Shang Hai’s one of those places that’s been around for decades, but had little appeal to me because no Chinese restaurant can be as good as my mother’s cooking. I never once ate there when I went to school a couple blocks away.
There’s the one style of vegetarian food where the splendor of fruit and vegetables is the focus, and there’s the other style of vegetarian food that attempts to mimic the taste and texture meat with soy based dishes. Shang Hai is the latter group, with an impressive menu of popular dishes, as both a meat and meat-not-meat option. We made a selection of meat-not-meat dishes and a couple meatless dishes devoid of meat-like substitutions.
First, we had the orange chicken-not-chicken. This was soybean chicken in orange sauce, with water chestnuts and baby corn. The chicken had the look, texture and taste of chicken, we all thought it was pretty good.
Our second faux meat dish was sizzling beef-not-beef with broccoli. This one looked very much like tofu – being firm rectangular chunks – but still had the flavor and texture of slow-cooked beef. People weren’t especially fond of the dish, but I thought it was alright.
I’m going to say this third dish was a more pure vegetarian dish because it did contain tofu, but the tofu wasn’t intending to mimic a meat. This dish was Chinese greens and baked tofu. The focus of the dish was indeed the fresh vibrant greens – had the baked tofu been taken out, it wouldn’t have diminished the dish at all. We always like fresh greens, so this was a favorite.
Finally, one pure vegetarian dish, fully embracing the flavor and texture of natural ingredients, it was eggplant, fungi and slivered pickled radish. We really enjoyed this too.
So, our decision was made – we liked vegetarian dishes made of vegetables trying to be vegetables more than vegetarian dishes of vegetables trying to be meat. But we also agreed that the extensive meat-not-meat options was admirably vast for this city and a great place for those who opt to have a meat-free lifestyle.
Near the heart of Oxford is the White Horse Pub, at cellar level, which made for a slightly cooler atmosphere in the summer heat. We had lunch here, and it seemed like the first time we had a pub lunch more in line with a traditional pub food, rather than gastro pub food.
We had a coronation chicken sandwich, which is a curry spiced chicken salad in a baguette, and a more simple chicken and ham sandwich on buttered granary bread. The latter was exactly like the pub sandwiches I used to have. Good stuff.
Ted had a nicely pulled pint of Brakspear ale, an Oxford ale. I probably had lemonade, I don’t remember.
This pub was used in the filming of Inspector Morse, a crime drama from the 1980s. It’s been used in other filming, but Morse is more memorable for me.
The White Horse
As if the day was long enough, stomping all around London and visiting all those art galleries. This was actually the night set aside to sample Wallage’s fine cooking in Stepney Green. After throwing our stuff on the floor and a near crying fit from me because my feet hurt so much, we settled down for a very late night dinner.
Gorgeous roast chicken, asparagus and risotto. Followed by a fluffy lemon sponge, lemon custard and homemade ice cream for pudding. I’m still working on Wallage to hand over the sponge recipe.
Btw, we didn’t make it home that night. We were too knackered to make it to trains on time! CHEERS!
This is another business, open since 1982, currently on the chopping block for closure to make way for a Fresh and Easy market.
I’ve been trying to eat at all the four mom & pops on this block before they close. This is #3.
The business is simple: chargrilled chicken and tri-tip, served with the standard fixings of rice, beans, salsa, tortillas and drinks. That’s about it!
Every special and combination meal is a mixture of the two main items – the chicken and tri-tip. Think of it as a bit like el pollo loco (but locally owned and patronized primiarly by neighborhood residents and non-gringo types).
Depending on your appetite, the chicken and tri-tip plates will do fine, usually 2-4 pieces of chicken and slices of tri-tip, ranging in price from about $6-$9. This includes beans, salsa and tortillas – choice of flour or corn.
We got the half chicken meal, #2 on the menu. Three pieces of grilled chicken, with beans, salsa and hot tortillas. Shred up the chicken and assemble little tacos, that’s how you do it.
The #4 also looks to be a good deal for someone more on the go. This is any burrito – your choice of tri-tip, chile colorado, or chicken – plus chips, salsa and a 32 oz (guuulp) soda, for $6.
