Farewell New Shanghai (Closing Night) - Irvine, CA
|Lo, there do I see my dinners.|
Lo, there do I see my breakfasts, my brunches, and my lunches.
Lo, there do I see the line of my meals back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me remember the dishes of New Shanghai in the halls memory,
Where their taste may live forever.
- Parody of the funeral chant from the 13th Warrior
Close to one month ago, New Shanghai, my favorite spot for late night eats in Irvine, closed its doors. Having been tipped off earlier by the lovely Rasa Malaysia, Cat and I assembled a group of her graduate student friends, New Shanghai devotees one and all, for a final, blowout meal.
(Read my review of New Shanghai on Chubbypanda.com)
I don't know what it was that made the food so wonderful that night. Maybe it was the nostalgic melancholy we felt as we carefully savored every dish, enshrining them in our memories. It could also have been that the cooks at New Shanghai, knowing that this was their final opportunity to show us their skills, decided to pull out the stops in one last blaze of glory. Whatever the cause, everything we feasted on was authentic and delicious down to the core.
(Green Onion Pancake)
Moist, flakey, and al dente, this simple Green Onion Pancake tasted like the culmination of all the green onion pancakes I'd consumed at New Shanghai before.
(Sizzling Satay Beef)
The Sizzling Satay Beef, which was one of my favorite dishes, arrived vibrant and bursting with flavor. The Chinese satay sauce seemed thicker and stronger than I'd remembered, as if the dish was trying to sear itself into my mind.
(Kung Pao Chicken)
Cat's usual order of Kung Pao Chicken, which the owner's wife brought out to us without being asked, was amazing. There are two flavors that are central to classic Sichuan cuisine; ma and la. Ma is a numbing sensation in the mouth and on the lips, usually brought about by the use of Sichuan peppercorns. The numbing helps prepare the mouth for piquant flavors by acting as an anesthetic against very spicy food, so that the flavor added by the seasonings can be enjoyed. La is a burning sensation added through a number of fresh and processed chili pepper products. In addition to heat, the peppers also contribute layers of complexity, which the ma component makes discernible.
Normally, in Chinese restaurants in the West, the la component in Sichuan dishes is toned down and the ma component is practically nonexistent in order to accommodate the palates of customers who might not know how to appreciate Sichuan cuisine. Since this was the close of New Shanghai's long and successful career in Irvine, I think the cooks finally felt free to go back to China on our unsuspecting tongues. I have never had a Kung Pao Chicken in the States as authentic as the one I had that night. So painfully good!
The Scalded Fish, which the owner's wife recommended to me as one of their signature dishes, was equally deadly. Thick filets of catfish swam in a crimson sea of broth flecked with green onion slices and chili flakes, and redolent with Sichuan peppercorn. The occasional piece of leek broke the fiery surface like the emerald fin of an herbaceous shark, prowling the blood red depths. I was delighted with this dish, but dismayed that my first time tasting it would also be my last.
(Stir-fried Chinese Mustard Greens with Pork)
After the onslaught of Sichuan cuisine, the Stir-fried Chinese Mustard Greens with Pork brought gentle relief to our mouths. The thin mung bean sheets sashaying through the dish shimmied across my tortured tongue and down my throat like the cool, silken fingers of a skilled masseuse. Another recommendation from the owner's wife, who wanted to make sure our meal was memorable.
(Eggplant in Garlic Sauce)
One of Cat's friends was desperate to taste New Shanghai's Eggplant in Garlic Sauce again, but couldn't remember what it was called. In the end, she had to describe it to the owner's wife, using me as an interpreter. Rich, sweet, and mildly spicy, it was a hit at the table. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this dish until Cat's friend ordered it.
The most surprising item I tasted that night were the Xiao Long Bao, which arrived last. In my review of New Shanghai, I'd warned my readers away from ordering them due to their dryness and the fact that they often arrived broken. This night, New Shanghai redeemed their Xiao Long Bao beyond measure. With thin, resilient skins, balanced seasoning, and tender meat filling swimming in juice, the Xiao Long Bao were simply wonderful. It felt like the restaurant's way of saying goodbye.
So long, New Shanghai, and thanks for all the food.
5408 Walnut Ave # B
Irvine, CA 92604
Don't be too sad, though. New Shanghai's delicious dishes live on right across the shopping center at Hsin Hsin Shao Mai Deli, which is owned by the same family and now staffed by the same cooks. For the full story behind the move, a breakdown of the dishes offered at Hsin Hsin Shao Mai Deli, and a critique of how some of my old favorites measure up in their new home, read my review of Hsin Hsin Shao Mai Deli at Chubbypanda.com.