What Happened to New Shanghai?
(EDIT: I just found out that Hsin Hsin Shao May was sold around the end of last year. The old owners have since moved back to Shanghai and retired. While the deli is still there, I make no guarantees regarding the quality of the food at the current Hsin Hsin Shao May. The New Shanghai menu items are no longer being offered. My original article on Hsin Hsin Shao May has been left unaltered below.
As promised in my Farewell New Shanghai (Closing Night) - Irvine, CA article on OC Food Blogs, here's the explanation the owner gave me for why New Shanghai closed.
Edit 08/25/2013: Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli has closed.)
For many years, New Shanghai and Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli were owned and operated by the same husband and wife team of restaurateurs. They and the wife's brother, who was a partner, were no strangers to the restaurant business. At one point, the three of them held four restaurants simultaneously, including one in Las Vegas and one in Los Angeles County.
Sometime after their daughter went off to college, the couple sold all of their restaurants but the two in Irvine. The strain of managing so many eateries was taking its toll on them. Once their daughter graduated, they decided to further simplify their lives by selling New Shanghai, which they had run from 10:30am to 12:00 midnight every day for close to a decade. The couple will spend the remaining years before they retire at Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli, and are considering retiring in their native city of Shanghai.
Located across the parking lot in the same shopping center New Shanghai used to occupy, Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli is smaller, more casual operation. An authentic Chinese steam table cafe, not to be confused with Americanized operations like Panda Express, the restaurant brings the taste of traditional Shanghai-style "small eats" to Irvine.
The focus is on take-out, although a few tables and sturdy dining ware are provided for customers who wish to eat at the deli. Most of the clientele purchases lunch boxes to take back to the office, or avail themselves of Hsin Hsin Shao May's amazing meal deal to procure dinner on the way home to their hungry families.
The ROI (Return On Investment) here is extraordinary. A two item, single person combo with soup and rice is $3.99. A three item combo is $4.99, and the four item combo is $5.99. The most popular order is the meal special, which includes a large container of steamed rice and full-sized takeout containers of any three steam table items of your choice for $10.99. It's an unbeatable deal, especially in Irvine.
We're not taking your run-of-the-mill steam table dishes, either. This is quality stuff that's head, shoulders, and torso above Sam Woo Express and leaves Panda Express looking like it just crawled out of the primordial stew. There's a Mapo Tofu that will light you up like a Christmas tree. The Braised Pork Belly will help send your cardiologist's son to the Ivy League of his choice. Let's not forget crispy, stir-fried greens and a staggering array of Shanghai-style "Cold Plates" like Seasoned Seaweed and Spicy Pork Stomach.
You can also order dishes off of the menu posted on the wall, which includes a wide assortment of bubble teas and fruit smoothies, as well as items like Curry Chicken Over Rice, Assorted Seafood Over Rice, Taiwan Style Fish Chow Mein, Pork Liver Noodle Soup, and Shanghai Style Rice Cakes. For a food lovin' panda raised on authentic deli eats in Taiwan, a visit to Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli is like returning to my roots, minus the $1,000+ air fare.
In the spirit of gastronomic inquiry, Cat and I decided to order two combo sets for our first visit. Aren't they cute? I really dig the sturdy plastic trays. The food was pretty good too. Definitely a few cuts above any other steam table place I've ever been to.
My Mapo Tofu was awesome. Plenty of Sichuan peppercorns to pleasantly numb the mouth and a hefty kick from the chili sauce. You can't get Mapo Tofu this good in most sit-down restaurants. Believe me, I've tried. Cat got an order of this as well and was equally satisfied.
The stir-fried greens recommended to me by the owner were fresh, crisp, and slightly bitter with just the right amount of salt. The garlic they'd been cooked with added a pleasant aroma.
The Bitter Melon in Black Bean Sauce had a good balance between the astringency of the bitter melon and the earthy flavor added by the fermented black beans. The bitter melon was just a tad too bitter for my preference, but I know that my mom likes them that way. A good dish, but one I probably won't order again for a while.
The Si Gua (Loofa) was crunchy on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside. Just enough salt had been added to bring out the natural sweetness of the gourd. It was a tad undercooked, but still very good. I'd order it again.
The Seaweed Soup, with threads of egg and kelp floating in a light chicken broth, was a good palate cleanser after my meal. It left me feeling warm and content.
