Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Restaurant 35: Yeah Shanghai Deluxe

RESTAURANT: Yeah Shanghai Deluxe
LOCATION: 65 Bayard St.
DATE: June 5, 2005
FOOD: Split the following: Hot and Sour Soup; Steamed Pork Buns (Soup Dumplings); Half Northern Style Roast Chicken; Chef’s Special Tilapia in Brown Sauce; Spicy String Beans with Meat.
PRICE: $23.00

It’s an old adage, often repeated, employed to justify everything from music preferences to Senate confirmations of judicial nominees – a democracy is all about the rule of the majority. Supporting a minority perspective on any issue can leave one in a fevered state of anxiety, John Donne’s “no man is an island” stanza rumbling through the mind. However, when it comes to food, maybe its better to swim against the current – one only has to be reminded McDonald’s is the world’s most popular restaurant to realize the full, palate deadening implications of culinary majority rule.

Thus, while users of, food bloggers, and general word of mouth all lauded Chinatown’s Yeah Shanghai Deluxe as being equally excellent as New Green Bo and Congee Village, I found no such similarities. Situated directly across Bayard Street from the throngs wisely lining up for New Green Bo’s meteoric soup dumplings, Yeah Shanghai carries the reputation of being the Chinese place for people in the know. Apparently, the people in the know have the same problems with reliable sources as Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose – Yeah Shanghai Deluxe in no way compares to its more highly reputed neighbor.

The evening began ominously. While waiting for Jordan to arrive from work, I noticed that the ceiling had a leak – a leak that was dripping directly into my cup of tea. Part of the enjoyment of venturing to Chinatown is feasting cheaply in the less than four star digs. The dusty floors and half-cleaned bathrooms of Chinatown haunts can add to the experience, but contaminated beverages helps no one save emergency room workers and the makers of digestive aids. Though the wait staff had no problems when I switched tables, I found it interesting that they did nothing to address the leak and actually seated the next customers to enter the restaurant at the table I had just deemed toxic.

The only Americanized dish of the five Jordan and I split, was the hot and sour soup – Yeah Shanghai Deluxe failed not on its inability to make Chinese food suitable for American assumptions but rather because its authentic Chinese food was sub-par, especially in a local so rich in quality. In a case of false advertising to make an ambulance chasing lawyer grin with excitement, the aforementioned hot and sour soup was neither hot nor sour, exuding a flavor that was disturbingly acidic and otherwise bland. However, I was willing to forgive this as being an error in ordering on our part. But Yeah Shanghai Deluxe did nothing to sustain such a notion of gastro-guilt.

Introduced to soup dumplings at New Green Bo, I have come to love the deliberate ritual involved in eating these delicacies. First one bites off the stem-like top. Then blow on the liquid inside the dumpling until it becomes cool enough to slurp. Finally, finish off by devouring the remaining dumpling. Altogether, the measured process makes the dumplings a cultural, rather than a strictly culinary, indulgence. Unfortunately, at Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, there’s no indulgence to be had.

The pork bun (in this case, synonymous with soup dumpling) wrappers were overly coated in flour and as pasty as an Alaskan’s thighs in Winter. The mealy texture greatly detracted from the pork filling, which was actually quite good. Unlike New Green Bo’s version, the soup liquid at Yeah Shanghai seemed more like a Texas pipeline of oil then lightly simmered broth. My disappointment was severe, and New Green Bo’s proximity only seemed to mock my pain.

The meal finally showed some signs of promise with the arrival of the northern style roast chicken and spicy string beans. However, the promise was short lived. Included on the platter of shredded chicken was a fried chicken foot – oddly it was more appetizing than the dumplings. The chicken was under-seasoned, but made up for this deficiency by being extremely tender and moist. Reminiscent of a fried Thanksgiving turkey, the chicken was the evening’s high point, but could have been enhanced by the presence of a plum sauce.

The string beans continued the oily trend of the meal’s dishes, swimming in a sea of unblended liquids. Again, a dish labeled as spicy was instead incredibly mild. The green beans tasted like mud-soaked grass, with an appearance to match. Finally, the tilapia in brown sauce arrived; a whole fish lathered in murky, purplish oils and green onions that sagged like cereal sitting in milk for too long. The fish itself was fine, flaky and not overcooked. But, the sauce pooling in swampy puddles across the plate’s surface was like drinking a bath tub full of soap suds. Jordan and I left all of our dishes unfinished. The best thing I can say about Yeah Shanghai is that it’s literally next door to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory which never fails to amaze. Yeah Shanghai’s polite service couldn’t make up for the lackluster food. I guess there is no clear moral to this story – “the majority” may love Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, but they also form lines in front of New Green Bo. So ignore the majority and the minority and try for yourself – New Green Bo that is…the majority is simply dead wrong about Yeah Shanghai Deluxe. At least, that’s my not so major opinion.

RATING: 4.8/10

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