bit the bullet and decided to buy the chunk cookies, half milk chocolate and half milk chocolate with sea salt.

When the cookies were delivered, they were still warm. They had that beautiful butter and brown sugar batter with the absolute perfect consistency. The chocolate was rich but not too sweet. I personally liked the milk chocolate and sea salt ones better because of the savory and sweet combination. These cookies are amazing and taste like the ones you bake at home. I would gladly order another batch. You can pick different “mix-ins” like dark chocolate, hazelnut chocolate or white chocolate.

In Shanghai, the more well-known homemade cookies are from Strictly Cookies. While Strictly Cookies are also good, it’s a different style. They are more mound-like and thick. It’s a hefty cookie and she also sells giant cookie cakes, ice cream cookie sandwiches and raw cookie dough.

The only downside to Pom Pom Cookie Bar is that the owner, Katrina de Mirman, doesn’t do same-day delivery. Because her cookies are made-to-order (no store yet), you have to place the order by 7pm the day before. So if you’re totally craving a classic chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have to wait one day. But trust me. It’s worth the wait.

Shanghai: Brunch at Hakkasan and Café Sambal

Hakkasan Brunch: Crispy Duck Salad and Assorted Dim Sum

Hakkasan Brunch: Crispy Duck Salad and Assorted Dim Sum

Normally, brunch for me is classic Western food: eggs, bacon, pancakes, fresh juice, all of the above. But Shanghai has some wonderful brunch options for Asian food too. I recently experienced two great brunches in Shanghai, one at Hakkasan (5/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu; 中山东一路18号5楼) and the other at Café Sambal (Block A, No 37, 259 Jiashan Lu; 嘉善路259弄37号A栋).

Straight from London, Hakkasan is a Cantonese-style restaurant on the Bund. If you want a nice meal on the Bund without having to pay an arm and a leg, dim sum brunch at Hakkasan is a great option. For 298 RMB (plus a service charge), you can get the crispy duck salad, soup, assorted dim sum, main dish, sautéed vegetables, rice, dessert, mocktail and tea. That is a healthy amount of food.

The crispy duck salad is Hakkasan’s signature salad and I can definitely see why. It is a light and refreshing mix of pomelo, pine nuts, duck, chopped shallots, lotus root and watercress. I could have eaten an entire bowl of that for brunch and been perfectly content. For dim sum, you can choose three steamed or three fried pieces. My girlfriend and I ordered one of each so we could see the assortment. There were some clever twists (deep-fried pumpkin dumpling with truffle oil) and also some classics (har gau). Truthfully speaking, it is not the best dim sum I’ve ever had in my entire life. I have really high standards though since dim sum is one of my all-time favorite past times and I used to live in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from eating it all.

Hakkasan's Sea Bass and Sirloin

Hakkasan’s Sea Bass and Sirloin

For our main dishes, I ordered the stir-fried black pepper Angus striploin cubes and my friend got the grilled Chilean seabass in Chinese honey. The beef was so incredibly tender and tasty. It had this wonderful caramelization on the outside while still being slightly spicy with the black pepper. It was some of the best beef dishes I’ve had in Shanghai. I was pleasantly surprised when the seabass arrived “char siu” way. I love BBQ honey pork and this seabass was served in the same style. I liked that the seabass wasn’t too sweet and had a nice crispy exterior.

Hakkasan Dessert

Hakkasan Dessert

Macaron Display

Macaron Display

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