San Francisco (crew)
Food, Glorious (Chinese) Food
San Francisco\’s foodie weekend was a tantalizing and calorie-splurging adventure for Sam, but also for many of the crew like myself. Though I swore I would jog every day just to allow myself to indulge a little more than usual, but I was too busy doing my job, and part of that job was clean-up crew. Let me explain. When we\’re shooting a food scene, I\’ve got my headphones on, and I\’m concentrating on the scene at hand, whether it\’s watching Sam eat from a gorgeous lazy Susan filled with dim sum (at Imperial Palace) or participating in a cooking competition in Berkeley at Kitchen on Fire. Now, after shouting, \”CUT,\” my sneaky hands somehow find a neglected dumpling, a freshly baked piece of sourdough (from Boudin Bakery) or a million-dollar cocktail (Harry Denton\’s Starlight Room). I can\’t help it. Sam couldn\’t help notice that I would get distracted whenever a new treat was put before the cameras, and being the generous sport she is, she\’d make sure that I could be the off-screen taster. That sounds better than clean-up crew, but essentially I was directing and eating on the fly. Yes, I can\’t ever complain about my job.
Though we shot many different tastes of San Francisco, one place we didn\’t feature was truly the absolute highlight of the weekend for me — and in some respects a milestone event. It\’s called Shanghai 1930, and it was recommended to me by a few East Coast friends as a\”must-not-miss\” and also by our Chinatown host/tour guide/novelist, Shirley Fon Torres, who said, \”It\’s the best Chinese food in San Francisco, hands down.\” I am a Chinese foodaholic. I could be in the middle of a place known for Mexican food, and I will default to the one token Chinese restaurant. I would add to the praise given by Shirley and say that Shanghai 1930 is THE BEST CHINESE FOOD I HAVE EVER HAD. If I had a choice of a LAST SUPPER, this would be the place. The lush 1930s Shanghai elegance is flawlessly re-created to the point where you wonder if you\’ve stepped into a time warp with authentic oriental rugs, art deco red velvet chairs and nightly jazz. And the food? It looks better than food does in commercials. I brought the entire crew for our \”Welcome to San Francisco\” meal, and the hospitality and service were impeccable. The menu was so precious, I wanted to take it home and frame it. Because these were not your typical Chinese dishes with the typical names, all of us were at a loss of what to order. No worries, our host, the lovely co-owner, Cynthia, said, \”We\’ll order for you.\”
Now there are few, if any, restaurants that I would entrust the owners to order for a table of eight. But suffice to say, you can\’t order a bad dish at Shanghai 1930. It\’s impossible. What followed would make the banquet meal from \”Big Night\” look like scant pickings. The sad truth is that I was in the middle of a heavenly food vortex, and I remember loving every morsel, even though I have trouble recalling the names. Of special note were the Yangtze River Lite Fry, a delicious piece of fish tenderly wrapped in river grass, the Triple Steamer, three stacked baskets of dim sum dumplings, and Buddha\’s Golden Picnic Basket, eight succulent vegetables cooked three different ways. There was much more than that, but I\’m not a food critic, and I put my palette on cruise control and didn\’t take many notes. One of the nicest things about Shanghai 1930 is that they will make any dish you ask for, even if it\’s not on the menu. You can point to three different dishes, as I did, and say, \”Can you combine this and that and this?\” and they\’ll reply, \”No problem.\” I\’ve never known too many Chinese restaurants that are memorable for inventing a dish at the customer\’s request. So next time you\’re in San Francisco and want impeccable Chinese food in an ambience that looks like it was created by a Hollywood production designer, you need to get to the Embarcadero and look for this unforgettable restaurant. You may never go back to your local Chinese restaurant again.