Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrating Chinese New Year at Modern Shanghai

Chinese New Year is just around the corner and with everyone celebrating early, I thought I'd hop on the bandwagon and head over to my favorite Chinese restaurant for dimsum and pork ribs! But as it turns out, I didn't have to after getting an invite from a friend to check out Modern Shanghai in Glorietta, as the restaurant's owner was in Manila cooking up delicious Shanghainese fare with a modern twist just in time to welcome the Year of the Horse.

Not passing up the chance to shake the hand of one of the most established restaurateurs in the industry, I headed over to Glorietta with Jericho one afternoon  to say hello to Mr. Paul Kwok.

Modern Shanghai is located at the third floor of Glorietta 2, before the row of electronics stores and that one lonely pet shop. The place is pretty big, decorated mainly with familiar Chinese patterns with a modern twist. I especially love how his business partner, also one of the most sought out architects in Hong Kong and China, cleverly sewed in all of the elements - earth, fire, wind, and water - into the restaurant's decorations, but with a very modern take that makes the place a lot more inviting and a little less "tea house" like.

As Jericho and I settled in, we ordered a few tea-based cocktails to start the afternoon. I had the Manadrin Margarita (P218) - fresh pineapple muddled with mint leaves and fresh lime topped with Ginger Ale and Ceylon tea. It's a  fruity, refreshing drink, with the ginger ale giving it just the right fizz to keep you drinking on. You won't get drunk anyway, so what's the harm, right?

Jericho had the Mango Tea Sangria (P148) - a unique mix of fresh mangoes, strawberries, lemon, orange juice, Sprite and mango tea. Albeit it does the job of cooling you off, I found it a tad too sweet for my taste.

When at Chinese restaurants, I always order the jellyfish, and Modern Shanghai has two kinds! The Jellyfish in Sesame Oil & Spring Onions (P148) uses the jellyfish's body and has that chewy texture that I love. The Jelly Fish with Aged Vinegar (P148) on the other hand uses the jellyfish's head, and has a crunchy yet gelatinous texture that I find a bit weird. Jericho spat out his piece. Haha! It really is an acquired taste.

Another appetizer we enjoyed was the Deep-Fried Scallion Pancakes (P148). It was light and fluffy, with the sesame seeds giving it some much needed texture and the scallions some flavor. I was pleased that it wasn't as oily as I expected it to be.

Of course, when at Modern Shanghai one must have a basket of their Signature Xiao Long Bao (P208). These delicate dumplings were a hit on and with good reason - they're delicious! You would never believe these soupy dimsums were made by Filipinos, heck, even Paul was impressed at how good they were. He said it takes years and years of practice to make these babies, and they managed to outshine their Chinese counterparts with only 6 months of training! Bravo!

Wait a while for the dimsum to cool before picking them up with your chopsticks. Bite off the top and drink up some of the broth before adding the soy sauce and ginger and gobbling the rest up. Repeat.

Paul showed us how meticulous the process of making the xiao long bao was, as well as how to properly eat the incredibly soupy dumplings. I think I must've had over four or five of these before I thought to stop. I couldn't stop eating! Paul was a wonderful host. He was animated when explaining everything that came out, and you could really see how passionate he is when it comes to his restaurants.

If you want to get a little bit of everything, the Dimsum Platter, otherwise known as the Basket of Treasure, has little gifts of siu mai, xiao long bao, hakaw, pork buns, and mushroom dumplings for you and the rest of the family to enjoy.

By the time we were through with appetizers, we needed a couple more virginal libations to parch our throats (I think I had way too much xiao long bao), and Jericho opted to try the Shanghai Lily (P118) this time around - an oriental mix of lychee, grapefruit honey, mango juice, chrysanthemum tea and Sprite, garnished with fresh mint. The flavor of lychee and grapefruit honey really comes through, with the Sprite giving it a nice fizz at the end.

I tried the most popular tea-based cocktail on the menu, the Mint Tea Mojito (P118). Made with fresh pineapple muddled with mint leaves and fresh lime, topped with Ginger Ale and a splash of Ceylon tea. A refreshing mojito without the buzz. Just the thing you need when you want to swing back a few cocktails with the kids around. Or because it's the middle of the afternoon and you still need to get back to work after lunch!

Paul introduced us to some of the new dishes he had been playing around with and would be rolling out come Chinese New Year. First up was the Crispy Beef with Sweet & Sour Sauce. They may look like ordinary slivers of beef tossed in with julienned vegetables, but the flavorful beef has been fried. Twice.

