Shang Review: Shang is on the way up
As a transplanted New Yorker, you hear things like how it takes seven years before you become a ‘Real New Yorker’, before you belong. Mostly that’s crap though because you can feel at home here in New York in a much shorter period of time. When you finally settle in, you pick up the pace and your cadence becomes in sync with the pulse of the city. If you’re lucky, and this is your type of town (and why wouldn’t it be?), then you pick it up right away. Susur Lee, an internationally famous chef from Toronto, graced New York city with a new restaurant this past week. Shang is located in the Thompson LES Hotel, and it’s hitting the ground running. Lee has his finger on the pulse that represents a fusion of cultures.
Chef Lee was born in Hong Kong and came to international prominence through his impressive fusion restaurants in Toronto. When it was announced that he would come to New York, I was really excited to see a Chinese chef come strut his stuff. When you go look for Shang restaurant on Orchard street, you have to be really alert because there are no markings on the door, there are no signs to indicate that a restaurant is inside.
You can take a look at the menu and notice right away the fusion of eastern and western ingredients. There are a bunch of things you see in Asian restaurants: lotus root, soy, daikon, XO sauce, mantous, and tong yuans. And you also see a host of things you hardly ever see in an Asian restaurant: lobster bisque, tomatillo, sablefish, jerk chicken, and orzo. Sometimes, those things are in the same dish (gasp!) and in the three dishes I tried, he did a good job of blending the two.
My meal at Shang started off with Steamed and crusted dim sum vegetable potato dumplings with swatow chili and soy juice. There were four pieces of dumplings for $12. Each dumpling was about two and a half bites, that meant that each bite was nearly a dollar. It’s really hard for me not to keep track of these things when I eat alone but it stood out. Things weren’t cheap. They were delicious though. The dumpling wrapper were made from potatoes or at least partially made of potatoes. You could taste a hint of it in the wrapper and it was a super soft dumpling. How soft? Booty soft. I’m not sure if that comparison works for those of you sitting at home, but you get the idea. The dumplings were covered with a layer of crunchy stuff on the top that provided a nice contrast to go along with the booty soft dumplings.
The dumplings were clearly a take on traditional dumplings and it was a success. It’s more difficult to be successful once you introduce some fusion into the equation. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen ‘braised veal cheeks’ from any Asian restaurants before. Since it seemed like a western ingredient, I was curious to see how Susur Lee would do with his dish of Spicy slow braised veal cheek with soft brown rice and olive preserved vegetables.
You get three pieces of veal cheeks in this dish and they are all fork tender. No knife needed for this dish. The cheeks sit on top of soft brown rice that was reminiscent of risotto. There were also crispy shallots and chives and some sour cream that topped the veal cheeks. If there was a misstep during my meal, it was that the rice was under-seasoned. There was sauce at the bottom of the plate and it was important to mix up the creamy rice with the sauce before devouring it.
When you combined the rice and the veal cheeks and the crispy shallots, it was just perfection. Nothing about the dish was out of place. The thing with most fusion restaurants is that they try too hard and you see the tug of war between one cuisine type and another. This dish at Shang represented a harmony of fusion that was welcoming.
After the veal cheeks I went with the Lobster and shrimp croquettes with slow cooked daikon, Malay Chinese black pepper sauce. The best way to describe this would be… super duper fancy shrimp and lobster McNuggets. If Susur Lee ever reads that (which he probably won’t so I’ll go along with my wacky comparisons), he would probably think I’m oversimplifying it. But I would say super duper fancy describes it well because nuggets usually don’t contain lobster and nuggets usually don’t cost $9 dollars a piece.
The key to this dish was that the outside was extremely crispy. The crunch was very satisfying and it gave way to a delicious filling of lobster and shrimp. They gave me two croquettes but it would have been less messy if they made the croquettes smaller and turned two into three croquettes. I like to eat croquettes with my hand and it gets complicated when it’s a big croquette and your lobster bits are falling off.
I was really impressed with Shang and the restaurant certainly has great promise. If you want to try good fusion food, this will probably become one of the best places to try that in the city. The cost of a meal at Shang will price it out of consideration as an everyday, neighborhood joint. But if you like something special, this place would probably be near the top of my imaginary list. And come on, don’t forget about those booty soft dumplings. Get some.
Shang187 Orchard St.New York, NY 10002212- 260-7900