Restaurant Reviews

Shanghai Rabbi

It's often theorized that a restaurant's complimentary bread is a tip-off to the quality of the rest of the meal. If the same is true of the free noodle snacks on Chinese restaurants' tables, then the irresistibly crisp, freshly fried, wontonlike triangles at the new Mister Chopstik (which also serves sushi) seemed reason enough to expect our fortune cookies would smile upon us.

The many full tables would have been a promising sign, too, except that in its largely orthodox Jewish neighborhood, this kosher restaurant does have something of a captive audience. And, as seems standard, rabbinical supervision comes with a price — about two to four bucks more per item than at typical neighborhood Chinese restaurants.

But there are deals to be had, especially the lunch combination specials. These include niceties not found at your average local Chinese joint, like fried and brown rice as well as white. If you choose soup instead of a generously stuffed vegetable egg roll, options include not only the usual egg drop and wonton, but also a substantial tofu and veg-packed hot-and-sour soup that, for a change, really is both hot and sour.

Best is that the bargain combo entrée choices are not your normal egg foo yuck stuff. The list even includes some of the regular menu's premium-priced chef's specials, like orange beef. Though this item had none of the heat promised by the little chili symbols on the menu, the sauce was full of bittersweet citrus flavor, and the thick beef slices were beautifully tender.

Don't believe those little chilies, either, when it comes to eggplant with garlic sauce. The dish had savor but no fire. Authenticity sticklers should also be alerted that the eggplants are the regular big dark purple kind, not Asia's smaller, firmer varieties. (In fact most vegetables here are Western.) Additionally more than half of the portion consisted of carrots, celery, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and canned bamboo sprouts — making it pleasantly crunchy but obviously lacking in the main ingredient.

All the absent heat, and then some, showed up in a salmon tartare from the sushi menu. Despite the assertiveness of the item's garnishes — ponzu, sesame, a mountain of masago, and very spicy "chef's mayo" — it couldn't disguise the overly fishy flavor.

The eatery's kosher status naturally means no pork. So crêpe-wrapped mu shu fillings come in veal, chicken, or vegetarian versions — the last flavorful enough that the meat wasn't missed. What was missed: the traditional preparation's cloud ears and black mushrooms.

If there's any doubt that keeping kosher can be fun as well as meaningful, it's dismissed by several dishes boasting a playful Chinese/Jewish deli fusion approach. Pastrami comes stuffed inside breaded chicken in Fong Wang Gai (a signature of Manhattan's legendary, now-defunct Bernstein-on-Essex, considered kosher Chinese food's originator) and is also featured in egg foo young, chow mein, and lo mein. You can also tiptoe into this unknown territory by ordering a pastrami egg roll; the coriander and other pastrami spices work surprisingly well with the usual Chinese-American filling. Like other fare at Mr. Chopstik, it's not traditional, but it's tasty.

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Pamela Robin Brandt