Dining: Upscale Asian
Asian cuisine is already a star in Honolulu. Does it need to get dressed up?
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Discovery Bay Center,
1778 Ala Moana Blvd.
Lunch and dinner daily, Sun. -Thu. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till midnight
E&O is the product of a California restaurant chain; Shokudo is the first step toward a nationwide chain. Shanghai Bistro is a local production, though it does belong to a family of local restaurants that includes Hong Kong Harbor View.
Even up against competition like E&O and Shokudo, Shanghai Bistro looks great—a stylish curved bar, a dining room of teak walls, bamboo floors, teak tables and just enough light, a lounge area filled with comfortable pillow-strewn couches and stone coffee tables. It’s one of the best-looking restaurant interiors in Honolulu.
It was boys’ night out. By the time I got there, the boys were lounging on one of the couches, risking their palates with martinis. I sat down, ordered a pleasant Mark West pinot noir (Shanghai Bistro sells wine by half bottles in decanters, sometimes the two halves costing less than a whole bottle, don’t ask me why). We started ordering pupu and more pupu and then some entrees—and never left the lounge. It was just too comfortable.
Shanghai Bistro bills chef Chih-Chieh Chang’s food as fusion. I don’t think so. It’s Chinese—not perhaps traditional Chinese, but it’s what happens when a talented Chinese chef begins to incorporate modern influences into his own cuisine. After all, you can’t expect Chinese food to stand still any more than you can expect French cooking to stay stuck at Escoffier.
We went through a half-dozen of the appetizers (most of which only cost $5, though we needed two of the small ones to feed four). Notable were the “golden seafood treasure bags”—a mix of shrimp, scallops and cream cheese—in a pastry bag tied with noodles and deep fried, served with a mango aioli and a side of noodle salad. Quail was stuffed with a shrimp-garlic-black pepper mix. Honey walnut prawns came in a martini glass. The crab-meat dip with a sesame flat bread came in an artful swooping basket.
Our only regret was not getting to the entrees faster. The kung pao chicken sounds like something you could get anywhere; this one was alive with flavor and color, bell peppers, onion, red peppers. Even the peanuts were great.
For the black pepper shrimp steak, the chef chops shrimp, dusts it with potato starch and cooks it twice, deep-fried and sauteeed. He serves it like a burger atop garlic fried rice, surrounded by broccoli.
And you could go on forever about his crispy whole sea bass. The boys cheered when it arrived at the table. Through some art, the fish is cleaned and skinned along the body, but arrives still whole, head, tail and fins intact, golden with a light batter. You pick this apart with chopsticks, dipping in a choice of six sauces: things like wasabi cream and sweet Thai-style chili sauce. My favorite was the simple salt and garlic.
There was even a Chinese-style dessert: pink mochi balls dusted with bright green sugar. We finished off with an elaborate, flower-infused tea service in an glass pot over a burner. Dinner cost $245 with tip, but the boys aren’t a cheap date. A more conventional dinner and fewer martinis will cost you less; individual items were quite reasonable. We were amazed as we got up that nearly four hours had flown by since we arrived. It was that much fun.