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Shanghai Cafe, Potomac, MD


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I've been going to Shanghai Cafe for about 5 years. It's one of those neighborhood Chinese restaurants that you don't think much about - it's just there. It's not a destination Chinese restaurant like Joe's Noodle, Bob's Noodle, TemptAsian, A&J, etc. It's not crappy Americanized fare, either, like most neighborhood places - there are always a few interesting things to get. They probably do more takeout and delivery business than eat-in, and they're so far west in Potomac, that they're not really convenient unless you're in the neighborhood.

However, something changed recently that's made me think about recommending this place to others. The Chinese menu, which has long been available only in Chinese, is now available in English. So rather than picking and choosing the few things that I knew were interesting, I now have 8 pages of treats to choose from. I'd list some here, except the translation has not yet filtered down to their take-out menu. :lol:

So, if you find yourself in Potomac, or the western part of Montgomery County, consider dropping in. Don't miss the Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings), which aren't as good as the famous NYC versions, but certainly equal to Chinatown Express in DC. Actually, any dumplings here are good - they have almost a dozen varieties on the menu available during lunch or dinner. Shanghai noodles are clearly homemade, but others aren't, so order carefully. Shrimp and fresh fish are reliably good, and make sure you order whatever vegetable is on special.

And don't forget to ask for the Chinese menu.

ETA: They also have a Thai menu and serve some sushi, neither of which I've ever gotten.

Edited by DanielK
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If I'm not mistaken, this is the place in the little shopping center at the intersection of Travillah and Glen roads.

correct

From downtown Rockville, head West on Rte. 28, left on Darnestown Rd., mile and a half to a left on Travilah, and then go 4 loooooong miles.

From the Beltway, I'd probably take River out to a right on Travilah. There are shorter routes, but they involve a lot of poorly marked turns on windy roads in the wilds of Potomac.

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Don't miss the Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings)

This was a good call, and if I lived anywhere in the vicinity, Shanghai Cafe would be in my rotation. I wonder if this isn't one of the most underrated Chinese restaurants in the area.

I called for take-out from Shanghai Cafe today, and somehow drove right by the entire shopping center, ending up all the way at China East. Based on Daniel's recommendation, I ordered the Steamed Pork Dumplings ($5.50), then asked the manager (on the other end of the phone) for his recommendation, stressing that I wanted something off the Chinese menu (there is virtually no information available on the internet about Shanghai Cafe, that is, until now: (click!), so I was ordering blind). He recommended the Scallion Pancake ($3.95), and I'm glad he did - this thing was good. In fact, both these dishes make me want to race right back and go deeper into the menu.

And I know you guys are wondering about my fortune. Here's what it said: "You have much skill in expressing yourself to be effective" - complete with two smiley faces on either end of the phrase.

There was also a second fortune cookie which I liked even more. All it said was, "It tastes sweet."

Well, drrr, it's a fortune cookie. Now, my only regret about the whole experience is that they didn't have toothpicks - no, not so I could pick my teeth (I'll leave that one for the hillbillies and the dental people (unless they had a cinnamon toothpick, which I would suck on and chaw on happily for hours (well, maybe not "hours" but for a good long while, usually until the end starts to get frayed and then I start tonguing the frayed end until any hint of cinnamon is gone, and the only remaining tactile impression is a grainy wood resin, at which point I'd be like, "Okaaayyy, enough is enough," and that's generally the point when I take the toothpick and cram it up my ass.)))

I don't really do that; I just threw that in to make you laugh. And you know you did, and you should be ashamed of yourself for having such a guttural, immature sense of humor. Then again, really now, what's funnier, the drunken porter scene in Macbeth, or the thought of someone driving down River Road trying to cram a toothpick up his ass?

ANYWAY, the reason I wanted toothpicks is because on the way home I had a carb crash (<------ THAT was the joke I was trying to set up, and it's a pretty damned lame one in light of everything else we've just discussed), and I needed the toothpicks to pry my eyelids open and stay awake (<----- that's part of the joke too, but the visual of a bleary-eyed driver with his eyes being held open by toothpicks just doesn't have the same impact as the thought of said driver taking said toothpicks and for seemingly no rhyme or reason, shoving them right up the old keister).

Cheers,

Rockzzzzz.

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You can't be serious.

