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Shanghai Restaurant: Never Outgrow Your Need for Drunken Chicken

Photo: Bill Sywak

Shanghai, specializing in Ha cuisine, is open for dinner from 5-10 p.m. and has a small-plate menu from 10 p.m.-midnight.

By Bill Sywak

Towards the end of summer a new eating destination opened in the Castro, heir to the Market St. site commanded by the late Mecca. But this time, with the passage of several years, a multi-story condo and commercial project is replacing the low-slung auto dealership to the left, while the libidinal stalwarts of Eros continue to frame the other side, the ever mundane Castro Safeway directly ahead. Once construction has run its course, as it will in many locations in San Francisco and particularly along the rising corridor from the Ferry Building to Harvey Milk Plaza, the new Shanghai restaurant could fill a neighborhood niche.

Shanghai cuisine, an amalgam of provincial flavors and signature dishes represented in the new Castro location, partly depends on cooking and steaming with alcohol (hence the term “drunken chicken”) and on stewing meats and vegetables with a fusion of sugar and soy sauce, among other ingredients.

The menu selected by owner Francis Tsai has won praise from diners for the Xiao Long Bao, steamed dumplings filled with pork and some have said not enough broth; Pork Belly wrapped in a lotus bun; the boneless chicken simmered in shaoxing wine known as Drunken Chicken (suitable for designated drivers, too); and their signature Vegetarian Duck. And these are just selections from the small plates available as appetizers, and as a welcome addition to the Castro, as “Late Night Snacks” from 10 pm to nearly midnight.

In this reasonably priced a la carte menu soups come next (a Snowy Mountain with cured ham and a Golden Corn and Ground Chicken selection were especially tasteful). Main plates range from several fish offerings (“Three Snow White” consisting of fish fillet, shrimp and a “lily bulb” stir-fried in vinegar and shaoxing wine), to Angus beef slices and spicy pieces of wok-seared beef fillet, and Short Riblets in tangy sauce. For those unaccustomed to this “Ha cuisine,” as Shanghai taste is known, this is definitely a menu in which to roam, sample and enjoy, especially during this holiday season.

A couple of words about price and familiarity. For some diners, the prices may be more than they are accustomed to paying, while for others the tab was quite reasonable, especially for what was received. Similarly, early reviewers welcomed the addition of Shanghai cuisine into the Castro while others expressed higher expectations over time.

Finally, a few words about décor, hours and the graciousness and individual attention of staff. Patrons of Mecca will no doubt recognize the layout and unfolding of space. What was a very pleasant surprise, however, was the tasteful aesthetics of the table settings and overall hushed atmosphere. Special mention should be made of the professionalism and conviviality of owner Francis Tsai who greeted most patrons personally, and the bright Castro energy and humor injected by Kent, the prime celebrant of energy and fun behind the creative bar.

In a welcome twist for the Castro, Shanghai serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10, with a dim sum brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 3. Happy hour starts around 5 and goes to dinner and then ends with a late night small plate menu till 10 or so most nights.

Just drop in at the bar and feel free to stay for dinner. Shanghai is at 2029 Market St., between Dolores and 14th streets. Reservations are available at (415) 701-8866 or at www.shanghai-rest.com.