Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shanghai River Restaurant

The kitchen and "xiao long bao" making station

Bean Curd Roll with Vegetable

Restaurant: Shanghai River
Cuisine: Shanghainese/Chinese/Asian/Dim Sum
Last visited: Multiple - September 4, 09
Area: Richmond, BC
7831 Westminster Hwy
Price Range: $20-30

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very Good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 5
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:
  • Known as the best/Richmond's most popular Shanghai restaurants
  • Higher end Shanghai/Chinese Restaurant in Vancouver/Richmond
  • Hit or miss items - but when it's a hit it's a big hit!
  • Busy/Crowded/Line-ups all the time
  • Reservations recommended
  • Menu in Chinese and English - some pictures
  • Shanghainese staff in front and in kitchen
  • Very popular to locals/Chinese/main stream/tourists
  • Should go with at least 8 ppl - how the menu/portions are designed
  • Visible "Xiao Long Bao" (famous steamed pork dumplings) making station
  • Dishes meant to be shared
  • Private dining room available

**Recommendation: Steamed mini pork dumplings "Xiao Long Bao", braised eggplant with chili sauce, deep fried crab with chili & garlic

This place is Richmond's most popular Shanghainese restaurant. It serves fresh, hot, made upon order authentic Shanghainese cuisine. It's famous with locals, tourists and the media. There's always a line-up and as soon as 6:30pm hits the place is pretty packed already. You want to come here with around 8 people because the portions and menu is designed for parties of 8. This way you can order lots and try a lot too. Make sure you make a reservation or arrive early before the dinner rush (7-7:30pm).

The menu is quite large (typical of Chinese restaurants), but there are some staple items that everyone orders. I find the dishes are hit and miss - they used to be better. They have such a following it doesn't matter if they've gone downhill though. The food is still great, but it just used to be better, every single item used to be a hit, now you can find something similar and better at another Shanghai restaurant in Richmond. Some dishes are still amazing here and some are just not good for a restaurant of this caliber. This is a higher end restaurant so you expect fine dining type dishes. They have a great array of seafood dishes, and a "xiao long bao" making station open to the public to view. It has gone a bit downhill for it's own standards, but it's still great on the wide scale - still recommended as a place to check out whether you're a tourist or local.

Shanghai River - Review 2

Shanghai River - Review 3

On the table:

  • **Xiao Long Bao - steamed mini pork dumplings 6/6
    • This is the staple menu item when dining Shanghainese. They should always be made fresh and upon order - everything should be done in house - from making the dumpling pastry to making the ground pork stuffing. I mention more about this in my review for Chen's Shanghai Kitchen.
    • Chen's has a thinner skin and more soup, which is a major focus when making these dumplings. However the broth and soup these dumplings hold is more flavourful at Shanghai River. Maybe they marinate the ground pork better - the most obvious explanation. They're also twice as hot at Chen's, the ones at Shanghai River maybe sit there for a tad longer before they're served. The restaurant is much bigger than Chen's so they're not able to serve them as fast as Chen's.
    • $6.80 for 8
  • Shredded chicken with vermicelli 2/6
    • Shredded chicken and julienne raw cucumbers on homemade rice paper noodles or "vermicelli". It's topped with sesame sauce and served as a cold appetizer.
    • This is a great dish, but it's just not that good here. When it's made right this dish is a 6/6. The combination or raw cucumbers, sesame sauce, steamed shredded chicken, and these homemade glass noodles are amazing. Texture and flavour wise this dish is great.
    • I say it's not good here because even though the rice paper noodles are made in house, they weren't chewy at all. It should have been too. The texture wasn't right, and when you know what the texture is supposed to be like, these just aren't good. This vermicelli isn't the kind you're used to seeing at Chinese restaurants - the Shanghainese homemade vermicelli is wider and flat - almost like paper.
    • The sesame sauce wasn't that good either, it was lacking flavour. It was just thick tasting, but not flavorful or aromatic. It felt like it came out of a jar, (which it does) but when it comes out of the jar it still requires mixing with other flavours because it's not a ready made dressing. Watered down JIF peanut butter would have tasted better.
    • On the other hand the chicken was really good - because they didn't include the chicken skin, which I prefer - I hate when they include the chicken skin - most Chinese people would disagree with me on this one though. I'll find a better place that serves this dish and let you know when I d o. Check back for updates =)
  • Bean Curd Roll with Vegetable 1.5/6
    • Minced Chinese leafy green (similar to spinach) wrapped and rolled with sheets of bean curd. It's served cold.
    • This appetizer is much better at Chen's. The presentation is beautiful at Shanghai River, but the item itself just isn't good. It was bland, and not flavourful at all. I even dipped mine in vinegar because it was so bland. Imagine eating cooked boiled unsalted spinach, and plain tofu...together...it needs flavour! It was AMAZING at Chen's compared to here. Sure it's not served all fancy, but it doesn't matter when the flavour is there...it tastes better all minced up - the ratio is great and it's just better this way.
    • $6.80 for 8 pieces
  • Clay Pot Steamed Chicken & Won Ton soup 4.5/6
    • A huge clay put of supreme chicken broth and won tons. Also includes bak choy and a whole small chicken (bone and all) that is cooked in this stock.
    • Flavourful! This is not your watered down soup, or processed chicken stock. This is pure chicken stock - cooked with chicken and bones, and everything. It's light and clear, yet so rich and flavourful at the same time. You get full from the flavour not really from the soup.
    • It comes with 10 "wontons" which are not wontons. They're actually dumplings called "Shui Gao". They're similar to gyozas - but made with veggies and pork. These are made fresh and in house, and they are really fresh because the skin is so soft it breaks apart quiet easily. They wrap these dumplings up quite loosely so that when they cook they're able to contain some liquid within the skin, so don't think it's poor wrapping or anything. These are great in size - bite size, not too big, and the skin is so delicate you don't want to over stuff them.
    • It's a huge pot for $22, well worth it - especially since you're getting so much chicken. This chicken doesn't look appetizing, but it is. The meat just falls off the bone, really tender. They cook it for so long in this chick en stock that the meat just shreds away.

