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Postcard From Tom: Shanghai, China

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

CHUN (124 Jinxian Lu, 011-86-21-6256-0301)

Don't be put off by the dreary facade or bare-bones interior. Do reserve well in advance for a chance at one of only four tables watched over by Minglan Qu, the carefree owner of the 1989-vintage Shanghainese shoebox. There is no menu; she simply tells you what the kitchen has made that day. With luck, the choices might include a woodsy-looking salad of tofu and mushrooms, small and crunchy lake shrimp, and my latest passion: snails and pork, chopped up, spiked with alcohol, stuffed into snail shells and served with toothpicks for extricating the "meatball" inside. $10 per diner.

GUYI HUNAN (89 Fumin Lu, 011-86-21-6249-5628)

Illuminated by chandeliers and set off by a mirrored wall, this big and busy dining room celebrates the cooking of Hunan: finely shredded chicken glistening with chili oil; short ribs in a casserole heaped with ginger, garlic and fistfuls of chopped red chilies; plump frogs' legs in a bamboo tube filled with a fiery broth of peppers. Although the English translations beg for explanation (what exactly is "a jar full of sweet smelling soup"?), the curious should observe what their Chinese neighbors are slurping and follow suit. Dinner for two, about $25.

FU 1039 (1039 YuYuan Rd., 011-86-21-5237-1878)

Patrons stroll down a small alley and pass a lovely bamboo courtyard on their way to one of the most fashionable meals in the city. Beautifully staged and expertly served in a rambling old mansion, the food is delicate and delicious. Ask for a sampling of the kitchen's signatures and out might come sweet and crisp smoked fish; hairy crab, a seasonal treat, strewn over braised asparagus; prawns draped in a sweet-hot chili sauce; tiny peas tossed with bits of ham; and snowlike peanut ice cream for a cool close. Dinner for two, about $125.

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