Chinese New Year 2011 at Ala Shanghai
Last night was Chinese New Year. And I ushered in the year of the Rabbit at Ala Shanghai with AoA Mary and her guy, Daniel B., CelinaBean, Sandor, a new friend, and Albany John.
We had reservations for 8 at 7:30, and by 8 pm, all of us were assembled. The parking lot was paaaaacked! It was a very popular place. Glad I made reservations in advance. Hey, you don’t chance dinner on Chinese New Year.
They even busted out red tablecloths! I had the lucky problem of more people than the reservation wanting to come. I think 8 people was just the right number to come, though, space-wise. It was also an auspicious number, too. And thankfully the people who were unable to make it were also gracious and understanding,too. It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve had more people want to come and I’m very happy for it – it’s a good kind of dilemma to have.
We got the set menu for 8 and some pork xiao long bao for those who’d never tried it at the urging of Daniel B.
We had some pickled cabbage to nosh on while waiting for the rest of our group to show up (center), and then above are two of the four cold appetizers. In the front is a spicy dish with beef and peanuts. The back is aster salad – so yummy and textural. Pork Xiao Long Bao.
Pork Xiao Long Bao – two orders.
Dried beef and mock duck, the other two of the four cold appetizers. The dried beef was very tasty – it’s a Chinese texture that I love – chewy in a tendon kind of way (but not tough), and beefily flavored.
The mock duck was dried tofu sheets filled with vegetarian stuffing. Does it taste like duck? No, but I guess it kind of looks like duck slices. Tasty either way you eat it.
Dinner was at a leisurely pace, which was nice because we all hadn’t seen each other in a while. We closed the place down!
Here is the seafood soup – the squid (or cuttlefish) bits were SO tiny and delightfully chewy! Plus there was tofu, shrimp, scallops, and some egg. Really tasty soup. Light but hearty at the same time. I had three bowls. THAT good.
Here is the shrimp dish, seafood soup, and flounder fillets with seaweed.
The flounder and seaweed was AMAZING! Perfectly crunchy nuggets had me wishing for a pile twice as big just to eat for myself. Lanny Lau, the manager/owner, came over to explain that the seaweed was toasted and ground up and mixed with the flour for a batter to fry the fish in. It was a great savory-vegetal flavor, and the fish itself was moist and tender. It’s something I’d like to try making at home, but I don’t think I’d execute nearly as well. These stayed crisp for the entire duration on the plate (which wasn’t all that long, hee hee) and also had a salt to dip them in. You know the salt I’m talking about – Cantonese restaurants usually serve it with crispy chicken.
The shrimp popped in my mouth. So sweet. Lightly cooked to let their shrimpy glory shine. They were smaller guys, but very tender.
Sea Cucumber! I was excited to try this dish – I’d never had sea cucumber before. It was good. Really good. It came with some shiitake mushrooms and very thin slivers of chicken. Great combo, and had a nice smoky flavor overall.
Sea cucumber was kind like frogs legs, super soft beef tendon, and fish. Really interesting. I liked it. It was very smooth, but not like jelly. Very lightly flavored – delicate, even. I’d say you should try this if you haven’t. It’s not that “weird” of a dish in terms of flavor or texture.
SHANGHAIESE PORK CHOPS! It was deep fried and covered in a sticky-sweet sauce. Like if salt and pepper pork chops had a little extra coating on them. This was quite nomtacular as well. If there’s one thing I love more than pork, it’s pork that’s been fried.
Look at that – it’s like saying “I am a sexily delicious piece of pork.”
The CelinaBean dish! Bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Perfectly cooked bok choy quarters, and some delightfully steamed shiitakes. It’s dishes like this that make me lurve shiitake mushrooms. It was a good “breather” course…
Before the duck came. One whole crispy duck. So good. And plenty for 8. Sandor was a card and was like “Oh, please, nobody take all of the dark meat… oh wait, it’s duck. It’s ALL dark meat. Bwahaha!”
LOOK AT THAT SKIN!!! Perfectly moist meat, crispy duck skin. What more could I ask for? Delicious.
Fried rice. I’m not normally a rice fan, but this had hints of smoke, and the veggies were nice and firm – really lightly cooked. Some ham and shrimp in there, too. Good stuff.
Dessert time! Steamed red bean buns. I was impressed with how tender the baos were. The dough was very soft and tender. I know they were just steamed, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had buns this soft before.
Dessert soup! It was a rice ball kind of soup – small mochi balls floating in a sweet egg soup. Albany John was expecting something like red bean soup like we get for dessert in NYC with my family. But that’s a Cantonese thing – this was totally not at all like red bean and tapioca dessert soup. Great way to end the meal. Filling, but like the seafood soup – light yet hearty.
The rice balls were light and chewy – a great texture. And the soup itself was lightly sweet, but you’re not going to get a sugar coma from it. I would have had seconds, but I was so full from dinner, I could only finish my bowl.
Dinner was a little over $20 per person with the XLB added in for tax and tip included. Not shabby at all for all of that food!
Ala Shanghai is running the Chinese New Year special into mid-February, so you could pop over for a group early Valentine’s day dinner and really impress your date. Just sayin’.
My Chinese New Year festivities have only started. I still need to see my little sister to give her laisee, and then we’re going down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my Yeh-Yeh tomorrow. Might even see one of my cousins I haven’t seen since I was a little girl! Gung Hey Fat Choy! What are your CNY plans?