Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shanghai Lil review

After lamenting the erosion of quality Chinese restaurants, I feel like I've had a nice run lately. Shanghai Lil is often referred to as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the city, but this is a city in which i don't feel like the bar is exceptionally high for Chinese food.

From the website, which I had not really paid any attention to before, Shanghai Lil is owned by the group that has the Mikado Japanese restaurant downtown. And, most would know that their is a sushi bar at Shanghai Lil. I am not one to rightly review sushi as I don't have a strong affinity for it, and I tend to trend towards the more typical sushi rolls such as the California roll or the tempura shrimp roll. If a restaurant has a Godzilla-named roll, well, that does perk my interest, though.

Anyhow, Shanghai Lil (across from Keystone at the Crossing) is well established, well-reviewed, well thought of. So, I'm certainly not breaking any new ground in reviewing it. But, with our recent visit, I guess I just wanted to confirm feelings about the place.

Yes, Shanghai Lil is still very good. We went on a weekday evening, and the place was pretty quiet. This establishment was built under the notion that going out for Chinese and Japanese food was fine dining, not just a buffet. The table coverings are cloth, the lighting is low. The lighting was so low, that pictures were nonsensical, and I just can't bear the thought of using a flash for food pictures. The service was polite and efficient, but there were few competitors for our server's time. We started with a stuffed eggplant appetizer that was really the low light of the meal. The crumbled pork sauce that came with it was flavorful, but nothing remarkable.

We did share three entrees. The Shanghai Lil General's Chicken was a step above most places, lightly battered and fried, savory and spicy. The Moo Shu Vegetables were one of the best vegetarian dishes I've had in a long time, but I'm very fond of hoisin and/or plum sauce. Then, the Basil Ginger Chicken. This was one of the best things I'd had at a Chinese restaurant in a very long time. Overall, very high quality and great taste. A few dishes were a bit on the salty side, but that tends to be fairly true of many Chinese dishes. One major issue for me though is that I feel like the prices are a bit high, with most being more than $15 per entree. Maybe the buffet-trend has really damaged my value definition for Chinese food, but to spend upwards of $80.00 for three people and not getting any alcohol, that just seemed like a lot.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). A classic, high quality location, hits high notes, but a bit pricey.


Catherine said...

I ate at Shanghai Lil once and, while the food was great, I agree that it was very pricey. From what I remember, hot and sour soup was around $6 for a single-serving bowl. I just can't justify going back when the delivery place on Capitol is decent at 1/3 of the price.

Erin Day said...

see, this is one I think is an example of you get what you pay for. In my opinion, Shanghai Lil's is using higher quality ingredients than most Chinese restaurants (for example, Indiana Maple Leaf farm's duck). And yes, you pay more for that. But in my mind, it is worth it (not to mention like you said, an environment in which you can really feel like dinner is a night out). Try the dim sum too. Yum.