Thursday, May 17, 2012


On the Sky Lounge Patio guests step away from the smoke-filled interior (cigarettes are still—for now—permitted) to take a breath of fresh air and take in a breathtaking view of the skyline.
by Jeanne Lawrence

In China, a land of many traditions, I’ve created one of my own. Every time I return to Shanghai, I enjoy my first lunch at Din Tai Fung (DTF), a restaurant across the street from where I live in the Xintiandi neighborhood. I think of it as my kitchen, really, and I often return for a quick and delicious meal.

I always order the same Shanghai specialty—the divine soup dumplings called Xiao Long Bao (shall-long-bao): transparent dough wrapped around juicy pork or crab roe filling that yields a shot of tasty broth when you bite into it.

Some don’t consider DTF “authentically” Shanghainese, as it’s located in a modern shopping mall rather than in a traditional neighborhood, but the place is always jammed with locals enjoying baskets of dumplings. To me, that’s a stamp of approval, and I find everything top-notch, including the service.
One of my favorites, the restaurant Din Tai Fung (DTF) is in the Xintiandi area, inside a modern shopping mall. The hostess (who thankfully speaks English) will take your name and give you a number to be seated.
Expect to wait in lines like these at the restaurant unless you go during off-hours.
The DTF restaurants are part of a Taiwanese chain, all casual, low-key places that serve freshly made dishes quickly and efficiently.
In addition to dumplings, DTF offers noodles, steamed buns, and a variety of exotic greens.
Since there are photos of most items on the menu, you need only point to order.
Many kinds of wonton soup are also available.
At Din Tai Fung, I enjoy looking into the glass-walled kitchen and watching the large staff roll, stuff, and fold the dumplings (exactly 18 times, as tradition demands). The cooks neatly pinch the dumpling edges, pop them into bamboo steamers until they’re done, and serve them piping hot to the eager patrons.

Unlike American dumplings, which often are made with thick, gummy, and gooey dough, Shanghainese dumplings are notable for their thin, tender skin.
The restaurant provides novice eaters with instructions for consuming Xiao Long Bao, and will answer any questions you may have.
The best way to eat Xiao Long Bao is to pick it up with chopsticks, then place it in your spoon.
You don’t want the broth to squirt out, so rather than chomp down on the dumpling, you should bite gingerly, sip the liquid out, dip it in a ginger, vinegar, and soy sauce, and then polish it off.
Other types of dumplings are served in wonton soup; the spicy one is my favorite.
Stephanie Lawrence, my daughter, enjoys a favorite lunch of spicy and crispy cucumbers, morning glory greens, and fresh watermelon juice.
Friends know I’m always in search of a “really authentic” good dumpling place, and some recommended Fu Chun.

I was the only foreigner there. I looked around at what everyone else was eating and when the waitress came, I simply pointed to the baskets of dumplings on other tables, and also requested “cha,” Mandarin for tea. (Fortunately for me, that’s an easy word to pronounce!)
Fu Chun restaurant is located in a traditional Shanghai neighborhood filled with lovely row houses.
This popular hole-in-the-wall is filled with local Chinese patrons and is open from 6:30 in the morning until midnight.
The menu was written in Chinese characters on a blackboard, and no one spoke English, so I wondered if I’d be able to order lunch.
I watched the cooks roll out the dough, place a mound of pork meat on it, and wrap the dumplings.
I miss these dumplings when I’m away from Shanghai.
When the waitress came over, I just pointed to the food at the table next to me, and she understood what I wanted.
Of course, you must have tea to accompany all the dumplings.
If people want a very authentic experience, I’d send them to Fu Chun, provided they understand the place is less than pristine, the meat is a little gristly, and they might have to communicate in sign language.

Though it wasn’t four-star, I’ll return, as this place is a popular local spot and typical of “Old Shanghai.” But I prefer Din Tai Fung; though it’s slightly pricier, the dumpling skins are more translucent and more perfectly shaped.

After lunch, I walked around the typical old Shanghai neighborhood, filled with row houses. I still find it fascinating to wander through the lanes and observe a slice of daily Shanghai life.
My friend Gene Shen introduced me to Lynn Restaurant. A Managing Partner of Options Group, which is involved in executive search, market intelligence, and strategic consulting, he keeps me au courant on the “in” spots.

