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Warming Foods

November 16, 2011

Winter in Shanghai is cold. Really really cold. Maybe that’s how we lucked out and by some stroke of fortune got Ala Shanghai in Latham. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’ve been talking with Lanny over at the restaurant, and together we have put together a dinner of seasonal and authentic dishes. The last time we did this was in the spring, and those who attended can attest to the experience. I thought it was fantastic, and well worth the effort to give it another go with their fall and winter menu.

Just last night I gathered a bunch of enthusiastic bloggers, bona fide journalists, and adventurous foodies to put this seasonal dinner to the test.

The bad news is that I wasn’t able to invite everyone. All available seats were snatched up within 24 hours of setting a date with the restaurant. The good news is that this menu is now available to anyone until March. It’s built around a party of eight. So gather up your closest friends and bring your appetites. Because this is a sumptuous and warming feast that will also help you pack on some much needed winter weight.

Dinner starts with a selection of dim sum. You can’t really go to Ala Shanghai without getting their soup dumplings. But these are also accompanied by a unique sticky rice shumai stuffed with intensely flavored dried shrimp. Everyone gets a turnip pastry, in which soft and assertive turnips are contained by a flaky and rich shell. Because I wanted an entirely different texture, I also requested to add the pan-fried pork bun, which is nothing like the pork buns you may have seen at other Chinese restaurants.

Then comes the soup.

Wonton & Chicken in Casserole Soup doesn’t sound all that special. Except the wontons are Shanghainese wontons and are filled with pork & capsellaand the chicken is the restaurant’s delicious wine-marinated preparation. Apparently this is a very common home-style soup that is a traditional part of fighting off the cold weather.

I’ve been told that Shanghainese food is about regulating body temperature. There is a belief that shrimp are cooling (even when served hot) so there are no shrimp on this menu. Conversely wine is considered warming. So, the fish filet with wine sauce is cooked in Shaoxing wine and black fungus. If that doesn’t warm us up, I suspect the sizzling lamb or Shanghai style pork shoulder will.

All of the meat dishes were wonderful. The fresh flounder was delicate, and meltingly tender. Its texture paired surprisingly well with the soft and slippery fungus. Anything on a sizzling platter makes me think about fajitas. But the sizzling lamb was intensely flavored and deeply savory. The pork shoulder was covered with a juicy layer of unctuous fat, and glazed in a slightly sweet brown sauce, which is very typical of Shanghainese cooking.

The two vegetable dishes we will be served are classics of Shanghainese cuisine. Perhaps you saw Albany Jane’s post on one of them. The other was Napa cabbage and Chinese ham. It’s a simple preparation, but it’s brilliant. The saltiness of the ham not only plays against the sweetness and crispness of the cabbage, but permeates it as well.

If that weren’t enough, the savory segment of the meal concludes with the restaurant’s house-made noodles stir-fried with chicken.

Dessert is a warm piece of sweet red bean filled crispy pancake. It was quite good, and much more warming than the chrysanthemum jelly dessert we enjoyed in the spring.

My favorite part is that this entire meal, dim sum to dessert, with tea, tax and tip included comes to only $20 per person. It’s a staggering quantity of delicious food for the price, and an amazing opportunity to get some Shanghainese comfort food in Albany. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. More restaurants should take a page out of Ala Shanghai’s book.

So, when are you going?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 10:36 am

    I said this over at tablehopping, but the soup was probably the most memorable dish to me as far as flavors go. The wonton was very good, but I will never forget the flavor of the broth; deep, well-developed, in your face chicken concentrated down. I have never tasted such intense broth, and because it was so simple and clean, I enjoyed it very much.

    This was an outstanding experience (even for Ala Shanghai) for me, and I would encourage and invite everybody to gather some friends and experience this cuisine.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 16, 2011 11:17 am

    Wonderful dinner, especially the dumplings and the lamb. However, the whole thing was quite a sodium bomb–not for anyone with high blood pressure!

  3. November 16, 2011 12:36 pm

    Thank you so much for the wonderful evening!

  4. November 16, 2011 12:51 pm

    @derryX – I’ll second your comment. The soup was phenomenal.

    I also clearly remember letting out a “Oh my God that’s so tender!” exclamation upon my first bite of the fish. Really superb.

    Thank you SO MUCH for inviting me! Hope you’ll consider doing this at other area establishments, as well!

  5. Mirdreams permalink
    November 16, 2011 4:14 pm

    I am quite jealous. Ah well, it’s walking distance for me so I may just have to walk over there for dinner tonight.

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  1. derryX Dines: Winter Ala Shanghai Meal « derryX.com

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