October 31, 2008

Enoteca-- "Nothing to Write Home About"

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had lunch at a little bistro/cafe called Enoteca yesterday.

In the last week or so, I have become particularly fascinated with the French Concession here in Shanghai, a district previously dedicated to the that isn't too far from Jiao Tong University. The Art Deco, European Architecture and tree-lined streets of the French Concession is a nice change from the odd hodgepodge of old ghetto buildings and clean modern designs of the rest of the city. The endless shopping and options for Western food attract a lot of foreign customers. I haven't done much shopping in Shanghai at all let alone in the French Concession, but the opportunity for a good non-Chinese meal can easily attract me to an area like this. I'm honestly getting tired of all the greasy food and bland Shanghai flavors.

I read about Enoteca on www.smartshanghai.com-- one of my guides to finding new places to eat. It was categorized as French and got rave reviews from everyone who posted about it on the site. I had never seen a place with so many good reviews, not a single bad one. So of course, I had to check it out.

The restaurant is divided into three sections-- bar, dining room, and store, with entrances on the bar side and the store side. The interior was modern yet cozy with plush red cushions on the seats making it very comfortable to dine. Wine was appropriately displayed in all sections of the restaurant.

Our servers and the bar tender were Chinese, although the manager was a Caucasion man and everyone was able to communicate in both Chinese and English.

We had the option of ordering a Lunch Set Menu, there were three available starting at 52 RMB and each included a sandwich, salad, and beverage of choice (one of the pricier sets offered wine in place of a coffee or soda). Since it was our first time and we wanted to really get a feel for the restaurant's food, we chose to order A La Carte, three appetizers and a panini, all to share.

To drink, I had an iced mocha and Nevin had a blood orange Pelligrini. My mocha was one of the better ones I've had. They used a semi-sweet chocolate and added just enough so that the drink was not thick, heavy, or overly sweet, but had plenty of flavor. For those who like extra sugar in their coffee, it came with simple syrup on the side. Nevin's Pelligini was refreshing fruity and not sugary at all and the color was a fantastic deep orange.

We started with a Duo of Tartares which consisted of a Salmon and a Tuna tartare, each bound with a wasabi mayo and served with a small salad and dolops of onion, caper, and parsely garnishes. The fish was fresh and the wasabi mayo was light and subtle, not overpowering at all, a problem we found in some of the other dishes.

The next dish to come out was the Beef Carpaccio. It looked like your basic Carpaccio, but it didn't taste like it at all. The dish was actually sweet, but this isn't a compliment to the meat, but rather a "dish" (excuse the pun), on their choice of olive oil as it had a sugariness, probably used to mask the blandness of the meat, which tasted like a very watered down version of beef. Is there any decent beef in this country? In the two months I have been here I have yet to taste any beef that has any remote resemblance in flavor, texture, and even the healthy red color to US beef. The salad-- nicely done, light vinaigrette dressing with crisp, fresh greens, was probably the highlight of the dish. How sad.

Next was the Mushroom Risotto Cakes, which mimicked a crab cake in shape and texture, but was made from Mushroom Risotto. I give the dish a B-- a nice effort and ok tasting, but missed the mark as the pepper and herbs were overpowering. However they were cooked nicely-- hot, steamy and creamy on the inside and crisp and crunchy on the outside. Unfortunately not a home run, but it is a dish with potential.

For the sandwich we ordered the "Sunshine" Panini, but the only thing that shone between those two slices of bread was the sundried tomatos. It was all I could taste and they weren't even great sundried tomatos. I couldn't taste any cheese, prosciutto or artichokes at all.

For the grand finale, we decided to order the Cinnamon Creme Brulee for dessert. Another disappointment, especially after having such great creme brulee at Franck's the day before. If the menu hadn't said Cinnamon, I never would have guessed there was any in there. The Creme was hardly creamy and tasted more like an egg pudding or the custard part of Chinese egg tartes. And the bruleed sugar shell didn't seem to be freshly done. It seemed to have been bruleed earlier and then reheated in the oven. The whole dish was just slightly warm and the candy top was a bit flexible/bendy.

