Fork in the Road at Shang


This week, my column is a review of Shang, acclaimed, Toronto-based chef Susur Lee’s first New York restaurant.

Shang’s food is a kaleidoscopic mix of Chinese-accented food from around the world–essentially, the cuisine of the Chinese diaspora ( an example: jerk chicken references the large Chinese population in Jamaica, and the preparation uses Chinese, French and Jamaican techniques). There are also straight-up traditional Chinese dishes, like a wonderful turnip cake with Asian eggplant and salted black bean, and a mind-blowing soft tofu custard with desert moss and seafood.

You might call the food fusion, because it combines flavors and techniques from the East and West, but that isn’t quite accurate. The cooking here is really Lee’s invention, the product of his Hong Kong childhood and peripatetic travels. So although some dishes are extremely overpriced, and others don’t quite work, the food is, on the whole, a positive.

Unfortunately, Shang has instructed its servers to engage in the most relentless, high-pressure upselling that I’ve experienced recently. It starts as soon as you sit down: “Can I just get that Singapore Slaw on the table for you?” And continues throughout dinner, as you are strongly encouraged to double your orders, go for more cocktails and get another glass of wine. On one evening, our server actually seemed totally pissed off that we rebuffed his advances, while on another evening, we got the exact same spiels, but from a nicer server.

One night, chef David Chang sat down next to us, and, as I evesdropped, I noticed that he was getting a reflexive upsell too–even thought his meal might have been comped.

I understand that restaurants need to muddle through these difficult
times, but a high-pressure upsell will only alienate customers, and/or
drive them to spend more money than they wanted to, which makes it less
likely that they’ll come again.

Read the whole review by clicking the clickity above.

187 Orchard Street

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2009


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