Fluent in Mandarin, thanks to the insistence of his educated parents, Gene divides his time between Shanghai and New York and moves easily between the two worlds.
Lynn Restaurant is located off the main famous shopping street, Nanjing Road West, and is adjacent to the Portman Ritz-Carlton and JC Mandarin Hotel.
Lynn Restaurant serves contemporary Shanghai food. Across the street from Plaza 66, the upscale office park and shopping mall, Lynn attracts the local business crowd and shoppers. I love its beautiful ikebana arrangements.
Lynn serves “modern” Chinese cuisine, a mélange of Shanghainese, French, and Cantonese styles.
For lunch, Gene ordered a tasty array of dim sum (“little bites,” or small dishes, which are a Cantonese tradition). I wish I’d written down the names so I could order them again. 
The food was delicious—lighter and more westernized than is often the case. (Shanghai food is typically loaded with sugar and soy sauce.) I feel comfortable sending my foreign friends here, especially if they are health-conscious.
When I returned to Shanghai in the fall, I hosted several lunches to catch up on the news with my women friends.

Newly returned to China, I wanted some local cuisine and chose Lynn Restaurant, which turned out to be a popular choice.

I’ve learned that when I want an authentic Chinese meal, I should go with a big group (to be able to sample a small bit of a large number of dishes) and bring along someone who knows what to order.
Lynn’s décor is smart and contemporary—it could be a restaurant in New York.
Fortunately, my guests included food connoisseur Lynn Zhang Barboza, who founded the ArtZineChina web site and took time out from her MBA studies to come help me choose the specialty dishes for my group.

At the table were fashion consultant Monica Angelini; journalist and author of Shanghai Girls: Uncensored & Unsentimental Mina Choi Hanbury-Tenison; venture capitalist Laurette Hartigan; TV personality and producer of Minds of Millionaires on Shanghai’s ICS channel, Nancy Merrill; Chinese art expert Lynn Zhang; and Judy Shue, who just arrived to Shanghai with her husband, who works for Harvard.
Monica Angelina, Judy Shue, Laurette Hartigan, Nancy Merrill, and Mina Choi Hanbury-Tenison.
Jeanne Lawrence and Lynn Zhang Barboza.
Laurette Hartigan.
Mina Choi Hanbury-Tenison published a book, Shanghai Girls: Uncensored & Unsentimental: How to Marry Up and Stay There, that is on its second printing. I find it amusing that it’s listed on Amazon under “Self-Help” books.
Food Connoisseur Lynn Zhang Barboza studies the menu like the French do, then discusses it with the waitress.
I hosted a second group at Lynn that included Grace Penn Chiao, who built the charming and intimate Les Suites Orient boutique hotel on the Bund; Joanna Cappo, who restores historic Art Deco houses, and her sister-in-law Jeanne Cappo; and Han Feng, a fashion and opera costume designer who divides her time between NYC and Shanghai.

The party also included businesswomen Cathy Hau, who is now Executive Director of real estate group CITIC Capital Holdings; Shelley Lim, who recently collaborated with San Francisco designer Ann Getty on Shanghai’s Maison de L’Hui restaurant; Denise Huang, founder of Suzhou Cobbler, which makes wonderful hand-embroidered slippers and handbags; and Adriana Mannering, an Italian who has lived in Shanghai for over 15 years and creates exclusive shopping tours.
I chose a semi-closed separate room at Lynn’s, which gave us some privacy for gossiping. (There are also private rooms in back.)
Top, l. to r.: Han Feng, Denise Huang, Jeanne Cappo, Adriana Mannering.
Bottom, l. to r.: Shelley Lim, Cathy Hau, Joanna Cappo, Jeanne Lawrence, and Grace Chiao.
Adriana Mannering and Han Feng.
Denise Huang, Shelley Lim, and Cathy Hau.
Grace Chiao, Joanna Cappo, and Jeanne Cappo.
On my way home, this amusing and colorful form of transportation and delivery caught my eye.
One night I dined at the popular Mr & Mrs Bund, voted one of the top 10 restaurants in Asia by the Miele Guide. The most chic of my friends dine and entertain here.

At the helm of Mr & Mrs Bund is Chef/Owner Frenchman Paul Pairet, who made his mark locally at the famed Pudong Shangri-La hotel restaurant Jade on 36. In 2009, he struck out on his own—the right choice, as his restaurant is a big success.

Self-styled a “modern eatery,” it merges classical French fare and avant-garde dishes on an innovative, imaginative menu.

I was introduced to Mr & Mrs Bund by PR maven Chloe Reuter, who has lived in Asia some 20 years and speaks and writes Chinese. Jewelry designer Cindy Chao and luxury consultant Wei Chen also joined us for dinner.
Mr & Mrs Bund is in one of the regal colonial buildings on the Bund, the famous promenade along the Huangpu River.
On another evening, Elizabeth and Charles de Brabant, one of the best-connected expat couples, and Richard Hsu and I met for dinner at Mr & Mrs Bund.

