[Photo: Aubrie Pick]
The newest evolution of the former Mecca/Gingerfruit/Pudong space, dubbed Shanghai, opened its doors to the Castro in late August. The cuisine is a reflection of its name as well as its owner, 83-year-old Shanghai native Francis Tsai, who ran the Rincon Center's old Wu Kong for 10 years and reportedly came out of retirement to save the fledgling space after the previous two concepts quickly failed. Former Shanghai 1930 chef Leo Gan is dishing up traditional Shanghai fare with contemporary presentation to a 130-seat dining room that's been updated for a more intimate feel. Drinks are served on the revamped island bar by Trader Vic's and Poesia vet bartender Michael Petri. Will the third time be the charm to banish the shutter curse of this huge Market Street location? Let's look to the critics, the blogs, and the rest of the interwebs to see what people are saying on The Early Word:
The XLB news: Chowhounder hyperbowler, in his multi-paragraph report of the new restaurant, discusses the xiao long bao: "Each XLB retained its liquid," however, "the inside of the skin was gluey which, on the upside, caused the meat to cling to the wrapper, but on the downside, um, made it gluey." Jean Y. on Yelp left with mixed reviews on the XLB. She writes, "The pork tasted good and fatty, and the thickness of the wrappers was acceptable. Sadly, there was hardly any soup in them." On the contrary, another Yelper Travis C., thought the XLB to be "especially juicy," asserting that is "really hard to find juicy xiao long bao" in San Francisco.
The Menu News: Jean Y. on Yelp thought the menu straddled "an awkward line between Asian and Western as well as fancy and not-so-fancy." The food is "authentically Chinese, but we were served ice water instead of hot tea. Our chopsticks were taken away mid-meal and replaced with forks (not due to lack of chopstick skills, I assure you)." On that same thread, Chowhounder Thomas Nash was suspicious of the authenticity, saying the menu appeared "tamed town for neighborhood tastes." And while Grubstreet diplomatically stated that they "weren't bowled over" by the dishes they tried on opening night, Jessica W. "went in skeptical," but "came out quite satisfied!" stating that the "food is solid."
The Revamp News: Zagat's Meesha Halm appreciates that "the owners really spent time and money to transform the physical space with a new look and feel," adding a "smaller glittery stone-topped central island bar." However, Grubstreet argues, "They still haven't gone far enough to alter the space, erase the ghosts of Mecca, and give it a new, inviting identity of its own," noting the "largely untouched" upholstered walls and booths, as well as the side dining room. And Yelper David W. adds, "Shanghai's remodel has maintained the same spacey-lush Philippe Starck vibe" from the previous establishments.
The Booze News: Grubstreet finds the cocktail "especially odd, with several drinks that combine vodka, gin, brandy, and/or rum all in one, Long Island-ish concoction." On the flipside, an anonymous Eater commenter "really liked the eclectic drinks offered," noting that the menu is "reminiscent of the old school tiki-style drinks of the classic Trader Vic's and creative like the cocktails the West Coast's number one bar here in SF, Smugglers Cove." Lastly, Douglas G. Yelped a five-star review, commenting on the bartending skills: "Great, local, professional, entertaining, with perfectly mixed drinks."
Dim Sum News: Eater Commenter Andy Leas attended the restaurant's new weekend dim sum brunch, and he found the menu options "not 'cheap' but not expensive." He says, "The food, service and surroundings were great. We'll be back." Yelper David W. also went to dim sum, imbibing the bottomless mimosas, and observed, "They make your dim sum to order, no carts wheeling around, so everything you get is hot and fresh."