As the most populous city in the world, Shanghai has been shaped by travelers and settlers from all over. This is particularly evident in the city's food, which has been influenced by the culinary styles from both the northern and southern regions of China, as well as dishes from throughout the entire continent of Asia. This cultural integration holds true at Shanghai Café, where the chefs use recipes the Hu family has spent the past half-century perfecting. These recipes follow various Shanghai cooking principles—for instance, the original flavors of meats and fish are allowed to shine through rather than being drowned out by heavy marinades or sauces that are too sweet or salty.
Though the recipes are traditional, they respect modern, healthful eating habits by incorporating natural broths and stocks and limiting the use of oil. Some of the restaurant's signature dishes include boiled dumplings, steamed pork buns, and dim sum—a Shanghai staple. In the spirit of Shanghai's pan-Asian tendencies, the menus also include Thai dishes, such as pad kee mao (drunken noodles), nigiri, sashimi, and maki.
Green-blue lights illuminate the oversized oceanic mural, hitting the paint in such a way that the tropical fish, coral, and whale seem to come to life. The underwater scene—complete with a sunken pirate ship—is the centerpiece of Tara Thai’s dining room, which accompanies décor such as a molded wave that spans the front of the bar, plates painted with colorful fish, and dangling lights fashioned to look like jellyfish.
With the aquatic ambience, you might make the mistake of thinking Tara Thai serves nothing but seafood. But in reality, dishes like fresh mussels with lemongrass and chili sauce are only part of the lineup of traditional Thai dishes. Those traditional offerings include the Chef recommended spicy roasted tofu and honey duck curry, as well as classics like crispy spring rolls which, despite their name, are served year-round.
The menu at ThaiDeelish Restaurant may not have chapters or a plot, but it has the heft and scope to rival many a novel. The pages overflow with the ingredients that give character to traditional Thai dishes: basil, pineapple, chili paste, and coconut. Most of the dishes move diners to bring out their Magic 8 Balls in order to decide among chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables and tofu, flavored with sauces of garlic and oyster or roasted chili. Predecided pairings include crispy pork with basil as well as honey-roasted duck with sautéed broccoli.
As diners sink their pitchforks into steaming jasmine rice or tangles of noodles, they can soak in the dining room’s atmosphere, made cheery by sunflower-yellow walls decorated with snapshots of flowers and temples .
Spices has clean, modern lines and an open sushi bar where diners can enjoy a visual feast while feasting. Chef Jessie Yan's menu features contemporary and home-style Asian recipes. Start with Sichuan Dragon Dumplings (chicken, watercress, and shiitake mushrooms, $6) before launching an all-out consumption attack on an unsuspecting specialty maki Dancing Eel roll (barbecue eel, crabstick, masago, avocado, and cucumber, $11) or the green curry (chicken, beef, or pork swimming in rich, creamy coconut curry with eggplant and basil, served in a brass wok; lunch $11, dinner $13). For large appetites, the big duck roasted and served with pancakes, cucumbers, scallions, and plum sauce (half duck $15, whole $30) is capable of occupying most unused stomach storage, while a zesty grilled dish such as the Vietnamese grilled shrimp, served with a Vietnamese spring roll, lettuce, cucumber, mint, and roasted peanuts over vermicelli (lunch $12, dinner $14) gently tucks hunger under a culinary blanket.