Overall it was an OK experience. The set menus, at 52+ RMB seem like a steal to me, but I would pick a sandwich that doesn't have sundried tomatos in it. It's a very laid back, comfortable place to dine and service was good. However the food lacks creativity or any invention. The dishes are classic dishes served in their basic standard form, no surprises here. And they don't even do a great job with the basics.

Also, if you are looking for French, this is not the place to go. To call Enoteca French is very misleading. With the exception of their Croque Monsieur and the Creme Brulee, there is nothing French about this restaurant, not even the decor. The wines are mostly South American and the food is more Italian than anything else. Even the name of the restaurant, Enoteca, is Italian.

I would recommend the set menu for a girls' luncheon or a casual business meeting, or maybe a quick bite to eat if you're out shopping. Or if you're on a budget and can't afford a place like Franck's, this would be a nice alternative as the prices are relatively low. I may go back for a glass of wine sometime or perhaps for their Set Lunch Menu if I am in the area, but it is not a place I would go out of my way to go back for.

As Nevin, who was with me said, it was "nothing to write home about."

Sy's Overall Rating: 2.5 Stars (out of 5)

October 30, 2008

Food Blogging

Anyone who knows me, knows that food is a passion of mine. I can watch endless hours of the Food Network, I love experimenting in the kitchen, and there is nothing I enjoy more than the full experience of a good meal, in a restaurant or in the comfort of my own home. I have an appreciation for all kinds of foods and beverages of different cultures and countries and it's a topic that I am always eager to learn more about. Loving food should not be confused with loving to eat. I will never stop at McD's and stuff myself on two quarter pounders with cheese, a Big Mac, large fries and soda. And I don't snack on chips and packaged cookies often if at all. I don't eat for the sake of eating (as long as I can help it). I've like smoke salmon and sushi since I could eat solid food and I used to go to war with my brother if he suggested Taco Bell for lunch. But then again that's not to say that I don't occasionally enjoy splurging in junk food either. But I'd rather have a burger I made at home than one I bought from the King.

Anyways, where is all this going? Well, now that my health is back, I have begun to go on little eating excursions, checking out different restaurants in Shanghai. So Food Blogging is soon to become a significant part of this site. For those who like food and checking out new restaurants-- and by that I mean everything from fine dining, cafes, bistros, casual, and even hole-in-the-wall, because there is nothing better than a GREAT hole-in-the-wall if you can find one.

Today I'm going to a restaurant called Enoteca in the French Concession, so I'll be posting about that soon!

I also have a lot more updates because I'm a little behind right now. This is a 4 day weekend for me because I chose not to take one of the school-organized trips, so I will pretty much be studying for midterms (which are next week) and getting this blog up to date!

October 20, 2008

Freedom of Nothing

So China is a communist country... but it hasn't drastically changed my lifestyle in any way. Living in Shanghai, for the most part, feels just like living in a dirtier, darker version of New York City, maybe. But then you think about living in America, and how many people actually "feel" the liberties of living in a democratic country on a daily basis? Other than the one day every four+ years (or never in my case) that you go to vote at the polls, do you really notice? Probably not unless you work in the government or do a lot of rallying or something and go out of your way to exercise your constitutional rights.

While it doesn't seem all that different living here than in America on a grand scale, I'm still reminded every day through the little things that I used to take for granted. Take the internet for example. We have access to google bytes of information through this amazing thing called the world wide web and it's all free-- but not to everyone. While I can still access most websites I would normally be viewing, there are a lot of sites that are blocked in China. I can't even see my sorority's national website from here. A lot of sorority websites actually seem to be blocked. I also can't access www.thepiratebay.org, a torrent site. And it's not just whole websites. Sometimes, specific parts/videos/articles aren't accessible. For example, I found an article about a Japanese restaurant that has monkey servers (like real monkeys), and they get tipped in soybeans. There was a video clip associate with the article, but I couldn't watch it on youtube. If I tried to watch, the site wouldn't load at all.

