It’s not easy being green noodles.
The spaghettis of the world would have you think that yellow noodles are the only way to go, but the good people at Shanghai Garden have opened my eyes to a whole new palette/palate of colorful delicious. I’d like to see Chef Boyardee whip up some green raviolis with as much flare and panache as the noodle wizards at this International District staple. Barleygreen noodles, the vibrant, flagship dish of Shanghai Garden has earned its place in my restaurant journal, but there’s room for more than one color at this unassuming eatery. And the other color is pink. Pink table cloths, pink walls, pink chairs, pink flowers, menus, aprons and carpet. Some may think it’s overboard, but I think it shows commitment. Or that the owner has a very demanding 5-year-old daughter.
Shanghai Garden is Chinese comfort food at its finest with an unexpected, but not unwelcome, splash of new-age health. My gut tells me it’s authentic, but my gut has never been to Shanghai, so who really knows.
Vegetables with BarleyGreen Hand Shaven Chow Mein (ordered without egg) $11.50
Shiitake and crimini mushrooms, water chestnuts, cabbage, snow peas, carrots
When I think of piles of salty noodle dishes, the words “highly nutritious” don’t exactly spring to mind. But at Shanghai Gardens, you’ll forget everything you thought you knew about what’s good for you. Wheatgrass? Psh, so 2005. There’s a new grass in town and it’s name is Barley. You’ll notice it packed inside the very same noodle that glistens with greasy goodness just waiting to stain your shirt. The noodle-to-vegetable ratio in this dish was perfectly balanced. Surrounded by sweet treats like shiitake mushrooms, carrots and snow peas, the soft-but-nowhere-near-soggy, hand shaven noodles were just the right amount of savory to bring a big smile to its eater’s mouth.
Vegetable Brown Fried Rice (ordered without egg) $9.95
Green onion, cabbage, crimini mushrooms, carrots, corn
Though I cannot, in good conscience call this dish fried, it got the job done. It was salty, lightly oiled, and had one major thing going for it. Mushrooms. The cooks at Shanghai Garden know what they’re doing when it comes to the meat of vegetables. The perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and perfectly fresh criminis were so distracting it almost made me forget how nearly impossible it was to eat any of this food with the plastic chopsticks provided. As for the non-mushroom bites, what lacked in starchy stickiness was made up for in crunch. Cabbage, green onions, and plump kernels of corn mingled with the brown rice, creating a lighter, heartier and fresher version of the Americanized gut bomb I grew up with.
Vegetable Dumplings (Pan-Fried) $6.95
Bok choy, carrot extract
Even though the appetizer came out three bites into the noodles, those little hand-made pillows of love wasted no time weaseling their way into my stomach heart. I bit into the dumpling to find it filled with nothing but shredded bok choy and a healthy portion of my drool. Just kidding that’s gross, and I’m sorry. But really, they were so good. I have been told that the steamed version of the dumplings are not worth your time, and I can see why. The crunchiness from the pan-fried noodle pocket mixed with the soft, fluffy dumpling interior made for a perfect eating experience. And that was all before I even tried the sauce. Like everything, Shanghai had their own spin on this traditional dumpling companion – they mixed in pickled okra. It added a little goo and a lot of tang – when used in moderation it spiced up the dish quite nicely. I wasn’t able to taste, see or smell the carrot extract they listed on the menu, but if someone tells me dumplings are healthy, I’m not going to argue.
Shanghai Garden found a way to make a greasy staple healthy, and I love it. But what I love more is that they don’t go overboard. Even though you are getting a week’s worth of antioxidants, phytonutrients, enzymes, amino acids and live-forever vitamins, you can still totally eat this food hungover. I give the pink-aproned ladies one Shanghai five plus 1.62 million bonus points.
My Shanghai tip: Save some for later – the noodles and rice are especially good as cold leftovers.
Shanghai Garden| 524 6th Avenue South, Seattle | 206.625.1688
Photography by Josie James Keeney