Cat's order had Stir-fried Celery with Tofu Skin. The softness of the tofu skin added a nice, contrasting texture that increased her enjoyment of the crunchy celery. As with the other vegetable dishes, it was seasoned with an appropriate amount of salt.
Scrambled Eggs with Tomato was a dish my mother used to make for me every morning. The mild sweetness of fresh tomato forms the perfect sauce with the fluffy eggs. Cat wasn't sure whether or not she liked it, but she ate an impressive amount of it. I polished off the rest for lunch the next day and was a happy panda.
The deli dishes were great, but we still longed for the dishes from New Shanghai. This is where it gets interesting. The cooks from New Shanghai now work at Hsin Hsin Shao May, and the owners are determined to honor the entire New Shanghai menu at Hsin Hsin Shao May as a service to all of their loyal customers from New Shanghai.
That's right. The entire New Shanghai menu is now at Hsin Hsin Shao May and on prominent display; same food, same prices for takeout or dine-in. Cat and I decided to put this offer to the test during our second visit by ordering some of the favorites covered in my New Shanghai review. Would the food still taste the same?
Test #1 - Shang Hai Cun Juan (Shanghai Spring Rolls)
From my New Shanghai review:
"The flavors are spot-on delicious, and they're fried so skillfully that you can leave them on the plate for hours and they'll still be crispy and good when you finally eat them."
Unchanged! Still a wonderful item with crispy wrappers and a skillfully blended filling of cabbage, celery, garlic, celery, and shitake mushrooms. A must-have.
Test #2 - Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)
From my New Shanghai review:
"New Shanghai's rendition is all dark chicken meat, peanuts, and dried chilies. Not a single crappy filler vegetable to be seen. Get this dish in China and it'll be pretty damn close to what you see here."
Disappointment. The chicken meat was gristlier than it had been at New Shanghai, and the presence of Sichuan peppercorn was practically nonexistent. Too much heat was added through the use of Dou Ban Jiang (Spicy Bean Paste). While still very good, the lower quality meat and lack of balance between chilies and Sichuan peppercorn was noticeable. According to Cat, it was almost, but not quite, at the level it had been. I'm hoping that the quality of the dish will improve on our next visit to Hsin Hsin Shao May.
Test #3 - Jie Lan Niu Rou (Broccoli and Beef)
This dish wasn't reviewed in my New Shanghai review, but it was Waldensian's favorite dinner item there when he lived in Irvine. Since Waldensian was the one who introduced me to New Shanghai, I promised that I would try the Jie Lan Niu Rou at Hsin Hsin Shao May and report on it.
Acceptable. The broccoli was crisp and green, the beef was tender, and the dark sauce was as good as I remembered it. Unfortunately, some of the meat was too gristly to chew. Cat felt that the sauce had gotten better, and pointed out that there was so much beef that a few inedible pieces could be forgiven. She had a point, but I thought the dish had also suffered slightly from the move, although not to the degree the Gong Bao Ji Ding had.
Test #4 - Zhao Liu Yu Pian (Fish Filets in Wine Sauce)
From my New Shanghai review:
"Strips of moist, flakey catfish swimming in a pool of wine sauce with bamboo shoot kickboards and wood ear mushroom floaties all around. Don't let a single drop of that golden ambrosia go to waste. It's the best part of this traditional Shanghai dish."
Unchanged! It was my favorite dish at New Shanghai, and the version at Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli was every bit as good as I remembered. What a relief after the Gong Bao Ji Ding and Jie Lan Niu Rou.
Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli - The steam table items deserve some serious consideration, the prices are excellent, and I can't wait to try some of the dishes on the menu board. New Shanghai aficionados may be a little disappointed. Overall, the same dishes at Hsin Hsin Shao May are about 85% as good as the originals. That's still pretty darn good. The owners seem committed to ensuring that the flavors of New Shanghai live on. Hopefully, with loyal customer support and feedback, we can help them get back that missing 15%. A must-try for great Chinese eats in Irvine at unbeatable prices.
The Bill (two visits):
Four Item Combo Meal - 5.99
Three Item Combo Meal - 5.99
Shang Hai Cun Juan (Shanghai Spring Rolls) - 3.95
Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken) - 7.25
Jie Lan Niu Rou (Broccoli and Beef) - 7.25
Zhao Liu Yu Pian (Fish Filets in Wine Sauce) - 9.50
Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli
(Across from New Shanghai's old location.)
5394 Walnut Ave
Irvine, CA 92604
To read my review of New Shanghai, click here.
To read my farewell to New Shanghai, click here.