WHERE: 590 New Loudon Road (Newton Plaza), Latham. 785-2626, www.shanghaigrilllatham.com
WHEN: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $59.45 with tax and tip.
MORE INFO: Wheelchair accessible. Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Reservations accepted. No children’s menu.
The Shanghai Grill is a handsome, tasteful presence in the Newton Plaza strip mall. Pam and I visited for a pan-Asian meal recently, and I was blown away by the flavors of the food. Without question, it is the best Asian food I have had around here, maybe ever.
The restaurant serves Chinese, Japanese and Thai food, with a focus on sushi. This is not ordinary food but food that has been meticulously prepared and beautifully crafted. Every part of our meal was extraordinary.
The dining room is wood-paneled, with an open ceiling painted black and tiled floor. Although the hard surfaces make the restaurant a bit noisy, it is spare and graceful. We got a table by the window.
For the first course, we ordered Chinese chicken lettuce wraps ($7.95) and Szechuan dumplings with hot sesame sauce ($5.75). We were both surprised when the server returned a short time later pushing a cart laden with dishes. The bowl of cooked ground chicken was seasoned tableside to our specifications, tossed with a squirt of something hot and something sweet, a handful of chopped green onion thrown in. Here is yet another reason not to hate iceberg lettuce: the sturdy leaves make perfect bowls.
After a few bites of the salty and sweet morsels, I put down my fork and broke open the chopsticks, the better to savor the meat. I briefly tried rolling my lettuce around the chicken and ended up with a disaster similar to a leaking ice cream cone. Pam had a better idea: tearing off parts of the lettuce and piling the meat on top.
The beige peanut and red sesame sauces made a mosaic of color in the small white bowl and turned the delicate dumplings sublime. The dumpling wrappers were delicate, almost transparent, and the filling, pink and gingery and sweet, was ground fine.
We were given a small bowl of broad fried noodles, crisp and fresh, delicate and crumbly, and a smooth duck sauce that was neither sticky nor cloying. “If I had a bowl of these and a book,” I told Pam, “I could be happy forever.”
For dinner, Pam chose the soft-shelled crab cut roll wrapped in seaweed ($8.95) and the golden butterfly cut roll ($11.95), which were handsomely plated and served with wasabi, pickled ginger and a smear of hoisin sauce. The soft-shell crab and sticky rice were tightly packed into the nori wrapper, with batter-coated claws sticking out like garnishes. But the golden butterfly elicited happy noises.
“It’s like an inside-out roll,” she explained. “The seaweed is in the middle, with rice packed around eel and avocado.”
I wanted the Thai basil shrimp ($16.95), but there was a hitch: there’s a little red pepper next to it on the menu. But the restaurant will dial down the heat if you ask them, and the waiter also offered this advice: “Don’t eat the green pepper.”
The dish looked so perfect it left me almost speechless. I wanted to dump the snowy scoop of delicate rice right into the dish, but the red pepper, the green, almost transparent pea pods and the brown sauce coating the curly fat shrimp in the glossy white square bowl made such a complete picture I hated to spoil it. After admiring it from several angles, I finally dug in.
Whatever special Thai spice is, I love it. It was delicious. The pea pods had been trimmed of their strings, the shrimp cleaned to a fault. Best of all was the sauteed basil leaves. It’s probably the best meal I’ve ever had for $16.95. I don’t know how they do it; there were almost a dozen jumbo shrimp that must have cost half that.
I ate the green pepper. Luckily, I realized my mistake right away and had only a few moments of pain. Just so you know, they’re small and looks like bits of green bean.
Pam finished off with a bowl of red bean ice cream, three big scoops for $3.50 and excellent, she said.
Our server was helpful and polite and kept things moving, filled glasses and didn’t hover.
I brought home dinner to husband Eric, a spicy tuna roll ($7) and eel cucumber roll ($5.50), and he was very, very happy.
The next morning, I dug out the black lacquer chopsticks we bought in Hong Kong. I could have used a fork, but I respected these leftovers.
I texted Pam: “Leftovers for breakfast.”
She replied, “Mine didn’t make it past last night.”
It’s that good. Enjoy.