See, in Shanghai the Chinese preserve a lot of their food and ration it out during the winter months.So they would fry up pieces meat - in this case, beef - and set aside most of it for the colder months where they'd re-fry batches of it again and toss in whatever vegetables are available at the time and serve it in some kind of sauce, usually spicy, to warm them up.

Another new dish making its debut on the Year of the Horse is the Crispy Pork with Coriander Mayonnaise Sauce. Still a work in progress, the pork portions were thick, yet they needed to be crispier. But the coriander mayo sauce is the bomb! I kept licking my chops (and chopsticks!) for remnants of the light sauce, making sure nothing went to waste.

A Chinese New Year dish that's actually on the menu is the "Signature" Braised Lucky Pork Knuckle (P888), otherwise known as Pata Tim served with bok choy. This is a must order for prosperity. Apparently, eating this will help with grabbing success for the rest of the year. I think the Chinese proverb forget to warn people about how one should also not be greedy when grabbing prosperity, as it may result in cholesterol problems and issues with high blood pressure.

Of course, when eating pata tim, a bowl of Yang Chow Fried Rice on standby is a must. I had a few spoonfuls to help make the pork's ride into my tummy a lot smoother. The rest of the dishes were perfect on their own though!

Another new dish was the Crispy Chicken with Chili & Pomelo Sauce. Although the chicken still needed to marinate for a few hours longer, the chili and pomelo sauce was divine! The sweet and spicy sauce now has another flavor profile in the mix, the tart pomelo meat, giving the chicken a whole other taste profile.

I also found out from Paul that when celebrating Chinese New Year, a fish dish is mandatory. Modern Shanghai has a delicious Deep-Fried Garoupa with Sweet & Sour Sauce (P888) that promises to make every tummy at the table happy!

The Chinese superstition is you shouldn't finish off the whole fish, but leave a little bit on the plate so you always have savings for the rest of the year. If I were to believe that were true, I'd leave the whole damn fish untouched. But it would probably be something like tambakol (yellow fin tuna), not this amazing lapu-lapu.

We eased into dessert by starting off with Modern Shanghai's Crispy Pancakes with Red Bean Paste (P118). I didn't think this would amount to much, but this stuff was really good! Think along the lines of a pancake meets a crêpe that's been crisped, with red bean paste sandwiched in between.

Somebody at the table ordered one of Modern Shanghai's blooming teas. The Golden Sunrise (P188) is a delicious brewed mixture of amaranth and jasmine tea that looked amazeballs and smelled divine! This got me lusting over my own cup of hot tea. I was at a Chinese restaurant, after all.

I got myself a pot of Ginseng Oolong Tea (P128) that I shared with Jericho and two other people at the table. This tea is described to have the rich, crisp taste of oolong with a stronger, pleasing aftertaste of ginseng. To be honest, I could only taste the earthy oolong, but was wondering where that sugary sweet taste underneath my tongue was coming from. Paul said it was the effect of the ginseng, which I found très bizarre yet super cool at the same time! Like a natural source of stevia!

Since we were in mango country, the Fresh Mango Pudding (P108) is a dessert item on the menu specially created for the Philippine market. It was fresh and light, with chunks of ripe mangoes in between the gelatinous pudding. Jericho and I managed to squirrel away a plate and finished it off ourselves. Mmm... So good!

Lastly, I was apprehensive about the Glutinous Dumplings in Sweet Ginger Soup (P88) - it just looked really weird. Paul explained the glutinous rice was another must-have when ringing in the new year. The Chinese superstition was that sticky rice has a kind of binding element, and it will families together throughout the rest of the year. The soup tasted like sweet salabat - which was great for me as I love the stuff! The dumplings were like warm mochi balls filled with red bean paste and was pretty filling in my already-filled-up tum. I'd say one order of this is good to split between two people, especially if you've had a lunch as big as I did!

Thank you ever so much to our very generous host that afternoon, Paul Kwok! It was such a pleasure getting to know you and I have every intention of paying you and your restaurants a visit when I go to Hong Kong in December. His chef - who also flew in with him - looks very much like a Chinese version of Richard Gere, don't you think? I absolutely love his hair! What did the silver fox say?

When mucking around Manila this Chinese New Year, ring it in with the rest of the clan family at Modern Shanghai! Not only do they have the best xiao long bao in the city, they also have all the dishes you need for an auspicious Year of the Horse! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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Modern Shanghai
+63 2 556 4167
3/F Glorietta 2, Ayala Center,
Glorietta Complex, Makati
Open Daily: 10am - 10pm