Apparently they are a new outpost of a successful restaurant chain in Shanghai, 上海1号.
My friend 'Designer' and I went to check it out for dim sum today, before word of mouth packs the place and makes it tough to get a table.
not much to impress. But then we stepped inside the place, and it was breath-taking. Walls tastefully done in lush, dark red, with the space sectioned off into cozy rooms with spacious hallways, and a modern take on traditional Chinese carved wood partitions. With chandeliers crowning each room, carefully arranged with Marie Antoinette worthy styled chairs in silver and royal blue, and ornate gold-leafed dishware. Which somehow works with the antique Chinese furniture in the hallway and vintage black & white photos from Shanghai.
Designer thought the place made her feel like she was on a ship, and I agree - the decor did evoke some modern retro Chinese luxury ocean liner.
We got there around 1pm and got seated within minutes. Great start on service. Slightly marred by the comedic mess up of having our table set the wrong way (knee-height bars made it really uncomfortable to sit) - though our waiter mistakenly told us the table was bolted down, we were fine after we rotated it ourselves.
But that's not why I love it - light and refreshing, with lovely, nuanced floral sweetness, it tastes as beautiful as it looks. Nice to see Shanghai No. 1 doesn't skimp on tea - it's loose leaf with real, whole dried chrysanthemum blossoms.
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I was excited to see some dim sum classics with a twist - though for non-Chinese readers the English translations can be really confusing. Designer knows her dim sum, but even for her it was hard to figure out which was which from menu titles. For items with confusing names, I have noted both proper/familiar names and what Shanghai No. 1 calls them for reference.
S#1's (abbreviation mine) version: giant puffs of beautifully fried wisps of flaky dough in coral-reef-like formations, surrounding taro pieces with veggie filling.
The shrimp were plump, but not necessarily fine-dining quality (i.e. live). These dumplings at the best places will have a 'crystal clear' wrapper that is soft, pliable, delicate and thin yet do not break open when picked up. S#1's wrappers left us a bit wanting, as it was 'cloudy' and slightly too thick and mushy around the edges. They were also not uniform in shape /size - not a big deal but another indicator of craftsmanship if they want to be perceived as a true fine dining venue. If memory serves correctly, these are better than Elite's, but not as good as Yank Sing's.
We were disappointed to find that the XLB we got - that should have been plump little bundles of brothy, porky bliss - were emaciated, with dry wrappers, not much broth, and barely any meat. The photo kind of says it all.
This is usually one of my favorite Chinese desserts - so I was excited that S#1 served this. Overall it was delicious, but when I've had this in Hong Kong, it's usually in a mango coconut base and is golden in color (both base and pieces of mango and translucent white pomelo reflecting base color - hence the poetic words that phonetically sound like 'sunny branch, golden dew' in its Chinese name) - and S#1's version leans much more towards coconut, is less nuanced, and the pieces of mango are tiny (so small you can't really tell if they're fresh - but there were several pieces that were so hard I took them out). The sago was soft and fresh tasting though, and I liked the visual effects of the bursts of grapefruit red.
Also of note: besides dim sum staples they also have on the lunch menu other Asian specialties like 南洋肉骨茶, which I thought was a Singaporean item (Bak Kut Teh) but is listed with English translation "Malaysia style pork rib tea"; and 星洲沙米 which I think is a Hong Kong invention generally known as Singapore Fried Noodles, which is listed as "Malaysia Pan Fry Rice Noodles".
In terms of food, it's no Yank Sing, not even close. But we were happy to have a place like Shanghai No. 1 in LA to elevate the Chinese dining experience - they just need to raise the bar a bit more on their food to meet the promise in their decor (and service which was good - waitstaff came by to change our plates several times and kept the tea pot full of hot tea). That said, those rearing to bash and sink it as 'overpriced' food, where you are just paying for decor - our meal cost a total of $28.12 for the two of us, and we left stuffed plus takeout boxes. So not really that bad at all. It's an upscale place where you can bring visiting relatives, have decent dim sum (for the most part - and it's just over a month old so finding its groove) with attentive service, and actually be able to hear and hold conversation - my parents could enjoy the space.
I've also read a bit about their gorgeous magazine style, beautifully photographed dinner menu (now standard with upper mid-tier restaurants in HK, presumably to entice bigger, impulse orders) and look forward to checking it out at some point, hopefully soon.
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% ___________________________________________________________
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W Valley Blvd., #M, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Parking: Free parking in open-air lot or underground structure at Life Plaza Center