I moved here from Chengdu, Sichuan where the food is diverse, delicious and famous (and deservedly so). After almost ten years in China I've come to expect great local cooking so I was surprised during my first week in Shanghai when I went out to catch some local Shanghainese cuisine.
I found the dishes to be tasteless and undercooked (at worst) and only slightly more flavorful than English food (as in bland British) at best. Now, I admit that I have no real idea about the nuances of Shanghai cuisine and I'm probably missing out on something. But so far, every local spot I've hit has struck out.
However, Shanghai, true to its cosmopolitan roots, easily has the best selection of foreign food that I have encountered in China. There are some excellent restaurants around town, serving everything from authentic German-style cooking to complex fusions of Asian, American and European styles.
One gem that I visited recently is the newly opened little corner eatery known as Goga, run by Bay Area native Brad Turley and named after the Golden Gate Bridge. Turley made a name for himself here in Shanghai at his previous spot, upscale Mexican outpost Maya, and is now making headlines with "Cali-style, Asian-influenced dishes" at Goga.
Last time I went, we enjoyed the snapper sashimi as the first course before moving on to a Mission District shrimp cocktail and a plate of pork slices in an impossibly sweet and sassy sauce, served with tuna and deep fried bread.
I felt as if I'd been teleported out of drab Shanghai into a world of taste bud bliss. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure I was still in rainy eastern China, not on some sun-soaked stretch of California coast. We almost didn't make it through the night, but successive glasses of white wine and an impromptu shot of absinthe kept us energized enough to finish off the chicken and ginger plate. (I even felt hungry enough to steal a bit of my baby boy's coconut mashed potatoes.)
Goga is an example of Shanghai's ability to attract the best from all over the world, who come and make it their own—and based on my experience with local cuisine to date, I guess the city has to do so just to make up for its bottom-rung local cuisine. It's unfortunate that I cannot continue my habit of wolfing down RMB 2.5 noodles like I did in Chengdu, where cheap noodles taste good enough to serve in Paris, New York, San Francisco or any other reputed foodie hot spot.
Please. Please prove me wrong and introduce some tasty Shanghai cooking. Until then, you can find me here:
1 Yueyang Lu (岳阳路1号)
5:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m., kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m.
Price Range: RMB 400 - 700 per head