Some of you might have known that January 28th was the Chinese New Year, officially kicking off the Year of the Rooster. What you might not have realized was that many Chinese restaurants in the area offer some superb New Year’s specials that are available for a couple of weeks afterwards, including Ala Shanghai in Latham. I have been to the restaurant a few times before, but mostly just for the soup dumplings (which I would argue are the best in the region). The menu is pretty expansive, and I always leave feeling like I didn’t get enough of a chance to try everything.
So I was excited when Daniel B. of the Fussy Little Blog reached out this week to organize a gathering of Capital District food bloggers and writers to sample the ten person New Year’s banquet at Ala Shanghai. Not only was this a great chance to try multiple dishes in one visit, but it was also lovely to sit around a communal table chatting with other local food enthusiasts, some of whom I’ve met before but some that were completely new acquaintances.
For around $35 per person (including tax and tip), the ten person banquet is a serious amount of food. The meal included a number of cold appetizers, several soups, and large entrees that ranged from an entire steamed flounder and a giant stewed pork shoulder to more delicate seafood and mushroom dishes. And despite our best efforts to pace ourselves, knowing how many dishes were yet to come out, we were mostly stuffed by the last few courses, which included the more familiar offerings of fried rice and lo mein.
A few of the highlights from our meal:
“Grandma’s Bowl,” which was a giant pot of steamed shrimp, fish balls, smoked fish, vegetables, and mushrooms in a savory broth. This dish was just bursting with flavors and textures.
The table also enjoyed “Jumbo Shrimp with Rice Cake in Spicy Flavor,” a large platter with the boldest seasoning of the night. Although some folks thought the shrimp were a little overdone, this one got a lot of points for an assertive heat level and deliciously chewy slices of rice cake.
And my personal favorite of the night, “Scallops with Shrimp and Asparagus.” I enjoyed this dish because the sauce was unexpectedly light and flavorful. The simplicity of the ingredients really allowed the sweetness of the seafood and the crisp notes of the asparagus to shine. I also liked the addition of a few goji berries sprinkled on top of it all.
One of the more controversial dishes was the dessert course, which was a bowl of warm soup with tiny rice balls. The broth was sweet and slightly gelatinous with soft wisps of egg mixed in (similar to an egg drop soup). After my first spoonful I tended to agree with the majority of the group that a warm and sweet soup was somewhat unsettling, but after a few more spoonfuls I started to be convinced. There was something comforting about the broth, and the level of sweetness was just right.
For those who think that gathering a group of ten is a bit of a reach, the restaurant also offers a scaled down six or eight person banquet. But I really recommend getting a large group together, not only to maximize your sampling potential, but also because it’s a good excuse to spend time with some friends that you might not see enough. Also worth noting – although most of the items that we tried were part of a special New Year’s menu, I saw quite a few similar dishes on the regular menu as well. So you don’t need to wait another full year before trying some of these delicious plates.