When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lost in Transition -- A Sleepy Transcon Flight

I finished my business at Book Expo on Saturday afternoon, so I spent that evening hanging out with friends in the Meat Packing district. Evening turned into night, and then it was the morning. We drained the Absolut, Maker’s Mark, and a cheap bottle of Brut. At 4, the music was still loud, but because my flight to L.A. left at 7, I had to get to JFK.

This was my first time in Pennsylvania Station during the wee hours in the middle of the weekend. I was surprised to find so much traffic still going on. On the L.I.R.R. level of the train station, I joined other bleary-eyed “B&T crowd” beneath the departure board, waiting for the track number to post.

These days, New York simply feels like a more congenial city compared to how it was the first time I visited, 20 years ago. I got a sense of that when the young person sitting next to me on the floor politely warned me right before throwing up the evening's take of booze and beer. And as reassurance that New York is indeed a friendlier place, a passerby quickly came over with a stack of paper towels from the janitor’s cart. I helped clean up the mess, and then parted our ways as I boarded my train for Jamaica. Even though this was early June and there were still three weeks left of spring, it already felt like summer in the city.

My flight to L.A. this time felt special because it carried a lot of publishing people going home from Book Expo. I noticed quite a few familiar faces as I walked down the aisle to claim my seat. But why did we all take such an early flight, at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, instead of later on? We Angelenos think alike--after a week in New York, we could not wait to get home.

Once I settled into my seat, the adrenaline that carried me through the night was drained completely out of me. Even before we took off, I was out like Maccabees’ lamp on the ninth night. I did manage to snap a photo of the passenger cabin while we were still at the gate. It shows the huuuge amount of legroom I had. For those in the know, it was Row 9, with no need to elaborate further.

That was all I remembered from the flight, because I slept nearly the entire way. I did wake up for breakfast, but I don't remember much of what I ate. Instead, I have this menu below to go back on.

(from the menu)

Featured Cocktails


Lots of places serve this famous drink, but few use the correct ingredients-light sparkling wine and white peach puree. But that's exactly what we've done, so give this refresher a try!

Kir Royale

The Kir Royale is a contemporary cocktail mixing Cassis with Champagne for a delightfully rich and effervescent drink.

Main Course

Florentine quiche with Hollandaise sauce

Sautéed turkey sausage, Canadian bacon and silver dollar potatoes with fresh seasonal fruit.

Prior To Arrival

Turkey and roast beef deli plate

Cheddar cheese, grapes and vegetable crudité with ranch dressing.
Walker’s Chocolate chip cookies

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Taste of Old Shanghai -- Dexingguan Restaurant (德興館)

Shanghai is a mad place these days, with soaring skyscrapers and the stock market soaring higher still. Likewise the restaurant scene is jolted with hyperkinetics—there isn’t anything you want to eat that money cannot buy. But I find Shanghai’s trendiest places, like many self-described “educated” Shanghaiers, generally lacking in substance. The most delightful aspects of Shanghai cuisine, meanwhile, remain in the province of traditional restaurants held over from the pre-communist era.

On the final evening of this China trip, I took a taxi through chaotic rush hour traffic, whizzing through narrow streets that I didn’t know could accommodate both cars and people on bikes and feet, and arrived in a 1930s neighborhood of low-rise wooden homes and shops. I stepped out into a busy corner, and in front of me stood a three story restaurant bathed in lights, shining like a towering beacon. The place was called De▪xing▪guan (德興館), one of the most celebrated Shanghai-style (上海幫; shang▪hai▪bang) restaurants in town.

Dexingguan’s claim to fame is a dish called Black Sea Cucumber in Shrimp Roe Sauce (蝦子烏蔘; xia▪zi▪wu▪sen). These are not small, pickle sized sea cucumbers that you can buy in Chinese shops stateside, but rather a huge rascal of a thing, about ten inches long, and weighing over a pound. It is not cheap either. At a price of RMB 25 per 50 grams, a single black sea cucumber sets you back RMB 200 (about US$25).

Sea cucumber is flavorless, so the quality of the sauce is paramount to the quality of the dish. Shanghai cuisine tends to be on heavy side—sugary with lots of oil, and this dish was no exception. The sauce, constructed from oil, sweet bean paste, and the roe of local river shrimp, could hardly be described as low calorie, low cholesterol, and low fat. Slathered liberally onto the black sea cucumber, which was steamed into firm and wriggly perfection, the dish was presented on the table like a steaming lump of gelatin.

I never understood the role of the shrimp roe, which look like little green grains of sand. You could hardly make them out from the brownish sauce, and since it doesn’t have much flavor either, I could only conclude that they were added to give the dish a fancier name. I must admit, however, that the shrimp roe do add some grittiness to the texture to the sauce, which seems like the “right” contrast to the slipperiness of the sea cucumber. Maybe that was the role shrimp roe.

I also ordered several other local specialties. For appetizer, I had Drunken Chicken (醉雞; zui▪ji) and two types of pickles. Drunken Chicken is always a personal favorite of mine. This one was delicious, but not so different from the authentic versions I have eaten at various Shanghai-style restaurants in America.

I also ordered a fish head casserole, one of Dexingguan’s prided but less famous specialties. The fish head was of a carp, fed on grass, with a flavor not too unlike eating fresh-cut grass straight up. It was something to get used to, but I loved the soft texture of the fish and the rich aroma of the broth.

There are many branch locations of Dexingguan throughout Shanghai proper. The original location is at 29 Dong▪men Road, in the southern fringe of downtown.
德興館 --上海市南外灘東門路 29

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