Rice Plate Journal is a yearlong project to canvass Chinatown, block by block, discovering the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price: $10.
It had been a while since I'd eaten at Chinatown's only Shanghai-style restaurant, so I wasn't sure how much of Bund Shanghai's menu would fit into Rice Plate Journal's price range. But, seeing as how it was Chinese New Year, I already knew about one dish I was going to have to order: nian gao, or rice cakes. Rice cakes are everywhere right now, since the name of the dish is a homophone for “higher year.” And who wouldn't want a higher year?
Some nian gao are sticky rice cakes, but in Shanghai, they're oval, chewy rice noodles that are often stir-fried or eaten in soup. Bund serves stir-fried nian gao with several different combinations of pork and vegetables.
Sterile and pleasant, the lemon-yellow restaurant is better known for dinner: smoked fish, red-braised carp or pork leg, giant lion's head meatballs, sea bass with salted cabbage. And in fact, it was starkly populated at lunch; the Cantonese-speaking elders who throng the dim sum restaurants and rice-plate points weren't so interested, it seemd, in pork belly with tofu-skin knots or noodle soup with pork and preserved vegetable. Getting a seat at noon was easy. Catching the attention of the waiters was easier. And the xiao long bao we ordered come to the table within just a few minutes.