Shanghai Mama’s was closed for nine months following a fire last October. There was some despair among downtowners as the months dragged on. Call it the dark night of the soul. But Mama’s back, and I’m happy to report that she’s better than ever.
If you expected big changes to the interior of this cozy establishment, well, that didn’t happen. The only really noticeable difference is a new floor that made me think of giant bamboo shoots paved end to end and side to side. The wall of beer boxes that separated the waiting area from the seating area has been replaced by an actual wall, which our server gleefully told us, “Drunk people can’t make it fall down.” Yay! The bar area, where the fire was focused, was rebuilt exactly as it was before.
So how’s the food? So freaking good!
In the past, I always loved the Shanghai Flatbread, and so we tried a new flavor: Thai Herb Shrimp ($8.95). The flatbread holds up beautifully to the glazed shrimp topping, with roasted red peppers and delicious Thai seasoning. Of course this isn’t “traditional” Chinese cuisine, but that’s never been what Shanghai Mama’s was about, and they haven’t gone that way now. They start with great flavor and create fun dishes that showcase it.
The thing we loved the most, amazing Duck Confit ($10.95), sounds more French than Chinese, right? But since Shanghai was one of the busiest ports on the globe, let’s just say that this dish has a heavy French influence. The seasoned duck leg — thigh and drumstick — are slow roasted and finished with soy and orange glaze, and the flavor is so rich and deep that it’s perfect. The dish isn’t heavy on veggies — it’s basically duck and rice — but who cares when the meat is this excellent?
Mama’s menu gives you the option of mixing and matching proteins with starches, so we went with the duck as a rice bowl. It can also be served on noodle soup. Both bowl choices are generous — easily enough to share. If you love someone enough to share this duck leg with them, that’s serious, because the duck is so perfectly prepared that I’d probably rather donate a kidney than offer you a bite.
To give the noodles a try, we ordered the Shanghai Ribs Big Bowl Noodle Soup ($10.95). The experiment didn’t quite work logistically, since it’s kind of awkward to eat bone-in ribs out of a bowl of soup. I ended up cutting the ribs on a side plate, picking them up and eating them with my fingers. The ribs did give the soup broth a wonderful smoky flavor, though, which was especially noticeable when I reheated the leftovers the next day. The noodles are homemade, thick and rustic, and very delicious.
Other treats we enjoyed, not in chronological order, included the Mushroom Lollipops ($6.95) and Crabmeat Cannoli ($5.95) from the appetizer menu and two desserts: Sesame Balls ($6.95) and Shanghai Cream Rolls ($6.95). All of these were fun, flavorful and shareable.
Shanghai Mama’s is very vegetarian friendly, going beyond the basic nod to tofu you’ll find on most Chinese restaurant menus. There are several seitan dishes, including Veggie Cashew Chicken ($8.95) and my go-to favorite, the Happy Buddha ($8.95). The vegetable sides are worthy of notice, too, including Garlic Sesame Baby Spinach ($5.95) and Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Garlic Wine Sauce ($6.95). Roasted eggplant can be added to any dish for $2, and is the signature ingredient of the Zen Flatbread appetizer ($6.95).
One cautionary note: Shanghai Mama’s is open for both lunch and dinner, but the lunch service is quite different. The menu is abbreviated, and orders are taken at the counter for both dine-in and carry-out. This set up is geared toward getting the cubicle crowd cared for quickly, which is great, but just be aware that the flatbreads, many of the “fresh catch” items and some of the more elaborate dinner items are not available. I recently walked over to try the Duck Confit Salad ($10.95), which is only on the dinner menu, so instead I settled for a bowl of Grilled Thai Herb Chicken on rice ($6.95). Although it didn’t have loads of vegetables, it was still large enough that I took half home to finish at dinner.
Go: 216 E. Sixth St., Downtown
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11-3 a.m. Friday, 4 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday