The Mainland corporation that owns Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village reportedly spent big bucks on possibly the fanciest Chinese restaurant ever to open in the LA basin. Chefs would be brought in directly from Shanghai, the ambience would appeal to the fussiest diners and menu to match. The debut was such a big deal that curious and expectant customers created major traffic jams along W Valley Blvd. That was back in December 2011. The hysteria has since died down. Opulent furnishings remain—chandeliers, ebony woods, crushed red velvet walls, French-style chairs (backrest and legs sprayed with silver paint), all a kind of faux luxuriousness that prompted some reviewers to think bordello or a 19th-century dining car, obviously not the intended effect. Apparently, this kind of over-the-top excess is not rare in Shanghai.
From the start, the reviews have been mixed. Local diners, including those in the Asian restaurant mother lode of the San Gabriel Valley, weren’t overly impressed. At first, the food quality was attributed to growing pains. But, the same, no more than above-average ratings persisted, unimpressive for a restaurant with such high ambitions. Management issues? A lack of dedicati0n to quality? Chef turn-over problems?
And then, there is the curious policy of employing two separate staffs of chefs for the daytime and dinner hours. One wonders if local chefs rule the kitchen during the day, imported Shanghainese ones at night.
The dinner menu is very impressive. I’m referring to its physical appearance, looking like a slick bound catalog, almost an inch thick, with full-color photographs of its menu items on plastic-laminated pages. It struck me that, with the current price written next to every item, these menus would have to be re-printed whenever prices change. Only a single such menu appeared to be available for each table.
A week ago, four of us were here for dim sum, however, so the standard dim-sum-menu-cum-tally-sheet was also placed before us.
The reviews did identify two oustandingly prepared Shanghainese dim sum items. The first is xiao long bao, which we’ve had many times before and didn’t bother to order this time.
The other is shen jian bao, labeled Pan Fried Shanghai Style Bun. This is an interesting hybrid where a similar savory ground pork filling and gelatin slice as XLB are tucked inside a pleated, slightly yeasty wrapper, pinched at the top, steamed, the bottom half coated with white sesame seeds and briefly fried, the top sprinkled with black sesame seeds and green onions. When done properly, the bottom should have a nice golden, crispy hue and the dumpling should release a hot, soupy interior, similar to XLB. A tad thick at the top, Shanghai’s was savory, crispy and doughy at the same time, though there wasn’t much soup that burst out. (☆☆☆)
We couldn’t pass up Abalone Sticky Rice, a dim sum rarity. This was more subtle than other sticky rices, probably so as not to overwhelm the shellfish flavor. A single slice in each lotus leaf-wrapped packet was perfectly tender though subdued in abalone taste. (☆☆½)
The brine for the special pickled fresh cucumbers was rather sweet. We’d never seen a maraschino cherry accompany this dish. (☆☆☆)
I couldn’t resist ordering something from that beautiful menu—stir-fried scallops with pepper. Though the photograph showed both red and green chiles, only green ones were used. Despite the scallops being perfectly cooked, the dish seemed curiously bland and oily. Would this dish be better at dinnertime when the Shanghainese chefs take over? (☆☆½)
Is it possible that evenings might provide a more exciting dining experience? I might never find out because it’s also much more expensive.
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801