But all the other combinations and plates can and often are ordered to go. They just don’t come in a compact edible shape like a burrito.
The interior is the typical hole-in-the-wall type, with old posters of regions of Mexico, festive oompa music over the speakers, and rows of simple tables with their own paper napkin dispensers, which you will need plenty of when shredding your chicken to assemble in little tortilla wraps, salsa and beans dripping down your hands.
UPDATE 12 March 2010: One of the restaurants on this block says the potential buyer appears to be backing out. Looks like el Pollo Norteno remains in business!
El Pollo Norteno
I was first introduced to the Romertopf for clay pot cooking by Hildegaard, when I was staying with her in South Africa. She had a wood burning stove, which I adored, and grew most of her own food on her property, including grapevines and honeybees. She said that the Romertopf gently roasted a chicken to tender perfection, for very little effort.
I found a used Romertopf at a thrift store a few years ago, and use it now for roasting chicken. It does indeed come out very juicy and succulent. I usually line the bottom of the pot with onions and leeks, stuff the sides with potatoes and herbs, and lay the chicken on top, dressed with herbs de provence, salt and pepper, with a couple bay leaves, rosemary and half a lemon stuffed inside.
The Romertopf is initially soaked in water, then the clay pot – with chicken – is set in a cold oven before turning on the heat. I roast it for about 45 minutes at 425 degrees, and do the last 15 minutes with the lid off, to brown the skin. It comes out fine, especially with an organic free range chicken from the farmers market or Whole Foods.
This was our last stop of the great LA food and fun trip. We weren’t going to make a dinner stop at all, and just drive back to Santa Barbara, but we could not turn down the invitation of a simple Japanese curry, and the Sawtelle area seemed to have a lot to offer.
However, we were not starving, so we ordered one simple chicken katsu curry, to share.
The chicken katsu was good – hot and crisp, with a spiceful curry sauce, rice and some salad. I’ve had katsu chicken curry in two other places this year, and this seemed to be typical for the dish.
In the evening, our convention food was served at Ealings Park, in uptown Santa Barbara. The appetizers were pretty good! For convention food.
Me, I enjoyed the tacos and sliders the most.
We chatted and networked, as you do at conventions, until the sun went down, and then did our best to stumble down the hill in our business clothing and heels, back to our cars for the next round of convention outings.
Some people consider Hainanese Chicken Rice to be a national dish of Singapore. For others, it is simply comfort food that reminds them of home. Home being maybe Singapore, maybe China, maybe Thailand or maybe my home.
The recipe is fairly simple. A whole chicken is boiled in water and spices, and the resulting broth is used to cook the rice. The chicken is cut into chunks, served with the rice, and garnished with spring onions, sesame oil, ginger, and vegetables. Leftovers are equally good.
There are many fine resources for the recipe. Here is a good one.
I packed my leftovers into a bento box, with the lower compartment holding the larger quantity of rice, and the upper compartment holding my chicken and condiments. The chicken is fine to serve warm, cold, or room temperature, but the rice should be heated.
Part of the joy and convenience of using the bento box is eating straight from the containers, but for Hainan chicken rice, I like things to mingle, so I transferred my lunch into my serving bowl. Oh so good.
The enormous chimichanga my friend and I witnessed but did not sample during our last visit has been haunting us. So we ate there today to face our demons and ordered one. Asada, just one, to share.
They delivered a bomb of a deep fried burrito to our table with a smile. Split between two people, we managed it, and the marinated beef steak was delicious. If McMarko and I ever get in a big fight and stop eating lunch with each other, I am in big trouble, because I would not be able to handle that whopper alone.
Also on order was the large plate of chips. Yes, it costs $1.25, or $0.50 for a small bag, and we groused about it for a minute, but once we chomped down on them, we were sold. Really crunchy and yummy. In fact, I couldn’t stop eating the chips and my scary-huge chimichanga almost started getting cold.
With these items, plus a big hortchata, the bill was just over $10, so about $5 a person, sharing a deep fried burrito, and we left very full.
El Pollo Rico