ALLSTON (CBS) – The typical Chinese restaurant: a generic neon sign; menu boards; red and white takeout boxes and a fish tank in the corner.
Well, typical Chinese place, welcome to the next generation.
The Shanghai Social Club in Allston is a beautifully-designed, fully modernized tribute to the old speakeasies and opium dens of Shanghai, China, where the tiki drinks feature fresh-squeezed juices, and the menu puts a contemporary spin on classic American Chinese food.
“It’s a hip little place,” brags Chef Bob Botchie. “Great drinks, great atmosphere, great décor, all the things you really want for a night out.”
Botchie is a man obsessed with noodle bowls, steamed buns, and homemade sriracha sauce. So, he feels right at home standing over the blazing-hot, high-fired woks.
“They’re like jet engines,” Botchie says of the woks. “The flames go two feet out of the wok. They burn at about 130,000 BTU each. It’s non-stop excitement. You never stop moving when you’re working on a wok. You’re constantly flipping and you’re constantly stirring. It’s just non-stop action.”
Every action-packed meal at the Shanghai Social Club should start with the stuff you know and love, like a big ol’ Scorpion Bowl, and perfectly-executed Pu Pu Platter – overflowing with Egg Rolls, Spare Ribs, lollypop Chicken Wings, and boneless pork tenderloin spare ribs marinated in Chinese char siu barbecue sauce.
“So it comes out and it’s charred black on top and it’s just crunchy. And then you get into the middle and it’s just soft and juicy. It’s completely different from most boneless spare ribs,” Botchie says.
The same can said about the General Gau’s chicken, a fresh and fragrant recipe kicked up with the chef’s secret garlic chili hot sauce.
“So we tried to do it a little different. The spice is a little more intense with ours, and it’s a little sweeter because we use the same char siu barbecue sauce that we use on the boneless spare ribs. We add a little bit of that to the General Gau’s sauce, so you get a little barbecue flavor and sweet from all the sugar.”
The Pork Dumplings here are meticulously stuffed and folded by hand, mixed with scallions, soy and lots of ginger.
Szechuan Beef explodes with peppers and broccoli.
The Firecracker Short Rib bowl is an extra-spicy elixir, brimming with big hunks of meat, slurpable Lo Mein noodle, and an egg you mix right in for extra richness.
The Lemongrass Lobster Roll combines Chinese street food and a New England classic. It features a squishy, steamed bun, wrapped around steamed Maine lobster that’s marinated in yuzu, ginger and scallions.
But the number one seller when it comes to seafood is the light and refreshing Empress Shrimp.
“When we were working on the menu we had a list of dishes that we wanted, and one of them was honey shrimp,” Chef Botchie recalled. “I can’t help it. I can’t just sit down and make what everyone wants. It’s just the way my brain works. So I made my version of honey shrimp.”
It’s not breaded. It’s not overly sweet, and it’s definitely not coming off the menu anytime soon.
“We liked it so much; we didn’t want to get rid of it. So we decided to call it Empress Shrimp. It was born out of honey shrimp.”
After another drink or two, the dessert course brings Chinese-style fried dough with ginger ice cream.
But it would really be bad luck if you didn’t order the hand-made, jumbo-sized Mao’s Fortune cookie.
“We take a very traditional fortune cookie batter, and we have a tortilla press. We put the batter in the tortilla press and we cook it to a certain doneness. We fold it instantly… we put a fortune in and we serve those with vanilla five-spice ice cream.”
Obviously, it’s time to say goodbye to the typical Chinese restaurant.
“I want every dish to be completely memorable,” Botchie said. “I don’t want people coming in expecting run of the mill Chinese food and have them sit down and get run of the mill Chinese food. I want them to come and say ‘I’ve never had Chinese food like this.'”
You can find the Shanghai Social Club at 1277 Commonwealth Ave. in Allston or online at shanghaisocialclub.com.
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