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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Shanghai'd to Oakland

Last night Bill, Bruce, Seth, and I decided to meet at Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland's Chinatown for a little sump'um-sump'um.

Since that wasn't on the menu, we decided to order something else instead.

What drug B, B, and me all the way over that PCB-rich watermass known as the Bay to Oaktown was a benefit for our swell pal Dax Pierson who was hurt in an automobile accident earlier this year. The benefit was a show at the Lobot Gallery in West Oakland featuring Moe! Kestra, French Radio, and Soft Pink Truth.

We could only stay for Moe! Kestra and part of something I call "interpretive fright drag", but it was good to see the gallery space, plus a couple of folks I haven't seen in years (mostly Andy and Chris Detzer). Moe! Kestra was also quite a gas and watching the conductor, aka Moe, conduct was pretty amusing. The cacophonous sound of the musicians, which lined the perimeter of the gallery, was tuned and untuned and modified and managed by this guy Moe – a short, thin, muscular Chris Issac-looking guy in a white shirt, black pants, black tie – who ran across and all around the room frantically jotting down "code" on paper that indicated to the musicians where or what to play weird next.

Frankly, I like a little structure to my music, but the spectacle of it was enough to keep my attention. It was amusing to see the musicians attempt to decipher Moe Code, often with serious, yet hilarious, looks of consternation and confusion. At one point, Moe was giving direction to the guy with the laptop by pointing at a prepared piece of sheet music, only to receive a confused look. Why? The guy had the sheet upside down.

If I was yawning, it wasn't because I was bored. Well, not totally. Sure I felt a little ill-mannered by uncontrollably yawning during the set and afterwards, but the four of us just had a huge meal in Chinatown and then ice cream afterwards. Can you blame me?

This was the first time I've had Shanghainese food and I found it extremely interesting. Granted, in my everyday vocabulary, "interesting" usually translates as "sucky" in carefully controlled dialogue, as not to offend. But, truly, I was interested and challenged and that's cool, you know?

Bill and Seth are great dining companions. Seth immediately goes for anything that remotely sounds forbidden, strange, or just downright disgusting (I won't even mention the rude "fleshlight" conversation we had during dinner). If it was legal, I actually believe Seth would eat a baby. But what do you expect. He is the child of serious foodies.

At Shanghai Restaurant, our gracious waitress took our orders and then conducted the rest of our meal, plate by plate, building quickly up to a crescendo while running back and forth to the kitchen. If she was conducting the Moe! Kestra (which in hindsight I think she was), it would've looked something like this.

First came the cold plate of jellyfish. Cold dishes are very Shanghainese and this was definitely a classic dish. According to Bill and Seth, it's been better at the restaurant before (usually it's more transparent). But I really loved the cold, crunchy sesame oil flavor of it.

Next came the pork joint which was damn large and damn impressive, except ouch! Was that just an artery clogging up? This was a huge pork joint that was dark and rich, with a thick layer of fat blanketing juicy tender dark meat underneath, and surrounded by a thick dark sweet sauce with steamed baby bok choy swimming in the moat around it.

Rice was served to wash it down with, as was tea and water, yet no alcohol, which is also a trademark of Shanghainese food (usually cooked with wine). Honestly, I've never consumed much alcohol while eating Chinese food, which may be just as well since let's not even mention LSD and noodles, ok?

Next came the steaming-hot xiao long bao, which is a classic Shanghai dumpling filled with pork and a little bit of soup broth, which is then steamed. I thought the bao was very satisfying, especially with the dark vinegar sauce it came with. Though small, the order was just enough for the 4 of us, especially considering all of the food we had ordered.

Soon came the Shanghai fried noodles with eel that was topped with a dark sweet sauce (sweetness is a standard in Shanghainese food). The noodles were just ok and the eel didn't make an impression, although according to Seth, it did sit well in the refridgerator overnight. And along with this dish came the scallion pancakes and raddish cake, both of which I found pretty uninteresting, and by that I do mean sucky. Both Bill and Seth came to the defense of the radish cakes, mentioning that they've had them here before when they were crispy and flavorful.

Last was the vegetable dish; something the waitress called "ay-tai", but what I think was actually sauteed water spinach with garlic. This was a pretty nice and subdued dish that served as a good accompaniment to all of the heavy foods we had up to that point. The good thing about eating any Chinese food is that, more often than not, the veggies are always in season.

After all of this, we were too stuffed to order anything more (much like the exhausted Moe who ran his little butt off). So it was with great sadness that we couldn't fit into our guts the delicious looking, huge, meatballs and shredded pork, Szechuan-style, noodles the table behind us had ordered. At least I know what to order next time. And none of us ordered the stinky tofu, but perhaps that's also something to try next. Word has it that they only serve it after hours; that is when all of the 9 to 5 workers in the neighborhood leave the area. Who could resist that?!

Upon leaving the restaurant, we paid ($13 each) our check and decided to head across the street to an ice cream shop Seth recommended. We waited outside of the restaurant for one or two of our bunch to visit the potty and wash their hands, and while we did, I couldn't help but notice how empty this Chinatown was at night. What a nice, warm night to be out, and yet Oakland Chinatown was practically a ghost town after 8.

Had Gertrude Stein been right all along? Or is it that the there just wasn’t' there, but is there somewhere? Nevertheless, above the Shanghai Restaurant was a dance class in mid-rehearsal, and it was somewhat amusing to hear the instructor repeating "2-3-cha cha cha" on what seemed to be a small mic'd amplifier. Maybe, for some, possibly for them, there was there, and was exactly where there needed to be.

Anyhow, across the street to the small shop that served the "Marco Polo" ice cream, which came in durian, lychee, red bean paste, green tea, and coconut flavors. I had the durian, which was hard to describe but stuck with me, like linguica, long afterwards. It was a great way of trying durian without the infamous stink that usually accompanies the fresh fruit.

Or at least so I think.

Afterwards we headed towards the show (see beginning of entry) and then parted ways as we dropped Bill and Seth off at BART.

On our drive back across the bay bridge, I couldn't help but notice all of the guys and girls born in the 80's driving into the city in cars 4 or 5 full, with windows rolled down and their generation's version of 2 Live Crew pumping from the subwoofers. Besides gagging over the thought of that much cologne and perfume in a single car, I did happen to have a happy thought that capped my night off well.

Thank you for carpooling!


PS Please visit the Dax website and contribute...for me, ok?


Blogger megwoo said...

oooooh. that pork joint looks amazing (even if it is deadly to the heart).

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Seth said...

Kevin said, "If it was legal, I actually believe Seth would eat a baby." Are you callin' me a
fat bastard?

Actually I satisfy myself with
this substitute:


12:01 AM  

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