Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Shanghai - Boston

Day three in Boston, and after the gastronomical delights of Hungry Mother and Craigie on Main, it was time to delve back into my Chinese roots with another visit to Chinatown. While dimsum at Hei La Moon had passed muster, I had arrived in Boston with a taste for the numbing heat of Sichuan cuisine. Normally, I wouldn’t have associated this Yankee pot roast part of New England with quality Sichuan food but I suppose that was the point of a year old Serious Eats article. Aptly named “8 Cities and The Dishes They’re Not Known For (But Should Be)”, this slideshow cites culinary goldmines such as Detrot’s burgers, San Francisco’s ice cream, Portland’s pizzas, but most relevant to my interests was Boston and their Sichuan food.

Sadly most of the listed restaurants were mostly out of reach. Zoe’s in Cambridge, Chili Garden in Medford, FuLoon in Malden, and Sichuan Garden II in Brookline all sounded delicious but I decided to make the best of my situation and head to the one Chinatown restaurant on the list, New Shanghai.

Taking a seat at one of New Shanghai’s hot pot tables, it was hard to know where to begin. With more than 200 items on their menu including hot pot, Sichuan appetizers, and Peking snacks, I could have been quite to content to plan my next month of meals here, but I took a page from Fuschia Dunlop and started with a bowl of Dan Dan Noodles.

Beneath the virginal white of the noodles lay a pool of chili infused oil that was ready to turn this beef, noodle and green laden bowl into a mess of ma la goodness.

Well, that was the hope as I mixed the noodles. Actually the flavors were pretty subtle and frankly a bit bland at first but with each bite, the oily, tender noodles gained more of that dusty Sichuan peppercorn taste.

Not content with noodles, an order of Sichuan wontons with red chili sauce was next on my table.

These wontons were the best of both worlds; a sesame tinged chili oil whose heat only compounded with each bite and just a touch of sweetness to bring you down to earth.

Putzing around with noodles and wontons is all well and good but it was time to step up to the big leagues and prepare for a full on prickly ash assault. This would be the ideal time to swan dive into a bowl of mapo tofu, but I had beef on my mind and boiled beef fillet with red pepper and bean sprouts seemed like a fine choice.
Dusted with ground Sichuan peppercorns and minced raw garlic, would this bowl finally be the numbing knockout punch I was looking for?

The answer came with my first bite of beef. Almost immediately, a wave of vinegar laden chili melded with the tender filet to form the big, bold flavors I was hoping for.

The strips of celery and bok choy played the welcome role of textural contrast and much needed greenery, but the highlight of this boiled beef was the lip numbing excellence of well made Sichuan food. I came to New Shanghai looking for quality Sichuan cuisine and, if this boiled beef is any indication, I found it.

Needless to say, I was very happy with the three dishes I tried. Yes, three out of 200+ is hardly fair to judge a restaurant, but, in this case, it works. Maybe next time I’m in Boston, I’ll have a bigger appetite or company to try more of the favorites like mapo tofu, cumin lamb or Chengdu chicken, but that will have to wait. However, if there is one fiddly detail that bothers me, it’s that New Shanghai charges for their white rice. Charging for good fried rice I can understand, but if you’re going to serve me excellent Sichuan food that begs for rice and then make me fork over an extra $1.25 for the privilege, I’ll do it, but I will complain about it.

New Shanghai Address & Information

21 Hudson Street, Boston, MA 02111 // 617.338.6688 // New Shanghai Website // New Shanghai Menu

New Shanghai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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