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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

My Ideal Weekend in Shanghai

Shanghai's Bund

Shanghai’s Bund

I’ve been in Shanghai now for over a year and it’s starting to feel like home. I have my favorite places and can actually provide useful recommendations of things to do and places to go. Shanghai is definitely a different city for tourist attractions. It’s not like Beijing with The Great Wall or Forbidden City because it’s more modern and international. It’s the result of being an important port city by the river– there were a lot of foreign concessions.

I recently thought about what would be my ideal weekend in Shanghai. In general, I’ve done most of the touristy things (visit the Bund, shop at Yu Yuan Gardens, eat at XinTianDi, etc.) so my ideal weekend would really be devoted to delicious food and relaxation.

Friday

T for Thai

T for Thai

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

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

After work, I like to head to one of my favorite restaurants, T for Thai (1502 Huaihai Zhong Lu; 淮海中路1502号2楼). With so many Thai restaurant choices in Shanghai (Simply Thai, Coconut Paradise, etc.), T for Thai is definitely the best Thai food I’ve had in the city. Chef Michael Wendling spent a year traveling from Shanghai to Thailand to master the art of Southeast Asian cooking. The result are dishes that pack a punch in flavor. My favorites include the lamb massaman curry, pomelo and shrimp salad, and the satay sticks. The space is incredibly sleek, modern and very hip. They also make a nice lemongrass mojito too. Closest Metro stop: Shanghai Library on Line 10.

Drinks with a view at Bar Rouge

Drinks with a view at Bar Rouge

For a cool, hidden spot, I like to take my friends to Boulevard (10 Baoqing Road; 宝庆路10号7楼). Boulevard is a secret bar and supper club that is on the 7th floor of a building and hidden behind a bookshelf. It’s got that 20s speakeasy vibe (reminding me a little bit of Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco). I would pass on the food, but it’s worthwhile for drinks. I like the Bathtubbin’, which is a cocktail made from Hendricks gin, limoncello and a little bit of cardamom. If I want to go to a bar with a view, I can go to one of the ritzier choices on the Bund like Glamour Bar, Unico or Bar Rouge. If my friends and I feel like dancing, we’ll normally head to The Apartment (one room with techno and one room with top 40/hip-hop) or Muse (techno).

Saturday

Shanghai Tian Zi Fang

Tian Zi Fang 田自坊

One of my favorite places to visit for shopping is Tian Zi Fang (田子坊) on Taikang Road (泰康路). Located in the Former French Concession, Tian Zi Fang is a small enclave of different boutiques, art exhibitions and restaurants/cafés. Tian Zi Fang is unique because it was built around residential houses dating from the 1930s and still maintains its local charm. Many families still live in the surrounding houses and often times you’ll find them playing Chinese chess or cards outside. It’s a great area to buy souvenirs for your friends and families back home. The only downside is that the vendors aren’t as flexible at haggling and you tend to pay more than at the Yu Yuan Gardens. But it’s way less crowded than Yu Yuan and I love how at every corner, you’ll always find an interesting store to step into. I usually like to wander the area and pick a random eatery for lunch too. Closest Metro stop: Dapuqiao on Line 9.

Mr. X Puzzle House

Mr. X Puzzle House

In the afternoon, I would go to Mr. X (550 Jumen Road; 局门路550号), a mystery and puzzle shop with a group of my friends (if you’re not in a group, you can also join other teams to participate). Mr. X has different themed rooms (think Prison Break) and you have 1 hour to try and solve a serious of puzzles to escape the room. It’s extremely creative, interactive and so much fun. If you have the time, I’d recommend signing up for 2 hours to try and solve the room (the time passes so quickly!). You can buy tickets online or call the reservation line. Closest Metro stop: South Xizang Road on Line 8.

Zen Cafe Exterior

Zen Café on Dongping Road

Zen Café on Dongping Road

After Mr. X, my brain needs a break. One of my favorite places to escape the city is Zen Café in the Former French Concession (7 Dongping Road; 东平路7号). It’s a secret place because you actually need to walk through the Zen store, out the back door and up the stairs to reach it. I usually treat myself to a pot of tea and like to curl up with a book or magazine. Closest Metro stop: Hengshan Road on Line 1.

Faigo Hot Pot

Faigo Hot Pot

Hot Pot Fixings

Hot Pot Fixings

Hot Pot in Action

Hot Pot in Action

Right around the corner from Zen Café is my favorite hot pot restaurant, Faigo Hot Pot (28 Taojiang Road; 桃江路28号). Hot pot is basically Chinese fondue, using different soup bases to cook raw vegetables, seafood and meat. Faigo is the fanciest hot pot restaurant I’ve ever been to in my life. The quality of ingredients is impeccable and some of my favorites include the marbled beef, black pork neck, wood ear, cuttlefish balls and soft tofu. It sounds silly to say that this is gourmet hot pot, but it truly is. Service is top notch, the ambiance is calm and classy (love the jade green and orchids) and it’s a great restaurant to impress guests. Closest Metro stop: Hengshan Road on Line 1.

