est item, a $28 lamb porterhouse (two
T-bone-like chops) delivered juicy, deeply
flavorful meat under an atavistic char.
When the restaurant is busy, the
wait for food can seem long. It’s not
a service issue, it’s a kitchen issue.
Gaccione told me she’s been trying to
hire cooks for months, but few apply.
“I don’t know if the market is saturated
or people aren’t motivated,” she said.
“It’s happening in New York, too. So
far, we’ve been able to handle it, but I
would kill for a few more cooks.”
One result is that fried chicken—bone-
less white meat with a sweet potato
waffle—was overcooked on one occa-
sion, just right the next. Another is that
the menu is small. Gaccione makes her
own desserts. Until the panna cotta was
added in August, there were just two: an
empanada-like fresh blueberry “hand pie”
and a chocolate stout pudding sprinkled
with graham cracker crumbs and topped
with creamy, house-made marshmal-
low. The hand pie had a terrific crust rife
with crunchy sugar crystals. The pudding
made me bow my head and nod as if con-
templating some ageless wisdom.
By the time you read this, many new
dishes will be in place. Look for, among
other things, scallops with parsnip purée,
crispy prosciutto and pomegranate brown
butter. “It’s only been a few months,”
Gaccione said, “but it feels like forever.”
The nice thing about growing pains? You
FOOD: Chinese, featuring Shanghai
AMBIENCE: Bright, clean, comfortable
SERVICE: Prompt, pleasant
WINE LIST: BYO
PRICES: Soup, appetizers, vegetables,
$4-$10; fried rice and noodles, $8-$15;
Shanghai dishes, $13-$21 or market
price; dim sum, $2-$10; desserts, $3-$8
HOURS: Monday and Wednesday
through Friday, 11: 30 AM to 10 PM; Saturday and Sunday, 10: 30 AM to 10 PM.
Dim Sum: Weekends, 10: 30 AM to 3 PM
AX, D, MC, V X
14 U.S. Highway 46 East, Fairfield
Throughout China, Kevin Lin told me on the phone after my visits, “Szechuan is the most popular
cuisine.” Lin’s restaurant in Wayne,
Chengdu 23 (named for the capital city
of Szechuan and the highway the restaurant faces in the West Belt Mall), has set
a high standard for Szechuan cooking,
winning plaudits from NJM readers and
critics since it opened in 2008.
Even though “not all Szechuan food
is spicy,” Lin said, “it’s easy to remember
that Szechuan is spicy. And some people
don’t like spicy.”
Lin, 36, wants to please as many
people as possible. So when the former
Hunan Cottage on Route 46 in nearby
Fairfield closed last year, he tracked
down a skilled chef working in New
Jersey who is from Shanghai—a city on
the East China Sea known for its seafood
and its delicate flavors.
Lin and the chef, Jiquan Zheng,
formed a partnership with Chengdu 23’s
chef, Yong Yi Jiang. Lin renovated and
refurnished the rundown Hunan Cottage
and renamed it Fu.
In Chinese, Lin said, Fu means good
fortune. But after about a month, when
American friends told him that the letters could have a different connotation
here, he changed the name to Shanghai
46. By any name, it’s a good place to
explore the cooking of Shanghai.
The Shanghai specialty you’ve most
likely encountered is the soup dumpling.
Thanks to some leeway in translation,
Shanghai 46’s menu lists these as juice
buns. No matter. They are the real thing,
possessed of the swirled shape of a cartoon hot-water bottle, and plump with
scalding broth and a tender lump of succulent ground pork or (the more ethereal
Dexterity is required. The trick is to
ease the dumpling onto a flat-bottomed
spoon, puncture it with a chopstick and
carefully suck out the juice. When the
package cools, pop the whole thing into
your mouth. Repeat.
Shanghai flavors don’t come at you
with the blistering force of Szechuan
peppers, but neither do you have to
search for them like Sherlock Holmes
with a magnifying glass. Their subtlety
can be quite enveloping. A prime example is fish fillets with tofu in casserole
(listed on the Authentic Shanghai section
of the extensive menu as AS27).
The fish is very fresh, skinless floun-
der, lightly cooked in a rich chicken broth
with squares of soft tofu; squishy wood
ear mushrooms; and slices of crisp bam-
boo shoot (fresh, not canned, according to
Lin). The flavors and textures of this gen-
erous stew ($16 for a bowl four can share)
are close yet distinct. Visually, it’s a cloud
study in white and pale yellow, with the
dark, frilly mushrooms portending rain.
We didn’t finish ours and the next day
gave it the definitive leftover test. Eaten
right out of the fridge, it was possibly even
better than it had been the night before.
A similar dish, shredded fish fillet
(flounder) sauteed with yellow leek
(AS16) was almost as good, though sometimes the pale, thin strips of leek proved
stubbornly chew resistant.
Pumpkin with salted egg yolk (AS22)
has nothing to do with Halloween. It is
thick-sliced kabocha squash fried in a
light, crispy, white batter of cornstarch
and preserved egg yolk. Each bite was
as substantial as beef, but gently sweet
and pliant. Also substantial and satisfying was salted pork and vegetable rice
(AS19), a packed dome of rice in a deep
bowl, studded with chunks of pork belly
The most unexpected Shanghai
specialty looked like it wandered over
from an Italian restaurant: three huge
meatballs, browned and glistening in a
dark, reddish sauce. No refugee, this was
lion head meat ball in casserole (AS25).
The meatballs are made from ground
pork and tofu, with a little ginger and
egg. Stir-fried, then simmered in a sauce
of chicken stock, soy sauce and hoisin
sauce, they were lush and delicious.
I can also recommend crystal shrimp
in white sauce (AS31), plump, juicy little
guys in a barely there sauce; sautéed
rice cakes with shredded pork and sour
cabbage (SN6 in the Noodle section) and
a novelty called walnut shrimp (SS17
in the Signature Sauce section). These
are prawns pounded flat and fried to a