Hey, you prickly quill-rimmed hedgehog! I didn't say "best"; I said "most underrated," and I cast doubt by writing that sentence in the form of a negative musing. I'd never been to Shanghai Cafe before today, but:

1) Dumplings good (dipping sauce tasty despite acetic undertones)

2) Pancake good, fried well, with clean oil

3) 1) and 2) despite carryout not being kind to either of these dishes

4) Shanghai menu looks interesting

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Hey, you prickly quill-rimmed hedgehog! I didn't say "best"; I said "most underrated," and I cast doubt by writing that sentence in the form of a negative musing. I'd never been to Shanghai Cafe before today, but:

1) Dumplings good (dipping sauce tasty despite acetic undertones)

2) Pancake good, fried well, with clean oil

3) 1) and 2) despite carryout not being kind to either of these dishes

4) Shanghai menu looks interesting

Well, okay then. :P Guess I'll give it a [third? fourth?] try. Believe me, I would love to have a decent restaurant within five minutes of my house.

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Did they pan fry or deep fry the scallion pancake?

Pan-fried, sliced (pizza-wheeled?) into about eight wedges, and served in one of those little plastic Golden Bags (it actually says "Golden Bag" on it, in red ink, even though the bag itself is clear-white, and it also has three Chinese letters (also in red ink), odd little circular symbols (yellow ink), and a couple of fish on it (red ink)) and I was eating it like popcorn.

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Did they pan fry or deep fry the scallion pancake?
They shouldn't ever deep fry scallion pancake; I don't think it's ever done - name a place. I did find it interesting that the Shanghai menu is displayed in Traditional text while the Chinese menu is in Simplified, fwiw.
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They shouldn't ever deep fry scallion pancake; I don't think it's ever done - name a place.

The way Rock described the oil as fresh made me wonder if the scallion pancake was deep-fried. In addition to Peter Chang, I've had other deep fried scallion pancakes - they're just being lazy. No one's supposed to deep fry pot stickers either but some places do it.

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Recent lunch:

egg roll: heavy, doughy, bland, plain, but at least not greasy. My husband likes egg rolls. So sue me.

stir fried baby bok choy: absolutely nothing wrong with this dish; it met the requirement of "something green". But nothing interesting or exciting about it, either.

snow peas with ginger: the snow peas themselves were excellent: good quality veg, cooked just to the crisp-tender stage. But they were way under seasoned.

tofu home-style (tofu and vegetables in spicy black bean sauce): Again, the individual ingredients were well prepped, but the dish was bland, with a gluey brown sauce with visible but un-tasteable black beans and one or two flakes of red pepper.

This was pretty much like the other meals I've had there. Like Al Dente said. Why bother? The fact that it's seven minutes closer to my house than A&J is is not a compelling reason to eat at Shanghai Cafe.

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Were these items off the regular menu, or the Chinese menu?

I can't say I eat there frequently - if I'm at my vet (same shopping center) at a mealtime with the family, we stop in. Happens maybe once a year. But between the very good xiao long bao, and a few items off the Chinese menu, we've eaten reasonably well there, though it's certainly nothing extraordinary.

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Were these items off the regular menu, or the Chinese menu?

I did the Chinese menu after insisting they give me one and assuring the waitress I had some idea of what I was doing. They handed me a 20-question multiple-choice exam to gauge my knowledge of general Chinese culture and history. I had one wrong answer too many, but I told them of my uncle's Chinese ex-wife and the dinners she'd cook for family, so they let it slide.

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Were these items off the regular menu, or the Chinese menu?

I can't say I eat there frequently - if I'm at my vet (same shopping center) at a mealtime with the family, we stop in. Happens maybe once a year. But between the very good xiao long bao, and a few items off the Chinese menu, we've eaten reasonably well there, though it's certainly nothing extraordinary.

What does it matter what menu they're off of? If I'd ordered tofu home-style from the other menu, would it have been better? If... oh, never mind. Al Dente said it better.

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They in fact do some authentic Shanghai dishes. The XLB wasn't great, not very juicy at all but at least the wrap wasn't too doughy. Same issue with the Lion's Head, too dry and not enough fat. We did have a headcheese type cold app that was really good but since my bro did the ordering, I didn't get the name of the dish, possibly "cooked ham shanghai style." We had two other dishes - eel sauteed Shanghai style, and snow cabbage lima beans with bean curd sheets - authentic but not fantastic. It's the only Shanghai cuisine that I know of so we'll probably go back at some point (wish it wasn't that far out of the way).

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What does it matter what menu they're off of? If I'd ordered tofu home-style from the other menu, would it have been better? If... oh, never mind. Al Dente said it better.

Yes, actually, it might've been better. Or at least different. Even though the English words appear to be the same, on two different menus at the same restaurant they may well refer to different dishes

One of the first lessons I ever got in Chinese menu decipherment (from the proprietor of the probably defunct Qingdao Garden in Cambridge, who was a really great guy) was that if I ordered double cooked pork from the white side of the menu, I'd get lean pork (yuck) while if I ordered double cooked pork from the purple side of the menu I'd get pork belly (yum!)

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