Another thing is movies! At theaters here, there are maybe 3 movies, at the most, playing at any given time. If 3 movies are playing, two are Chinese. So what about all those American films? Well, they don't make it into the country... not even a lot of the big ones, like Dark Knight. When I first arrived here 6-7 weeks ago, Garfield was the one American movie playing here. Yea... Garfield. And since then, the only US film to be released here has been Mummy 3, and that one features Chinese actors and is set in China. When I go to Korea this winter, I'm going to watch a movie every day to make up for all the movies I won't be seeing here in China.

October 19, 2008

Random Thoughts/Observations

- I am getting pwned by the Chinese language
- If the person who invented this writing system was alive today, I'd kill him
- It's amazing that SO MANY FRIGGEN PEOPLE actually agreed that characters was a good idea
- I don't like my speaking teacher-- she's a ho fosho
- The Chinese are the worst drivers in the world
- I've had more near-death experiences than there are people in this country-- all in a taxi
- It's no wonder taxi drivers cage themselves in here-- I've wanted to kill my driver many times
- I'm living in the biggest room I've ever lived in in a country where space is very limited
- My room was designed for 4 regular Chinese students to live in
- The dorms here are nicer than CP
- I've been here for a month and a half and I still don't know many people
- I'm scared (really, scared) of hole-in-the-ground toilets and avoid them at all costs
- Green Milk Tea is amazing and I'm addicted
- I'm also addicted to Shou Zhua Bing
- I love IKEA-- even in China
- I miss football, the American kind
- The only NBA games I will get to watch this season are Rockets games
- I miss my friends/family
- My room smells like Bubbleyum
- I wish I wasn't allergic to soy milk
- I'm scared of melamine
- I want a slice of super moist chocolate cake
- I want faster internet
- The mall here is the shit, but I am broke like I've never been before.. SAD =(
- I have no fall/winter clothes
- My flashcards are the shit.

October 17, 2008

The Beginning... Well, Sort Of...

Welcome to SyLife: A Year in Shanghai!

I guess I felt like this short chapter of my life was worth documenting, so here I am.

I've been in China for about 6 weeks now and I've had classes for 4 or 5 of them. I originally thought the class I was placed in was too easy for me. Perhaps in a sense it is-- My grammar is definitely more advanced than my classmates', but I'm seriously lacking in the vocab department. I'm also still catching on to the whole simplified character thing. Which basically means that I often find myself looking stupid in class-- any time it's my turn to read aloud and I don't recognize a character, or when I try to explain something and can't come up with the words. At least if you know a lot of words/recognize a lot of characters, you can string them together and people can sort of piece together what you're trying to say. Or you can read a passage without pausing even if you have no idea what you just read.

Despite the frequent moments of embarrassment in front of my 8 other classmates, I have to say I think I would rather be in my boat than theirs. Language is about how words relate to each other and if you don't understand that, then you don't understand the language. Anyone can memorize a bunch of definitions, right? I admit that I used to criticize the Maryland Chinese program, but I have to say I think it actually gave me a decent foundation in Chinese. And the class that probably helped me the most was Branner's CHIN207, even if I did get a D. Just goes to show that grades don't mean anything because I got my lowest grade in a class that I learned the most in. But that's another story for another time.

Anyways, given my current situation, I'm up to my elbows in flashcards, and when you're as short as I am, that phrase takes on a very literal meaning.

I'm also getting to a point where Chinese is becoming very frustrating. It's no wonder that almost 10% of the population here is illiterate. As I learn more characters, it becomes harder and harder to keep track of past ones and I still don't see much improvement in my reading.

I'll be posting here regularly, so check back for the latest on my life in China and leave me some love because I miss everyone at home! <3

Back to my flashcards!