Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

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Listed alphabetically by state, Joe’s Shanghai (鹿鳴春) was in the New York section of CNN’s ‘50 best Chinese restaurants in the United States‘. In the same block as Momofuku Má Pêche and Momofuku Milk Bar in Midtown, Joe’s Shanghai is a double storey ‘centre of exotic specialties’.

I signalled a table for one and was ushered upstairs. Bronze deer and potted bamboos decorated the bay window. A tiered sparkling gold and crystal chandelier was suspended above the vestibule.

A curious specials menu included New Zealand mussels, T-bone steak and rack of lamb.

A mound of cold egg noodles was drizzled with sesame dressing, topped with julienned cucumber and served in a scallop shell shaped dish. I slurped the cold sesame noodles (芝麻冷麵), a simple but appetizing celebration of Chinese carbs.

The traditional trio of ginger slivers, soy sauce and vinegar were stirred in a bowl for dipping.

Joe’s Shanghai is famous for their soup dumplings. Six crab and pork xiao long bao (蟹粉小籠包) were on a bed of shredded Napa cabbage (黃芽白) in a steaming bamboo basket. The delicate morsels were juicy and meaty, although the skin was a little doughy.

Noodles and dumplings were requisite sustenance for shopping in Manhattan!

I have lamented the lack of authentic Chinese food in Seattle. I was pleased with Chiang’s and love the consistency of Din Tai Fung but I really miss yum cha (飲茶), the traditional Cantonese lunch of dim sum (點心). I was adamant that Seattleites have to travel north to Richmond in Vancouver for variety and quality until Shirley introduced me to Jade Garden (翠苑酒家).

Regal in red, a festive cartoon dragon (龍年) denoted the Lunar New Year (農曆新年).

A school size chalkboard listed the daily specials in calligraphy (English) and scrawl (Chinese).

As with many Chinese restaurants, the interior is austere. Drab walls, plain tables, sturdy chairs, chipped china and Lazy Susans are the standard! Jade Garden is a labyrinth of dining rooms. When I was directed to our table at the back I thought I had to walk through the kitchen!

A card was stamped to record orders from the carts.

The condiments (醬油) tray consisted of salt and pepper shakers, soy and vinegar bottles, and a mysterious stainless steel container.

Shirley explained that it’s the homemade chilli sauce (辣椒醬) which was a well blended paste.

Stacked high with steaming bamboo baskets, ladies (and it’s always ladies) wheeled carts to hawk their dumplings. First were pork and prawn dumplings (燒賣). Minced pork, prawn and shiitake mushroom (冬菇) are lumped in a thin wrapper and dotted with roe. These were a tender version of the meaty morsels.

The other classic was prawn dumplings (蝦餃). Translucent and pleated, the starchy wrapper encased chunks of succulent prawns. The skin was a little thick and I doused these in the homemade chilli sauce.

These beige blobs were deceptive in appearance. We happily slurped the fragrant broth of the soup dumplings (小籠包).

Tinged with green, the prawn and chive dumplings are a variation of prawn dumplings.

Similarly, the prawn and crab dumplings had mounds of shredded crab on top of the wrappers.

Fried food was next. These awkward objects were taro dumplings (芋角). The puffed taro outer shell was crispy, crumbling at each bite, contrasting with the porky texture inside.

Golden and football shaped, these mochi like dumplings (鹹水角) had a glutinous, sticky coating. Its sweetness contrasted with the salty filling.

The final savoury selection was stir-fried noodles (炒麵). Curly thin noodles were tossed with bean sprouts and chives, a homely vegetarian dish.

Rolled in sesame seeds, these mochi balls with lotus seed paste (蓮蓉煎堆) were nutty and chewy.

And finally my favourite Chinese dessert, custard tarts (蛋撻). Traditionally baked in a flaky crust with an intense, creamy set custard, these are best savoured fresh from the oven.

The more the merrier for yum cha!

With bravado we ventured to Spinasse on Saturday without a reservation. Their dinner service commences at five o’clock and I expected a short wait arriving at seven thirty. The restaurant was full with a wait list and the maître d’ recommended Artusi next door.

We were directed to the back where a corridor connects the restaurant and bar. Fresh pasta sheets were draped on rods across the windows of the spacious kitchen, ready to be hand cut.

Opened by Spinasse Chef Jason Stratton, Artusi is named after Italian cookbook author Pellegrino Artusi. Self-published in 1891, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (The science of cooking and the art of eating well) was a seminal recipe collection of Italian cuisine.

Hexagonal tiled tables line the floor-to-ceiling windows. The bar is at the centre of the room and there are two counter seating areas. Cylindrical shades funnel light for a soft ambience.

The cosy table was lit with a single tea light candle. Wines were served in carafes and flat glassware.

Categorised into stuzzichini, antipasti, primi and piatti di Artusi, the menu is designed for sharing. First was bruschetta with roasted cauliflower purée, toasted cumin and sesame. Spread onto thick slices of bread, it tasted like hummus.

Piled into an oval bowl, the roasted young carrots with pancetta, sage and garlic were a generous portion. Sweet and tender, the rustic root vegetable was simple yet scrumptious. This was the only warm part of our meal.

We ordered Columbia City Bakery filone not for the Ligurian olive oil it was served with but to scoop up the caponata, and mushroom and egg salad.

I had sampled the Artusi caponata at the Fall Comforts Taste the Season event and loved it. Described as eggplant and stone fruit caponata with pine nuts and cherry tomatoes on the menu, it was announced as squash caponata by the waitress and absent of eggplant and cherry tomatoes. I missed the smokiness of the eggplant but it was still a balanced dish.

And finally, shaved white mushrooms and egg salad with salsa ‘Apicius’ (a reference to fifth century Roman recipe compilation). Thinly sliced and liberally coated in a dressing of pine nuts, vinegar, honey and colatura (anchovy essence), it was a surprisingly appetising combination of flavours and textures.

The service was a little abrupt and we were coveting Spinasse pasta but Artusi was a casual alternative with light Italian fare.


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