A recent rave review in the New York Times of the newly opened Shanghai Park in the Princeton Shopping Center had us eager to try this renovated eatery. Located where Lee’s Castle once was, the new restaurant is clean and bright and offers plenty of space. On the Saturday evening we arrived, we did not need the reservations that the review strongly recommended but that may change as reputation builds.
The room is quiet so that conversation is easy and the high backs of banquettes for parties of four provide some privacy. There was a good crowd that evening in the general dining area and a larger group in the section apparently set aside for private parties. Conversations around us ranged from a heated discussion between two budding fashionistas as to the relative merits of Prada vs. Gucci vs. Coach to a description of a trip to a Caribbean spa; amusing to eavesdrop on but not so loud as to interfere with our own.
As the Times reviewer Karla Cook suggested, the service was pleasant but difficult due to the language barrier. We were not told about the specials. One other cavil about service was the unfortunate fact that our order was brought out piecemeal but we shared each dish as they arrived.
We missed the soup dumplings which Karla described as "sensuous orbs…in a bamboo steamer, six of them squatting on the rungs and just sticky enough to seem fragile as you pull them away with your fingers." To her, "[t]his dumpling bliss is not a surprise; they were my favorite food in an early 2004 review of William Qin and Fei Shen’s first restaurant, also called Shanghai Park, in Highland Park." Among the specials sampled in the review were a "tender and sweet Shanghai style giant crab… smeared and flavored with a dense finger-licking sauce containing ginger and scallion; asparagus lettuce, a slim, crisp green vegetable;…red tsai-cai, a leafy jewel-tone vegetable in red and brilliant green."
Such raptures were not among the items we happened to choose but offer a lure to a return visit. Also on the list would be sarang ba rong, aformed fried taro shell filled with vegetables and topped with cashews.
As the review stated, "[t]hose who like their Chinese food predictable will find many choices in the main dishes, but there is mild intrigue woven in." One example cited is "squid in spicy pepper salt, a dry and crisp-crusted creation that maintains tenderness." Appetizers range from $1.50 to $8.00 for soup for two; main dishes $9.00 to $19.00; specials $15 to $26; and rice/noodles $7.00 to $10.00. Our meal of two appetizers and two entrees totaled only $35.00. There is a children’s menu offering lo mein, chicken with broccoli or sweet or sour chicken, egg roll, soup and ice cream all for $7.95, everything a kid could want. The fried pork dumplings are also a sure hit with kids. In addition, there is the usual weightwatcher’s offering of steamed veggies, chicken or shrimp, with brown rice.
Shanghai Park is BYOB. With time, as the service improves, the staff will no doubt be more attentive to the need to keep libations cold.
This new addition to the Princeton dining scene is convenient forfamilies looking for straightforward cuisine with no frills or for local business folk in need of luncheon variety.
Shanghai Park, 301 North Harrison Street, Princeton Shopping Center, 609-924-8001.