T'achos at Union Trading Company

T’achos at Union Trading Company

Ginger Moscow Mules at Magpie

Ginger Moscow Mules at Magpie

With dinner comes after-dinner drinks! I like to walk off my hot pot. If I’m feeling like a classy cocktail, I’ll head to el Coctel (47 Yongfu Road; 永福路47号) or Union Trading Company (64 Fenyang Road; 汾阳路64号). Both bars serve innovative cocktails and I love the relaxed feel of both places. Plus, at Union Trading Company, I get to order one of my favorite dishes, T’achos! Yes, they are tater tot nachos. These golden fried nuggets of joy are covered with melted cheese, Mexican chili and a sweeping scoop of sour cream (to cut the spiciness of the chili). If I want to head to a bar that is more low-key and casual, my favorite bar is Magpie (189 Yongkang Road; 永康路189号). It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall that serves amazing ginger Moscow Mules in yellow metal cups.

Continue reading

Shanghai: Liquid Laundry

Rotisserie Chicken at Liquid Laundry with Mac and Cheese and Creamed Corn

Rotisserie Chicken at Liquid Laundry with Mac and Cheese and Creamed Corn

I actually went to Liquid Laundry (KWah Centre, 2/F, 1028 Huaihai Zhong Lu; 淮海中路1028号, 嘉华房2/F) when they first opened a few months ago. While the space was cool, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the food. I told myself that I would go again but wouldn’t order anything from my first visit. I’m certainly glad I gave it a second chance because I found some really delectable dishes.

Liquid Laundry is by Kelley Lee, the same person who brought you Boxing Cat Brewery, Cantina Agave and Sproutworks. The space is huge, including dining area, lounge area, bar area and an actual brewery making the beer that is served in-house. It’s a very hip place and on the weekends, it’s absolutely packed. Be sure to make a reservation if you want to dine there for dinner.

Inside Liquid Laundry and the Beer Flight

Inside Liquid Laundry and the Beer Flight

On my first visit, I ordered the eggplant dip with flatbread, burrata cheese with duck proscuitto and salad and the Hannibal Lecter sandwich. I was so underwhelmed and disappointed. The eggplant dip had zero flavor (though the actual flatbread was good). While the cheese was delicious, the portion felt really small (about 50 g) and I didn’t really think it went that well with the duck and salad. The Hannibal Lecter sandwich was the best thing of the night– two mini pastrami sandwiches served with mustard and slaw. I did enjoy my drink though, a saffron gin and tonic.

For my second visit, I went with a much larger group of people with lent itself to trying and ordering more dishes. My friend and I split the rotisserie chicken. A whole chicken comes with all four sauces: Asian Persuasion, BBQ, hot and original (a half chicken comes with two sauces). I thought the rotisserie chicken was tasty, cooked well and the meat was tender. Out of the four sauces, I liked the Asian Persuasion sauce best and we even ordered a refill. For sides, my friend and I ordered mac and cheese and the creamed corn. Mac and cheese was solid, but I was in love with the creamed corn. The creamed corn had a hint of truffle oil in it (yum) and really nice corn kernels mixed in. I was so happy to see this because often times creamed corn looks like baby food. The kernels had a perfect crunch to them, which provided a great textural contrast to the dish.

Top Left: Seared yellowtail; Top Right: Fried chicken and biscuit; Bottom left: Porcetta; Bottom right: Hannibal Lecter sandwich

Top Left: Seared yellowtail; Top Right: Fried chicken and biscuit; Bottom left: Porcetta; Bottom right: Hannibal Lecter sandwich

Among the whole group, we ordered the seared yellowtail, fried chicken and biscuit, porcetta, pavlova and chocolate tart. I really loved the seared yellowtail appetizer. It’s quite small, but the fish is so delicate and fresh. They dress the fish with small pumpkin cubes, puffed black rice, pear, pine nuts, avocado and sliced jalapeño. It is seriously a flavor explosion in your mouth. There’s so much happening- spicy, sweet, crunchy, creamy, savory- all in one bite. It’s probably one of my favorite dishes they offer.

The porcetta was also stunning. The pork has that crispy skin and then this wonderful marbling of fat with the meat. My only concern is that it’s just too much to eat by yourself and it comes with absolutely no sides (probably forcing you to order sides). It’s a lot of meat on a plate and so I’d recommend sharing it.

Dessert! Pavlova on the top and Chocolate tart on the bottom

Dessert! Pavlova on the top and Chocolate tart on the bottom

Desserts were a smash. The chocolate tart was rich, creamy and smooth. I was really digging the pavlova. Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert, which normally has whipped cream or custard inside and is topped with fresh fruit. The outside needs to be crisp and airy but the inside needs to be softer and more marshmallow-like. I really like Liquid Laundry’s pavlova. It wasn’t too sweet and there was this custard/cream in the middle that I couldn’t get enough of. With the fresh fruits on top, I felt like it was summer on a plate. While the chocolate dessert was good, it was more ordinary. The pavlova is a dessert that you probably won’t find on many menus.

I would recommend Liquid Laundry as a cool place to take friends for a drink or gastro-pub meal. The place definitely gets loud so it’s not the best spot for a quiet, romantic night. However, could be a good place for a first date if you want to avoid awkward conversation!