- Brienne Boortz
- Veteran chef Kevin Tran serves masterful versions of widely known Chinese dishes.
Watch out! advised my fortune cookie. The straight tree can have crooked roots.
Read my friend's: If you promise something to someone, keep it.
From these, we deducted that I should remain vigilant when hiking this summer, and that he shouldn't give anyone anything, even if promised. And that both fortunes would have been more entertaining had we added the sophomoric "in bed."
Thankfully, every other aspect of my visits to the 18-month-old Shanghai Café, off Las Vegas Street and Nevada Avenue the former location of the short-lived Palermo's Pizza required little scrutiny. What became readily evident after a few bites was that this Chinese food was clearly a notch above average.
On a first, evening visit while awaiting takeout in the clean, simply decorated space, I chatted with Richard Tran, the friendly son of owner and chef Kevin Tran. Richard introduced the menu by earnestly saying, "We've got the best Chinese food in town," and he advised me to try the Chow Fun combination entre ($9.75), a dish of wide rice noodles, thinly sliced beef, chicken and pork and a few shrimp and sprouts stir-fried in a thin, somewhat toasty "gravy."
I'd asked for the menu's most authentic item, and according to Richard, the Chow Fun remains a traditional and staple dish in Hong Kong. As for Chinese fare, he related that pretty much everything served in Chinese joints in the States is Americanized. If you want the real goods around these parts, he advised, head to Denver for dim sum or visit one of the large import fish markets places where you're likely to spy eyeballs still attached to your seafood, or items such as chicken feet. Much of the real Chinese is food many Americans would shy from; hence the birth of Westernized versions of Szechuan classics like Kung Pao.
True to Richard's word, the enormously portioned Chow Fun delivered, with a unique flavor best pinned to its cooking oil and likely a touch of soy. (When asked, hostess/server/family matriarch Jessica Tran would say only that her husband uses a special "chef's sauce.")
The following lunch visit, the twice-cooked pork ($5.50), vegetables with garlic sauce ($5.25) and Kung Pao chicken ($5.50) each pleased its respective eater. All food arrived promptly with crisp, dense egg rolls and fantastic renditions of egg drop and hot and sour soup.
None of the failings I find in most Chinese fare: snotty, gooey sauces; limp veggies; rubbery meat were present at Shanghai Café. Each dish reflected individual attention and skillful cooking. According to Richard, his dad has been doing this for 25 years and relies mainly on his eye and intuition, never using measuring instruments, even on large soup batches. His prowess shows.
In a world of rich Thai coconut sauces and creative sushi, Chinese has never been high on my list when craving Asian food. But Shanghai Café makes a damn good case for occasionally coming out of that shell.
Surprise awaits he who breaks habits. Do it! (In bed.)
1107 S. Nevada Ave., #103, 634-1262
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lunch ends at 3 p.m.