mandarin shanghai restaurant
558 las tunas dr
arcadia, ca 91007
with a chinese expansion of our family through jenn and james (2 years of korean-chinese marital bliss now – congrats!), properly ringing in the chinese new year will be an annual tradition. hooray for family and hooray another excuse for all of us to get together and eat! This year, we try mandarin shanghai restaurant in arcadia for a full banquet. eric and diana explained that this is shanghai-nese style, so many of the dishes will be familiar, but with a little twist.
As always, the soup comes first – a white seafood soup with shrimp, scallops, fish and other slippery little things. i tasted and picked out the fish, but couldn’t eat the whole thing, as i can’t dissociate the cornstarch thickener in the soup from turkey gravy. *shudders*
I suspect that diana ordered specific items from the menu with my family in mind. a medium sized steamer has shao-lon-bao, the juicy dumplings that were made popular with our family at din tai fung. disappointingly, we only got one each, but thank goodness, we weren’t filling up on them, because soon began the steady stream of shanghai specialties. i wish i knew what the names are in chinese, but all i can do is remember what they were in english.
Abalone with baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms was special for my mom. i don’t know what it is about abalone, but she and my uncle go crazy over it. perhaps it’s a choi-family gene for chewy things, because they love squid and octopus, and i find all of it just too rubbery and weird for my taste. i tasted the sauce with the vegetables, though, which was good. baby bok choy is one of my a.t.f. (all time favorite) vegetables. just for my dad, sweet glazed shrimp with walnuts came out next. this is another new family favorite, attributable to eric and diana from c.n.y. last year. too bad the picture is too horribly blurred to post, because they were perfectly crisp morsels, sweet shrimp on the inside, and creamy sweet sauce made from mayonnaise and sugar, on the outside. i don’t know what the walnuts do for the dish, but they were snatched up as fast the shrimp.
I thought the next thing was a plate of noodles with a black bean sauce – perhaps a variation of jja-jjahng myun? i was so wrong, and i really really wish i hadn’t been. diana told us what it was, and i didn’t believe it, so i too a closer look, and yep, they were definitely not noodles. they were baby eels! i don’t know why i *gasp!*ed because even during my no-sushi phase i ate unagi; i think it was the word “baby.” how drastically my world changed from chinese new year banquet to fear factor, the family edition. i put one on my plate and that was even worse because i could actually make out its tiny little baby eel markings. it tasted like eel, but it didn’t feel like eel, and i think i should change the subject now. *gag*
Thankfully, the next few things were all completely familiar animals with legs and easily identified. a braised pork was almost all purely fat, but that was the point. it was juicy, as would be expected from something more than 80% fat, and the pork meat that was there was exceptionally tender. artfully arranged crispy duck came next. perhaps it was uncouth of me, but i grabbed a duck leg like it was one of the colonel’s original recipe and happily cracked through the perfectly crisp skin. i didn’t bother with the sesame flatbread.
Another one specifically for the choi-genes was the crab. the happy little crabs looked like they could have been smiling before they were whacked with a cleaver, drowned in a pot of boiling water, and sautéed with garlic sauce. oh, the sacrificial crab for the sake of the stomach. they don’t give you bibs and wet-naps in chinese restaurants, so i let jenn, jess and mom do all the dirty work. they gently cracked through the shell of each leg, claw, and body piece, and like a team of expert e.r. surgeons, carefully removed pieces of fully intact crabmeat. i just snagged the leftovers of their painstaking work from jess’s plate.
The last was a vegetable with what looked like jellyfish or clear noodles. again, i was wrong, but this time, it was vegetable, not animal – chinese broccoli with bamboo fungus. i didn’t eat the fungus even though my mother tried to assure me that it’s a mushroom. it didn’t matter; i had already heard the word "fungus," so i just ate the broccoli.
The quiet star of the dinner wasn’t any of the dishes from the menu. it was a tiny dish of s
picy pickled peppers that were an accompaniment, like a chinese version of bahn-chan. these were what saved my tastebuds after the baby eel. we debated – are they jalapenos? are they serranos? they’re too small to be a jalapeno, too large to be a thai bird. who cares? i say, bring me another little dish!
Overall, i enjoyed dinner because i was with family, not for the food. it wasn’t bad, and i’m certain it was of high quality, but i don’t think i’m quite ready for another shanghai surprise.