Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lan Ting

Lan Ting Kitchen is the Shanghainese restaurant I've been to the most, unless I count the local-style greasy spoons or xiaolongbao shacks I pop into. It follows the pattern of many of my favorite Shanghainese Restaurants: amazing food, cheapish price, no English, and a small & packed environment with no atmosphere other than a certain “wow, this is really different than the US” novelty. There's six small tables, half of them seat two people, and half of them seat four, with a little squeezing.

Lan Ting is conveniently located at 107 Song Shan Road, it's a couple blocks away from exit number two of the very central Huangpi Nan Lu Subway Station, nearish to Xintiandi. It doesn't take reservations, and there's generally a line outside – you take your chances. Arrive on the weekdays or at around five on the weekends, and there might well be either no line or just a short line. On the weekends, it's more like fifteen minutes to an hour.

The menu is extensive, generally a waiter will give a copy to people in line, to order before they sit down – that sounds terrible, but the restaurant doesn't push customers through, and even if they did, it's not really the sort of place to linger. The menu is divided into different types of food, each with their own page, and every page has a few of the most popular dishes highlighted. Someone without any Chinese should be able to order fine, just by selecting a highlighted dish from a number of different pages. Inevitably, looking at other tables, 90% of the dishes ordered are these highlighted dishes.

Here's a dish I very much enjoy, sweet & sour pork strips, it's #7 in the above menu. It's quite vinegary, with a nice breading. I could eat it all day!

And this is the remains of a nice vegetable dish, swimming in an alcohol sauce. A lot of the dishes here are cooked in Chinese Yellow Alcohol. In small amounts I don't really have an opinion if that's a good or a bad thing. However, in a few of the dishes the Yellow Alcohol taste is overwhelming, and just not to my favor.

Their fried fish with vinegar dish is excellent but very simple, perhaps it's simply too much fried fish with vinegar for only two people. I'd still recommend this dish, but it’s better for groups of four than groups of two.

I tried this straw-mushroom dish because they were sold out of my first choice, but I found it bizarrely bad. It wasn't gross, just the tastes didn't match or amount to anything more than “random ingredients heated in the same pan.”

Finally, they have excellent soups. Their shepherd's purse & tofu soup is my favorite rendition of my favorite soup – with my #2 being the version at Shanghai Restaurant back in Oakland California, ha ha. I also very much like their Hot and Sour soup.

The bill comes to around fourty kuai per person when I go, that's about six dollars. Although the atmosphere is poor and having to wait outside is a pain, especially in the cold Shanghai Winter, I strongly recommend this restaurant.

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