Friday, February 02, 2007

Shanghai Terrace

For Peter's birthday celebration this year I thought it only fair to let him pick the restaurant. To be completely honest, I was a little disappointed when I found out that he'd chosen Shanghai Terrace in the Peninsula Hotel, a place I'd never even heard of. Chinese cuisine isn't my favorite and the thought of spending a lot on it seemed somehow a contradiction in my mind, but since it wasn't MY birthday I decided to just go with it. And I have to admit, I was pretty pleasantly surprised.

First of all, how can you not love the lobby of the Peninsula? We drive by it literally every single evening on our way home, but we'd only stopped in once to get a drink at The Bar on the 5th floor. The lobby is just gorgeous--so majestic with its high ceilings and view of Michigan Avenue. The restaurant itself is tucked one floor down from the lobby, basically beneath the grand area above. It's not a large place, but the long, narrow, red-hued space takes full advantage of the windows that look out onto sparkling Michigan Avenue. We ate on the later side, so besides three or so other couples, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

After accepting a glass of champagne (it was a special occasion, right?) we opened our menus to find a not so typical array of Chinese dishes. The first page is all dim sum, or small dishes we chose to eat as appetizers (click here to see my review of one of the top Cincinnati dim sum locations, Pacific Moon Cafe). We selected the Peeky Toe Crab Wontons, the Crystal Lobster Dumplings and the Shrimp Spring Rolls. The wontons were pretty much just like the Crab Rangoons you get anywhere, though a touch more light and delicate. But the dumplings and spring rolls were delightful. Not too filling and not too greasy, which continued to be a theme throughout our meal. Our amuse bouche was even interesting: a pillow of dough resembling the smooth, airy texture of a marshmallow and even with a touch of sweetness, which was served with a duo of sauces including hoisin and sweet chili. Perfect to whet our appetites.

We had a more difficult time selecting our entrees, but Peter finally settled on the Kung Pao Prawns and I chose the Wok Fried Beef Tenderloin. Peter has been on a quest to find good Kung Pao since we moved here, convinced that nothing can beat his all-time favorite from The Szechuan Wok in Silverton (Cincy). Unfortunately, though it cost over three times what it does from your average Chinese neighborhood restaurant, his Kung Pao didn't deliver three times the enjoyment. It was fine, but worth $38? Nah, neither of us thought so. For once my entree proved to be the better choice! My beef was exceedingly tender and was served with a selection of Chinese vegetables in a light brown sauce. I ate every single bit and before I knew it had but a single bite to share with my birthday beloved.

It *was* his birthday, so of course we indulged in dessert. I chose the coconut lychee rice pudding and Peter chose the Steamed Sweet Potato Cake. I was somewhat shockd to find that the rice in my pudding was actually black and the sauce the thinly, superficial sweet of the lychee fruit I like only on occasion. The jackfruit ice cream on top is a taste that's hard to describe - somewhat rubbery in texture the jackfruit tastes to me like a creamy banana. Peter's dessert was less memorable, but still a sweet ending to a delightful night.

Our service throughout was attentive and friendly, even for such an upscale environment. All in all, a lovely, if light, experience certainly worthy of a birthday.

The damage: $200 for two (tip is extra), including 2 drinks each, dim sum, entrees and desserts - a veritble bargain compared to other places we've dined of late

Food: 3 out of 5 forks - good and interesting choices that are a break from the norm, but some are more successful than others

Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses- the red overtones in the room and twinkles of light on Michigan make this a great place to sneak a smooch between courses

Watch out for: the Kung Pao - you're better off trying something you've never heard of and can't get at your neighborhood take-out place

Shanghai Terrace
The Peninsula Hotel
108 E. Superior (at Michigan)

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