Such is the theme at Pudong Restuarant located on 2029 Market Street in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. French cuisine with an Asian finish, or vice versa, is the dominant theme in this newly renovated spot. Their Shanghai-influenced shrimp dish is a divine delicacy to savor and would be approved by my grandmother who taught me what Shanghai dishes are all about. My grandmother was born and raised in the decadent city of Shanghai and was fortunate to receive training on the finer points of Shanghai cuisine before the Communist party seized the city. I grew up on her cooking as a child and I can assure you that the shrimps at Pudong would make my grandmother happy. The shrimps were fresh, tender and cooked lightly enough to portray a slight translucent sheen that glistens under the light. Dragon tea leaves top the plate to complete the look. I’m not sure if the tea leaves contributes its own flavor but it certainly made me feel as though I’ll live longer eating tea-leaves-covered shrimps. Call it the “placebo” effect of French-Asian cooking. It’s always such a treat to find a restaurant that cherish the art of preparing barely-cooked shrimps just so that it bursts and then melts in your mouth. The shrimps are not raw but they’re one hot-wok second away from being raw, just the way it should be. If you love seafood, stare at the photograph above and tell me you’re not wishing that you could grab a piece of shrimp. I dare you.
Pudong also serves a fine fish dish served with a neat French twist lent by the addition of sweet grapes. You read that correctly; they serve fish and grapes on a single plate. Don’t cringe just yet at the idea of fish and fruit going together. You’d be surprised at how addictive the combination can be. According to the menu, this dish is called Fish on Vine and is one of their culinary gems. They lightly batter the white fish filet which is then flash fried so that the batter becomes a crispy layer. The fish is immediately drizzled by a house-made reduction of red wine, soy sauce and heaps of ripe halved grapes. The fact that the fish remained crispy and flaky despite being relatively drenched in its sweet and saucy bath with grapes floating by is quite impressive. Kudos to the Executive Chef, Jason Xu, for experimenting with soy sauce as it is a very versatile ingredient. Left alone, soy sauce much too salty for the palate of many people. Combined with other unlikely ingredients, the soy sauce base can become transcendent, a work of kitchen magic. The sweetness of the grapes cuts through the saltiness of the soy to give it a tangy flair. The red wine holds the flavors together by thickening it every so slightly and minimizes the tartness. A fun orchestra of sweet, tart and salty ensues in your mouth. Bravo.
It’s impossible to go wrong with their eggplant tempura as a side dish. Even those who claim to be strongly opposed to vegetables are gobbling up the eggplant tempura without shame. I only wish they had more eggplant strips piled up on the plate. I guess that’s why the eggplant tempura is an appetizer. Pudong should make it into an entree (hint hint). I cannot confirm this but I suspect that they grill the eggplant first because it has such a deep smoky quality to bring out the earthy flavor. Several other dishes I tried at Pudong were done well but the Fish on Vine is one of my favorites. I haven’t tried everything on the menu and I’m eager to check them all off my culinary bucket list. They even serve dim sum on the weekends. Pudong is a great place for a sparkling romantic date or a lush business dinner. There are velvet drapes, crystal strands, large columns and fancy linens. Given advance notice, Pudong can reserve a private room for a large party. The husband-and-wife team behind the restaurant raised two Deaf children; the wife is a lovely lady who signs with and welcomes her Deaf guests with ease. She tells us that she’s not good at signing but this is clearly not the case if I can even write about what she signed. If you meet her, do tell her that her signing is wonderful and that every gesture is much appreciated. I have yet to meet the owner but I hear he has impeccable taste in fine dining and expects nothing less for the rest of us. The service is quick and considerate and the staff appear to be knowledgeable about interacting with Deaf guests which is always a boon to our community. I wish you a wonderful experience at Pudong and do remember to pass the tea.
[Photos and food review by Pamela Lin]
Update: Pudong is currently closed until further notice.