Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A La Kitchen for Lunch

Of all the Chinese cuisines, perhaps Shanghainese cuisine would be my favourite.  Though Shanghai is located south of the Chang Jiang/Yangtze, its cuisine is argued to be associated with the northern half of the cuisine by virtue of breads and noodles being staple foods instead of rice, as well as the comparatively heavier dishes offered in Shanghainese cuisine compared to southern Chinese styles like Cantonese.  Perhaps the prevalence of noodles and dumplings better associated with northern Chinese cuisine could explain my love for Shanghainese cuisine.  My parents knowing this, they suggested that our family go to A La Kitchen for lunch.  A La Kitchen recently expanded, virtually doubling its seating capacity, and we did not have to endure a waiting line even though it was fairly busy.
Chinese Cress with Minced Bean Curd

The first dish to arrive was Chinese Cress with Minced Bean Curd, the same as what I had back at Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle during my 2011 Vancouver trip.  Considering most of what we ordered had proportionally more meat and starch than vegetables, and considering Shanghainese cuisine can be greasy, this was a pleasant and refreshing vegetable dish to have.  Dried bean curd was used here as well, and I especially enjoyed how there was a whiff of sesame oil in this dish.
Hot and Sour Soup
Next to arrive was Hot and Sour Soup.  Though not Shanghainese in origin, it is definitely associated with northern Chinese cuisine, and in our family, whenever we made and cooked ourselves some jiaozi we almost always made some Hot and Sour Soup.  (Yes, whichever Shanghainese restaurant we ate we almost always ordered some jiaozi as well, as you'll see next.)  Unfortunately this version was proportionally more sour than spicy.  Ideally those two flavours should've been equal, but if it had been more spicy than sour, at least one could've added some vinegar to taste.
Jiaozi (pan-fried dumplings)
We also had some jiaozi (pan-fried dumplings).  Filled with ground pork and cabbage, the bottoms of the dumplings weren't as crispy as I would've liked, but they still tasted alright.
Shanghai-Style Fried Noodles
Another dish we ordered was definitely one of my favourite Shanghainese dishes since childhood, Shanghai-Style Fried Noodles.  Mixed with cabbage, pork and shrimp, this noodle dish has a delightful conglomeration of textures from the crispiness of the cabbage to the chewiness of the thick noodles.
Another Shanghainese favourite of mine was Xiaolong Bao (transliterated as Little Dragon Buns), or Steamed Pork Dumplings.  These pork-filled dumplings were bursting with juice upon the first bite.  The dumpling wrappers were decently thin, a tricky feat to accomplish; too thick and the wrappers would be chewy and starchy, but too thin and the filling and juice could easily breach.
Another noodle dish we had was Dan Dan Mein, a noodle-soup dish with minced pork and crushed peanuts in a thick, sour and spicy broth.  This version was different from others I've had in that there was some sugar added to the broth, though it was only up to a level tolerable for me.  The peanuts provided a nice textural counterpoint to the noodles and pork.
The last dish we ordered was Wontons in Red Peanut Sauce.  The red sauce usually is spicy as it consists of chili oil, but for some reason this sauce wasn't that spicy.  In fact, my family and I were surprised that sugar was added to this sauce, something that isn't commonly found in this dish.  I unfortunately therefore didn't like this that much.

I still would conclude that this restaurant is definitely worth a visit, but unfortunately during this visit I encountered a few more hit-and-miss dishes than I normally would.  Some dishes were created faithfully, while others were not as I expected, and I can only speculate now as to why some of those dishes were done differently.  Hopefully, the next time I'm in this neck of the woods I can try some other dishes and see if it was just luck of the draw this time or if the kitchen truly had a different view of Shanghainese cuisine in mind.


Name: A La Kitchen
Address: 18-11 Fairburn Dr., Markham, ON
Cuisine: Chinese
Price Range: $5-$35/dish
Accessible: Yes

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