  • **Braised eggplant with chili sauce 6/6
    • Braised eggplant cooked in shrimp paste with bamboo shoots and black wood ear mushrooms. $14.80
    • This is a popular dish found at many Chinese restaurants, but it's the best here to me. It's actually a Shanghainese dish that the Cantonese adopted. It's one of the three dishes used to introduce Westerners to Shanghainese cuisine.
    • This is so good here. They make it vegetarian, which is rare, and I didn't even miss the meat. You get big pieces of eggplant, pieces you can actually bite into. A lot of it too. It's soft and still has some texture. I don't like it when they cut the pieces too small because it gets mushy and breaks apart when they braise it. They braise it in a dried shrimp paste - and the dish doesn't taste shrimpy at all. The shrimp paste just adds this aromatic flavour - one of those flavours that makes you go "hmm what is that?".
    • This dish is almost stew like, kind of greasy, but that's common for this dish because the sauce is gravy-like. It's not spicy either even though it's cooked with chili sauce. Most places serve it in a clay pot because there's a lot of sauce and the eggplant pieces are smaller. Shanghai River is the only place that makes this dish vegetarian - replacing the minced pork with black ear wood mushrooms and bamboo shoots. I like the addition of these ingredients, this original switch up gives this dish 2 kinds of crunchiness and more variety.
    • This is great on its own, and even better with rice...soak up the sauce.
    • Tasty Twist Idea: I even like to wrap it in the homemade Shanghainese style crepes they serve. This is my own creation, but I like it!
  • Pan-fried Pork with /Bean Sprouts and 8 homemade Crepes/Pancakes 3/6
    • Shredded pork, green onion, bean sprouts and julienne raw cucumbers served with homemade Shanghainese style crepes.
    • This is the Shanghainese version of Peking Duck - common at Cantonese Chinese restaurants. I like the Peking duck one better though. This one doesn't go with the crepe as well as the Peking duck does. They both have hoisin sauce you include, but you don't even really need it with the Shanghainese one - the sauteed pork has so much flavour on its own. The pork they used was also too fatty for me, and I felt like it was too chewy rather than tender. It just doesn't work well as a wrap because the size and texture of the pork pieces just slide out of the crepe as you bite into it - which defeats the whole purpose. I enjoyed the crepes much better with the braised eggplants
    • This dish is a bit expensive too - $16.80
  • Stir-fried Prawns 5/6
    • This is another dish that is common in Cantonese restaurants. They do a really good job with this dish here. The prawns are really crunchy - cooked perfectly. It's so fresh and you want to taste the quality of the prawns in this dish. This dish is all about the prawns - more so than the sauce.
  • **Deep-fried Crab with Chili & Garlic 6/6
    • We didn't order it this visit because there were only 4 of us, but I've order it before and it was delicious. This crab is served dry - and it's absolutely covered with chili flakes and minced garlic. The minced garlic is amazing, it's the texture of finely ground bread crumbs. It's either deep fried/pan-fried/dry fried until it becomes this texture. The garlic almost forms a baked golden brown crust on the crab...it makes you want to eat the shells. This dish is so flavourful and aromatic - really delicious! There's a hint of spiciness from the chili flakes, but it's not really spicy or anything - they are professional with the seasonings, and have them adjusted perfectly.
    • $32.80

Shanghai River on Urbanspoon

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