Elizabeth runs an eponymous contemporary art gallery, and Charles, after years with L’Oreal, co-founded Saint-Pierre, Brabant, Li & Associés, which specializes in creating and marketing brands. Luckily, Richard Hsu was able to join us, having just returned from volunteering at an orphanage in Vietnam.

On Friday and Saturdays, Lynn is open until 4 a.m., I’m told (I’m not up at that hour!); with a club-like feel, it’s an ideal after-party stop ... or place for a newly arrived international traveler who’s just ready for lunch!
Along with Mr & Mrs Bund, the Bund 18 address is also home to shops filled with luxury brands of jewelry and clothing, and drinking and dining spots.
The contemporary interior and red, black, and silver palette of Mr & Mrs Bund belies the building’s classic architecture. Ask for a table by the window for a great view.
Taiwan-based jewelry artist Cindy Chao sculpts one-of-a-kind pieces from exquisite gemstones and has been inducted into the Smithsonian Institute. Wei Chen is a luxury brand consultant for investors and developers coming to China.
Cindy Chao, Wei Chen, Chloe Reuter (whose Reuter PR works with the most exclusive luxury brands, including Sotheby's and Aman resorts), and Jeanne Lawrence.
The diners enjoy the dramatic presentation of the dishes, and the large portions inspire sharing, family-style.
The chef’s signature entrees include “Black Cod Fish In The Bag,” in which the fish is simmered in a heatproof bag with a Cantonese Sauce, and “Long Short Beef Rib Teriyaki,” which features an orange reduction glaze and garlic chips.
A long 16-seat communal table is center stage, a festive and fun setup for a group celebration.
Elizabeth de Brabant, Richard Hsu, Jeanne Lawrence, and Charles de Brabant.
Chef Pariet’s specialties also include foie gras, beef ribs, freshly baked breads, and a lemon tart, which I intend to sample on my next trip.
The menu is so vast I wished I had studied it beforehand, but the maître d’ was wonderfully helpful in making recommendations.
One unusual feature is being able to order fine wine, from the world’s top labels, by the glass. An automatic wine dispensing system does the pouring to make this possible.
Jeanne Lawrence enjoys selecting her own wine.
Afterward, we went upstairs in the Bund 18 building to the famous Bar Rouge nightclub. Though it’s been around for a while, it’s still the place to stop for some action.
The sleek red Bar Rouge interior is always packed with a mix of expats, natives, and visiting nightclub crawlers.
On the Sky Lounge Patio you can see the past, the present, and the future of Shanghai.
When New Yorkers Robyn and Ken Joseph arrived in Shanghai for business, they invited me to what they described as “the best buffet in town” at the Pudong Shangri-La’s Yi Café.

The family knows exquisite food and luxury hotels, so naturally I was eager to sample a place they raved about. And famed gallery owner Pearl Lam of London, Shanghai, and Hong Kong also told me it was her favorite brunch place.

I wasn’t disappointed! In one place, and without boarding a plane, your taste buds can sample cuisines from every place in the world.
There’s always a bustle of activity in the light, airy lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel.
On the second floor of the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, the Yi Café offers one of the most extravagant luncheon buffets in town.
The simple furnishings and subdued lighting at the casual Café just serve as background to the food: it’s real eye candy!
New Yorkers Ken and Robyn Joseph travel to Shanghai on business often.
You can come back again and again to sample the international dishes at the buffet.
The Mediterranean station offers Turkish, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern fare, including silky hummus, marinated chickpeas, and tender kebabs.
Another station offers Indian staples such as naan, chicken tikka, and marinated chicken, all prepared in a large tandoori oven.
Americans homesick for a salad bar and other U.S. menu staples can satisfy their cravings here.
The pasta at the Italian station is made to order.
Marco Polo brought pasta back from China, Catherine di Medici introduced it to the French court, and international travelers can sample it today at the place where it was invented.
Robyn Joseph chose the sushi bar.
Naturally, there’s a huge Chinese station, serving up noodle soups, dim sum, Peking duck, roast suckling pig, and hand-strung noodles made before your eyes.
The desserts are the icing on the cake—and the cake itself, as well as cookies, ice cream, sorbets, toppings, and for the disciplined, fresh fruit.
Children overwhelmed by the assortment of goodies—lollipops, cotton candy, a menagerie of gummy animals—are happy to discover they can pack some up and take it home. Our cups runneth over at the chocolate fondue fountain—a final extravagance!
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.