Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chef Wai

I think my first introduction to Shanghainese food was at 369, a chain restaurant with a couple of locations in the Bay Area (not sure if they're around anymore, though). My parents and other family members thought it was decent, so they'd drag us kids there every other weekend or so. Since I thought it was pretty bad food, I thought that maybe I just wasn't Chinese enough to appreciate food from Shanghai. But as I got older, I realized that the problem wasn't me. I met enough people who agreed that 369 was super greasy, quickly-cooked Shanghainese food, so I happily restored my faith in xiao lung bao (steamed pork dumplings) and scallion pancakes.

Having overcome my youthful aversion to this type of food, I am now quite willing to go grab brunch at a Shanghai-style restaurant. I recently went to Chef Wai in San Mateo, where the head chef used to work at a very famous dim sum restaurant in San Francisco that closed down due to rent increases (and sadly, I don't know its English name). My parents and I ordered several dishes at Chef Wai, and they were pretty much hit or miss.

The hits:

Chinese-style crepes with red bean paste

This was absolutely perfect! The crepes were crispy and light, but firm enough to hold a generous amount of slightly sweet red bean paste on the inside. I've never had these with powdered sugar on top, but since I love sweets, I wasn't complaining. And it was served piping hot, so the red bean paste was literally melting in my mouth. Yum.

Yearcake stir-fried with veggies and shrimp

Another wonderfully-prepared dish. Shanghai-style yearcake is usually sliced into thin, oval pieces and stir-fried with other ingredients. It's chewier and less sweet than the Cantonese variant. Here, all the flavors played off each other really well, and they gave us quite a few shrimp.

And finally, you can't have Shanghainese food without these:

Xiao lung bao (steamed pork dumplings)

The dough skin was perfect (not too thin or thick), and the pork was very fresh. My favorite thing about xiao lung bao is the "soup" inside each dumpling. Before steaming, meat gelatin is placed into each dumpling, and the gelatin melts into soup during steaming so that when you bite into it, a small portion of delicious meaty broth trickles out (hopefully into your mouth, or else I think it'd be a waste). The broth in these dumplings was great - not too salty or greasy, with that hint of meat flavor that I love.

The dishes I considered "misses" were the following:
- Congee (rice porridge): Way too thick and bland. We kept adding soy sauce and pepper but it still didn't seem to help.
- Poached pork dumplings: Pretty bland and nowhere near as good as the xiao lung bao.
- Potstickers: They only gave us four pieces, and they were cold and looked like they hadn't been fried long enough.
- Scallion pancakes: Actually, these weren't that bad, but the dough was just a little too thick for our tastes.

Scallion pancakes

But overall, I'd give Chef Wai a try for their xiao lung bao and those yummy crepes. I'm sure there's other great stuff on the menu, too...I shall have to discover them on my next visit.

Chef Wai
111 E. 4th Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 342-8388


Erica said...

I LOVE the scallion pancakes that use really thin dough. yum yum yum.

Loooove xiao long bao. yumyum.

We still have to go to House of Nanking! Or get Chinese food, for that matter. I think I've been to like 3 Chinese restaurants in all of SF, and 2 were just so-so.

Helen U. said...

droooooooool! 369?? what's up with asians and naming their restaurants with multiples of three?

Helen U. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen U. said...

sorry, had to remove the last comment bc of a grammar error. teehee. i was gonna say that i second e's request to go to House of Nanking. take me too!!!

Helen U. said...

dammit i'm so hungry. can't wait to bring my car up so i can pig out in san mateo.