What captures a season more than a meal specially prepared for a group of friends? Ala Shanghai is wonderful about preparing specialty menus for a group, and was kind enough to prepare a seasonal dinner for Daniel B., Stanford Steph, Mr. Sunshine, Jess Tanner, Cap 2 Cap & her guy, plus Albany John and me.
App plate with aster salad, wine chicken, smoked fish, and Shanghai-style jelly fish.
The fish was sweet and preserved-y. Not much smoky flavor, but nice texture.
I’ve had the aster salad & wine chicken before – nice and refreshing for the Spring/Summer cusp.
Shanghai-style jelly fish is my new fave summer dish. It’s still got a lot of crunchiness/firmness to it. Flavored lightly, but oh man. Way better than Cantonese style jelly fish (which is more like a noodle-y chewy texture). I want Shanghai jellyfish ALL SUMMER LONG. So good.
This was a great soup for the season. Warm, but very lightly flavored. The cilantro offered some brightness and lightness. A little bit of egg whites and velveted beef. Not a heavy soup at all.
Luffa with shrimp. YUM! I’ve never had luffa. So good. It’s also called the sponge veggie. I’ve read it on Serious Eats but had yet to try it since it’s hard to find up here sometimes, and the season is fairly narrow.
Lanny, the owner of Ala, was telling us that September is the late cutoff for luffa before it gets bitter and unpleasant tasting. August is your last best bet to try this dish at Ala before it goes off of the menu.
It’s like a really light flavor of zucchini/squash and a softer texture.
Chicken with white snow fungus. If you’ve had black wood ear/fungus this is the polar opposite. I was excited to try it since I’ve only had the black versions (heavier flavor) and had only ever seen the white/clear version of it in dessert recipes.
Again, a nice and refreshing dish. Light flavors, great textures.
Tong Bo Pork Belly. This looks laquered, no? The skin is cooked into unctuousness and it’s all quivery and pillowy soft. It comes with some baby bok choy on the sides, but make no mistake – this is no light dish. It’s heavy with layers of fat, and has a sweeter flavor profile. This is a dish that will stick to your ribs.
The softshell crabs with egg yolk were my FAVORITE dish of the night. I think I ate half of the plate by myself (sorry guys…). I mean, you have to eat them soon ’cause fried food only has a finite lifespan. SO GOOD!
Salty, crispy… the egg yolk added a nice rich savory note to the dish. And c’mon. SOFTSHELL CRABS! So perfect.
I forget the name of this dish, but it’s one I’m somewhat familiar with. I’m used to calling it bird’s nest noodles ’cause the noodles are all crispy and the topping is put on top.
Dessert was chrysanthemum jelly with lychees! YAY, lychees!
A really light and refreshing end to dinner. I think this menu showcased Ala Shanghai’s ability to create a well-balanced dinner menu. There weren’t a bunch of heavy dishes, and the lighter dishes they have really are lighter and have very little oil on them. I think this ability to let subtle flavors shine is one of their strongpoints, and one of the reasons Ala is one of my favorite restaurants in the area.
I’m not one to really care about how much fat is in a dish. But there are some dishes that I think are hurt by a heavy hand of oil. A lot of Hong Kong style and Cantonese style Chinese dishes use more oil than I’d like in their veggie dishes. Sure, sometimes it makes them taste rich and buttery, but other times it’s too heavy and you just want pure veggie flavor (or just something light and refreshing). I love that all of the dishes I’ve had at Ala Shanghai that sound light actually come out light and not covered in oil.
Oh, and best of all – dinner was $20 per person, TAX AND TIP INCLUDED! How crazy-cheap is that?! Best of all, if you want a similar menu, you can give them a call or email and you can set up a seasonal dinner of your own. I wish I had more time on my hands to do this every week.