I never turn down any opportunity to eat anything created by Chef Alan Wong.
To be honest, I haven’t had a bad dish at his Honolulu restaurant, still considered one of the best eating establishments in Hawai‘i. Even his tilapia — incidentally, on the menu for Valentine’s Day this year — is top-notch. (So good, in fact, it beat out the highly palatable mahi mahi and opakapaka at a dinner event back in 2009, the majority of guests picked tilapia as their favorite. Yeah, he’s that good.)
So when I got invited to sample the menu for his new restaurant last week, I jumped at the chance.
Wong, a James Beard award-winning chef and pioneer in the regional cuisine movement, has two Honolulu restaurants — his flagship location on King Street and the more casual The Pineapple Rom at Ala Moana Center. He’s opening his third location in Shanghai this summer — and we were able to sample some of the items slated to be served there.
The restaurant is a joint venture by Wong and Tama Food International, a Tokyo-based company that manages restaurants and fast food businesses, sport and resort facilities, and hotels. The sous chef who will be training the kitchen staff — Ryuta Sakuri — spent three months in Honolulu, working alongside Wong to craft the perfect menu for this Shanghai restaurant.
The staff — including Wong — worked for three months in the test kitchen of Y. Hata & Co., whittling down the menu from about 200 recipes that Wong came up with himself. Every single recipe was videotaped and translated into Mandarin. That’s how serious Wong is about making sure this concept is executed correctly.
“It was more than just working with Chef and his whole team,” said Kevin Zhao, the assistant general manager for the restaurant who also spent three months here working with Wong. “He changed the way we live our lives.”
The dinner last Thursday, called “A Taste of Shanghai,” was sold out in 24 hours.
And since I’m not going to Shanghai anytime soon, I figured this might be my only shot to try the menu.
Here’s a glimpse:
This was one of my favorite dishes: a fun take on a burger, this dish featured pork-shrimp hash as the “bun,” sandwiching smoked gouda cheese with a clever lup cheong jam, lettuce and a slice of tomato. Hard to eat but worth the effort.
This “Duck Duck” was a crowd favorite. This well-seasoned duck meatball with a subtle serving of foie gras was steamed in rice paper and served with a tangy yuzu ponzu sauce in a saimin spoon. You gotta eat it all at once — and then you’ll want another. At least I did.
This beauty was actually an experiment. This is what happens when you deep-fry a lumpia wrapper — it puffs up like a pillow. It’s filled with Scottish smoked salmon and a smoked salmon mousse with capers, red onions and ikura.
I enjoyed this all-natural New York strip steak from Niman Ranch with a black bean sambal shrimp that was unusual and exciting.
We got this dessert delivered by Wong’s new pastry chef, a young energetic Korean-American from California. This was a lilikoi tart with an Earl Grey kanten, caramel meringue and a brown sugar crisp. It was scrumptious — but you had to eat it quickly. It didn’t hold its shape for very long.
The final sweet offering: a mint macaroon, an almond butter biscuit, a salted chocolate truffle, and strawberries and cream. No better way to end a perfect dinner. And yes, I got that bowl of rice, too.
So if you’re ever in the Puxi neighborhood in Shanghai — and you’re missing Hawai‘i — hit up Alan Wong’s Shanghai. While the menu will be vastly different from the one in Honolulu, the flavors are still unique Wong.
And it may likely be the best meal you have on vacation.
Alan Wong’s Shanghai, 2nd floor of Shanghai Centre, Portman Ritz Carlton, 1376 Nanjing Road West, Shanghai, China.