Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lan Xin Restaurant

Lan Xin Restaurant is a Shanghainese Restaurant that I enjoy, but a restaurant I think of as existing in the shadow of Chun, which is practically next door on Jinxian Lu. Like Chun, it's a small, home-style restaurant, turning out authentic tasty versions of the local cuisine in a casual setting. Chun is a little famous for not having a menu – or at the least, every time I've seen Chun mentioned, the no-menu thing gets mentioned as well. Lan Xin has a menu, but it's hand-written, here's a gander at a page:

Lan Xin is a step or two behind Chun in a few regards. The place is small, but doesn't feel charming, just packed. In addition to the main dining area with five tables, there's also a seriously steep flight of stairs that leads to a small room with a couple tables and a couch, it feels like sneaking into someone's private room for a meal.

I think the food, while still very good, is not as good as Chun's. While Chun is consistently excellent in everything it creates, Lan Xin varies. Still, there's a number of dishes that the restaurant is famous for getting right, and these dishes are seen on just about every table. One of these is Hong Shao Rou, a Shanghai specialty of fatty pork with a sweet sauce. Their rendition is on the fatty side, but still probably the best I've ever had. The "red" sauce it's served in is dark to the point of being black.

Another popular dish is Cong Bao Xia Ren. OK, I'm a lazy eater. I don't like spitting out bones, I don't like picking at shrimp shells to get out the meat. These shrimps were very tasty, but small and inconvenient to eat: first bite off the heads, then pop the rest in the mouth, try to chew out the meat, and then spit out the shell.

My favorite vegetable dish there is nothing fancy, but quite nice: Tang Cu Ying Si. It's a lightly pickled mix of a local vegetable, sliced mushroom, and black fungus:

But there's a lot on the menu that I find surprisingly average. Certainly not bad, but not the sort of thing you'd expect to find at a restaurant with a perpetual line. The Tofu and Shepard's Purse Soup, usually a favorite of mine, is oily and not particularly good. And this eggplant, not as spicy as it looks, just wasn't anything to get excited about:

And a quick digression: I've lived in Shanghai for quite some time, and before that I lived in heavily Chinese Downtown Oakland. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about Chinese food, and consequently I snobbishly turn my nose up at certain un-authentic American Chinese restaurants, although I think there are plenty very authentic Chinese restaurants in the US. So what to make of Lan Xin's Gu Lao Pork? It's quite good, but it's coming from almost the exact same playbook as Sweet and Sour Pork, the sort of thing you'd find at Panda Express. It's not quite as tangy, and the meat is of a higher quality than what you'd find there, but it wouldn't raise an eyelid if it was served back at some mall in California, alongside a fortune cookie:

Update 2/25/2009 - Wow, according to Wikipedia, Sweet and Sour Pork is actually the same dish, after being transported to Canton and then California.

One advantage Lan Xin does have over Chun is that it's half the price, bills should come out to around fifty kuai ($7.50) per person, or less. While I think it's possible on some theoretical level to just show up and get in line, I definitely recommend making a reservation first, the phone number is (21)6253-3554.

Unfortunately, there isn't any English at all, and while the staff is friendly, this restaurant will probably be impossible to navigate without at least a little Chinese, or a willingness to point at other people's tables. It's worth trying your luck though. Finally, the address is 130 Jinxian Lu, it's very close to both Chun and the Lomography store. I get there by taking the #1 Subway to Shaanxi Nan Lu station, walking north along Maoming Lu for five or ten minutes, and then taking a left at Jinxian Lu. It's right near the corner.

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