Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shanghai Gate

For most of my life I was content -- happy, even -- to slurp down the thick, sugary sauces of American Chinese food. Was it authentic? Uh-uh. Was it more exciting than American American food? Uh-huh.

Then I discovered Sichuan cuisine and everything changed. The tongue numbing and transit time-speeding sensations of Sichuan peppercorns paired with chilis was a world of flavor I couldn't have imagined while still eating at places with names like Happy Garden (you'll know the worst of them by the overexposed photos of dishes hanging over the counter).

But then I realized that Sichuan Chinese food was perhaps only better than American Chinese food because it was true to region and therefore less corrupted by those diabetes-inducing creations like Orange Chicken that more resemble a deep fried Twinkie than whatever they started as.

Enter Shanghai Gate. Gone are the fireworks of Sichuan cooking but with no compromise in flavor, texture, or options for eating offal (above: pig kidney with ginger and scallion). Instead you'll find subtle flavors as humble as the modestly atired women depicted in the restaurant's logo.

At (through?) the Gate you can sample dishes you may have read about in Fuschia Dunlop's excellent books on Chinese eating. Dishes like Lion's Head Casserole: a slow cooked, sweet and anise-heavy ball of beef and rice, tender enough to eat with one of those shovel-tipped straws that come with Slurpees.

The Globe once wrote that "What you get at Shanghai Gate plain and simple is a chef who really knows how to cook." Luckily, you also get that chef's food. And you get to eat it.

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Michelle said...

We are lucky to have a wonderful new Sichuan place in Charlottesville. They have egg rolls, sure, but they also have fish and cilantro rolls, which are far superior. The spicy Sichuan hot pot we ate the other night had a lot of heat, but also a lot of flavor, including both cumin and cilantro, which I found surprising and refreshing in Chinese food.

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