Shanghai brings solid cuisine to Waukee7/13/2016
I have been writing a lot this year about good places in Waukee — Jethro’s Jambalaya, Kue’d, H Pho and India Tadka. Hot new joints sometimes obscure the memory of the tried and true. Recently I was reminded about one such place after rediscovering its dishes at a graduation party and a holiday gathering. How did I forget about Shanghai for so long? I choose to blame it on an abundance of riches.
Shanghai has been around for 13 years, according to a recent server. Development has surrounded its once-lonely strip mall. The restaurant looks like many other Chinese restaurants in mid America. Artwork includes lions, dragons, peacocks and the obligatory herd of eight lucky horses. Jade and fireworks hang on walls and from ceilings. Plastic flowers decorated the tables and booths.
Three years ago, Shanghai added a Vietnamese menu to its repertoire. On my recent visits, it seemed to be more popular than the traditional Chinese menu. Despite being considerably shorter (17 items) than most Vietnamese menus, it’s filled with unusual touches to appreciate. Spring rolls ($4-$5), for instance, can be ordered with large pieces of grilled pork as well as with shredded pork and pork rind. Mine tasted marvelously, with lots of fresh basil leaves packed among the shredded lettuces and rice noodles. They can also be ordered with lime sauce or peanut sauce, both freshly made. Calamari was made in lighter-than-usual batter and served with pickled daikon and pickled carrots.
Vietnamese soups ($10-$11) were also diverse, much more so than the ones on the Chinese menu. Besides the usual beef stock pho, one can order a pork stock soup made with tapioca noodles, another with egg noodles, or a Hue style pho, which is salty and sweet with lemongrass and several kinds of meat and noodles. Duck soup includes a hind quarter of BBQ duck in a rich duck stock served with noodles and pickled green papaya.
Lunch (11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.) offers several bargain platters that include soup, egg rolls, crab Rangoon, fried rice and a fortune cookie with a choice of 26 entrée styles and a choice of five proteins for $8 or $9. These include orange peel, Governor’s and sesame dishes that cost more than the others in dinner servings.
The Chinese menu is not going to surprise anyone. This is Waukee. Vegetables do not vary beyond what one can find in the Hy-Vee produce section. Do not expect bitter melon, lotus root, leafy greens, Chinese broccoli, pea shoots, fuzzy melon, or even eggplant or bok choy. What it does well is make fresh dishes flavored with garlic, ginger, citrus and sauces that are far more interesting than the cloyingly sweet ones that supermarkets popularize.
I particularly like the black bean sauce here. Fermented black beans and garlic are stir fried with carrots, bells peppers, onions, celery, black mushroom, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts; it’s the best version in town. Shanghai deserves praise for the size of the shrimp and scallops I have been served there. They are much larger than typical. Another top dish is its crispy prawns, which are breaded, fried golden and stir fried with garlic, scallions and Chinese five-spice. Orange chicken was a little too sweet for my taste, but I enjoyed that it was not just stir fried with dried orange peel but also served on a plate of sliced fresh oranges.
Service has been attentive on my visits. Iced water never got less than half empty, and huge orders were always served hot with admonitions to be careful not to burn my tongue or fingers. Leftovers were boxed for me, and additional rice was added.
Side Dishes: Food Studio opened in Southridge Mall with Terrance Haynes (The Cakery) as chef and a focus on catering. Different meals are served on different days. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
33 Carefree Lane, Waukee, 987-3111
Tuesday – Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.