Shang: A Foodie’s Quest for Hidden Flavors
Last night, I had slaw with 19 hidden flavors. I listened to 80s music. I was in a trendy Pan-Asian hotspot. AND once again, my quest to find a suitable Pimm’s Cup on this side of the pond was once again foiled. Last night, I went to Shang.
The ‘hotel restaurant’ in the Thompson Hotel on the Lower East Side (though this moniker does it no justice), Shang is a curious blend of things: a trendy hotspot for club-going pretty young thangs, an Asian fusion powerhouse fit for foodies, and a gorgeous atmospheric dining experience. At 9 o’clock on a Friday night, it was absolutely packed. The clientele ranged from hip older couples to hip younger couples, from large gaggles of pretty girls to small groups of cocktail-slurping cougars, from families looking to celebrate to young men and women introducing their significant other to their parents. Like the clientele, the background music (which is impossible to ignore) was diverse, ranging from 80’s-era disco to smooth electronica to euro-House. Needless to say, it had me physically bopping in my seat for the first 20 minutes of the meal.
The restaurant itself is on the 3rd floor of the hotel. To reach the main dining room, you must walk through the expansive white lacquer bar populated by desperate-looking women (unfortunately). I would avoid this part of the experience. However, the main dining room itself is cavernous and seductive. In the center of the room are large deep red circular booths for large parties and tables for smaller parties line the walls. Large beige paper lantern formations hang from the ceiling and give everyone a lovely glow. What was great about Shang was that it was loud and busy, yet the room was large enough that you weren’t on top of the parties next to you and you could carry on a coherent conversation with ease.
Shang does Asian fusion right. Chef Susur Lee offers distinctly Asian flavors and pairs them expertly with a wide array of meats, vegetables, and seafood. The food is presented tapas-style, with our waiter suggesting between 5 and 7 dishes for a party of two. While this racks up a substantial bill, the portions are rather small and for satiating meal, I would offer the same suggestion.
My date and I started off with Shang’s signature Singapore Slaw. Supposedly, this slaw doesn’t have any cabbage in it and has 19 hidden flavors. My date and I were able to pick out carrots, plum, chickpeas, walnuts, radish, and tortilla. Clearly, we were missing quite a few! We then moved on to the almond-crusted lobster and shrimp lettuce wrap. This was rich and yet strangely refreshing. The lobster and shrimp were blended together spring roll-style in an almond shell, and the whole thing was wrapped in crisp lettuce. It was a creative marriage of sweet and seafood flavors.
For our entree dishes, we chose the Mongolian Lamb Chops and the Cantonese Wok-Fried Pearl Noodles. The Mongolian Lamb Chops was easily one of the most creative and delicious lamb plates I’ve had in New York yet. Two lamb chops were glazed in chili mint, cooked perfectly, and came with grilled bananas and a carrot cardamom dipping paste. The enormous amount of flavor was close to overwhelming yet innovative enough to work so well. In terms of the noodle dish, my date ate most of that dish, so while it looked delicious, I unfortunately have little to comment on. The wasabi mashed potatoes are worth mentioning also, as they were the perfect side dish. They cleansed the palate between dishes and went perfectly with the lamb. Zesty!
Ultimately, Shang was a pleasant surprise: trendy and fresh yet with high-caliber Asian fusion cuisine.