Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Hai by Goga

Last stop on the parent train - Hai by Goga.

I'd been saving this spot, not only to get all of the mandatory "oh-let's-eat-Chinese-because-you're-in-China" out of our systems, but also because I was saving the best for last. After how much I had enjoyed basecamp Goga, despite or because of its infamy, I was curious to see how Hai could elevate the original.

Poised in a highrise behind its big brother, the initially unappealing factors of a generic marble lobby and an elevator ride were wiped away when the doors opened onto a terrace opened onto a view of the French Concession. Unfortunately the evening's conditions were not ideal and we had to cozy up inside the restaurant proper, but the deck should be a sublime spot for summer nights.

My only two standing points of contention rose early on - first, the decor. Unlike the original the ambiance is improved by less harsh lighting, but, like its brother, everything from the table settings onward seem to have been sourced from Chico's 'Beachhouse Chic' collection. 

Second, the menu. I understood the concept to be smaller 'sharing plates', and yet there seemed some differentiation between approximations of appetizers and mains, but with no distinct separations to give you an idea of how big portions were going to be. On the up side, I guess this gave us an excuse to order more, you know, just to be safe.

As you can see, everything looked good, and so we relied on the ol' combination of waitstaff recommendations and anything that alluded to pork.

First up came "Wuxi pig pork belly - miso maple bourbon mustard - garlic tuna aioli - arugula parmesan", which, no joke, provoked my mostly-vegetarian mother to not only hog (only for the pun, Mom!) almost the whole plate, but order another. It was one of the best things I've eaten since arriving in Shanghai. The whipped tuna made for a surprisingly complementary base for the deeply-flavorful pork, which was punched up with sweet but nose-tingling mustard and freshened with arugula.

We were off to a good start then. Next we received a 'Vietnamese ceviche' with crushed cashews - delicious, but unfortunately too clean and fresh-tasting to hold up to our porky starter.

Next, a duo of arancini - porkbelly with sour cream crema and seafood with lemon-basil aioli. For once, shock and awe, I preferred the non-pork product, but both were fantastic little flavor bombs.

We then dove into what might have been 'mains' - a seared tuna salad with Asian slaw, Korean-style kalbi beef short ribs with lettuce cups, an oven-roasted snapper seafood stew, and beef burger sliders served with duck-fat fries.

Much like the ceviche, the tuna salad would have been a wonderful light main, but was nearly lost in the onslaught of heavier plates. A dish to revisit on those al fresco summer nights. The shortribs were tasty, although certainly stuck to their bones, and the snapper was A-ok, but nothing special. By the time I got to the sliders, all of the week's eating had caught up to me, but I valiantly soldiered on, even chasing it with a few (fantastic) fries (hilariously made to look less heavy by scattering them with arugula).

This new space raises the Goga standard 'Hai'er, upping the ante with its ambition. The meal was more than solid thanks to the standout flavor of most dishes, and only left me wanting to dive into the rest of the extensive menu on the terrace when the weather finally turns.

I would visit again in a heartbeat... and hopefully without having to wait for the next time the parents come to town.

Hai by Goga
1 Yueyang Lu, near Dongping Lu
French Concession

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