Day 3 – Shanghai River…
I have fond memories of fast food joints. I remember back in fourth grade, living in Southern California, I would ask my mom to take me to a different fast food joint everyday after school. If I went to Carl’s Jr. on Monday, then I would need to go to In’N’Out on Tuesday, and absolutely have to go to Arby’s on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, I would want a sandwich from Jack In The Box with fries from McDonald’s and probably a frostie from Wendy’s or soft serve from El Pollo Loco. It was fast, satisfying food for a growing boy that had just gone through an entire day of intense mental and physical workout known as ‘school’. That after school meal would always be the most satisfying meal of the day.
When I returned to Southern California for boarding school 4 years later, fast food became a weekly indulgence. If we behaved ourselves, we earned the privilege of leaving campus every Wednesday night for a maximum of 90 minutes. It was a 30 minute journey each way by foot to the closest plaza so we really only had 30 minutes of freedom left. The kids who were not hungry would spend their time playing street fighter 2 at the local seven eleven. Those of us who were hungry would attempt to grab a quick bite to eat. Due to time and monetary constraints, our only choices were fast food. I usually cycled between Yoshinoya Beef Bowl, Pioneer Fried Chicken, or Del Taco. All of them served meals in a quick enough manner that my friends and I actually had time to sit down and enjoy our weekly “restaurant” meal in a fairly relaxed pace. The food tasted like heaven compared to what was served to us at our dining hall.
Fast forward to 2008. I had once again moved to Southern California with my wife, my daughter, and my newborn son. Fast food became a frequent dining choice simply because there was a drive-thru fast food joint around every corner. But something had changed during my almost 20 year absence. Fast food became slow. Because of all the customization options and the movement towards cook-to-order fast food, one can easily wait in excess of 10 minutes between the time an order is placed to the time that the order is served up. This is approaching the time you needed to wait at a proper restaurant. So what extra convenience would you gain from eating at fast food joints?
If you are comparing the speed of service between fast food joints and Shanghai River, I would say you gain no extra convenience by going the fast food route. In fact, the speed of service would be faster at Shanghai River according to my experience there. My family and I walked in, was seated, and ordered in under 5 minutes. Immediately after we ordered and while the waitress was still retrieving the menus from our table, my wife took the kids to the restroom. Not one minute after they left for the restroom, we got this (the pancakes to wrap the beijing roast duck in):
and before I could take the cover off to reveal the pancakes:
we got this (the first course of the beijing roast duck duo- the crispy duck skin):
and this (the XLB – steamed buns):
Then as my wife and kids returned and were taking their seats, we got this (the Chinese version of ebi-mayo- deep fried shrimp drenched in mayo):
and this (the second dish of the beijing roast duck duo – duck stir-fried with sauce and veggies):
and finally after our first bites of the duck, we got our final item (rice soup with oysters and minced meat):
Not only did the food arrive with what seemed like world-record-breaking speed, it arrived smoking hot and tasted amazingly good. The duck skin was crisp without being too oily or dry. The meat did not taste as dense or the texture as tough as most roast duck often would. Though it was cooked thoroughly, it’s texture is akin to a medium-rare steak. The pancake was just the right thickness and it’s taste was not doughy. The pancake, skin, meat, sauce, scallion, and cucumber came together in perfect harmony and we cleaned up the plates in an equally record-breaking pace.
The stirred fried duck with veggies and sauce was also amazing in it’s own right. We likewise polished that dish off in no time at all.
The XLB was, in my opinion, the best version I’ve had since I’ve moved here. The skin was the right thickness, there was just the right amount of meat filling, and the soup was hearty, savory goodness.
The rice soup was a solid interpretation of a Cantonese Classic. No single item stole the show from the main attractions of the soup and rice. The rice retained it’s texture in the soup and prevented the soup from becoming a bowl of congee.
The only low point of the meal was ebi-mayo. It was a bit too sweet for us and the sweetness overpowered the freshness of the shrimp and the well-executed deed fry job on the shrimp.
Come to think of it, we were all full by the time any one of us even had a piece of shrimp. Maybe if we had tried the shrimp earlier on in the meal, it would have tasted good as well. But even if you concede the fact that the shrimp was not done as well as it should have been done, the overall meal was still amazing. It was one of the best meals we’ve had as a family since we moved here. As amazing as the food was, what sticks in mind about this meal is the unfathomable speed of service. This was faster-than-fast-food fast and something I’ve never experienced before. But maybe the speed I experienced was an anomaly. Maybe the kitchen was operating on fast forward for one day and one day only. I will need to find out by visiting this restaurant again, and again, and again…