Due to a series of fortunate events, Torontoist had the chance to dine at Shang twice in thirty-six hours. The first was this past Thursday night at Madeline’s in Toronto (located at the former site of Susur restaurant; still owned by Susur Lee) where, for the month of April, our most famous exported chef is offering a five-course tasting menu featuring specialties from Shang NYC. The second was a sweltering Sunday evening pilgrimage to the real deal located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. We were curious to see if the dishes brought to us in Toronto really were representative of Chef Lee’s new restaurant that has generated so much buzz on both sides of the border.
Madeline’s, top: White peppercorn marinated skirt steak with pinenut brown butter, potato purée, green bean, and frisée lettuce. Shang, bottom: Marinated skirt steak, crunchy hazelnut shallot brown butter, with chili ponzu ($24US).
Back in the heady, pre-recession days of early 2006, we forked over the $250/head for the five-course tasting menu with wine pairings at Susur, and every bite was so incredible it felt like a bargain. Lush, feverish memories still linger about seared black cod that fell away into buttery petals with the slightest touch. How can anyone cook this well? We were so excited to taste the food at Shang, Lee’s foray into the New York City dining scene.
The Shang NYC at Madeline’s card was a set menu without any choices to be made. The courses were:
- White peppercorn marinated skirt steak with pinenut brown butter, potato purée, green bean, and frisée lettuce
- Sautéed black tiger shrimp with artichoke Szechwan ratatouille, celery root blini, tomatillo, and XO sauce
- Sashimi of bigeye tuna with pickled daikon, ponzu sauce, potato puff ball, and almondine
- Steamed tofu custard with creamed spinach, shiitake, king erangu, wood ear mushroom, and soya juice
- Warm molten chocolate cake with hazelnut chocolate crunch and vanilla bean ice cream
On the whole, everything was made with excellent quality ingredients, presented beautifully, and explained thoroughly by our extremely competent server. The standout was the first course, the marinated skirt steak. It was soft, tender, and a nice medium rare with savoury flavours that went well with the accompanying smooth potato purée and contrasted with the fresh frisée salad. If there was a low point, it was probably the molten chocolate cake that was perfectly fine, but seemed pretty ordinary for a Susur restaurant.
Madeline’s, top: Sautéed black tiger shrimp with artichoke Szechwan ratatouille, celery root blini, tomatillo, and XO sauce. Shang, bottom: Quick sauté wild garlic shrimp with XO sauce, tomatillo, and rice tuille ($21US).
Sunday evening at Shang was a melting thirty degrees Celsius, perfect for hanging out on the casual patio overlooking Allen Street, but our date was in the dimmer, more formal dining room inside.
Unlike the former Susur, Shang is an à la carte restaurant that does not offer tasting menus. It’s also much cheaper, with dinner for two including wine and cocktails coming in at about $100/person. Our server, who was also from Toronto, counselled us to order in a family-style fashion and share everything.
Madeline’s, top: Sashimi of bigeye tuna with pickled daikon, ponzu sauce, potato puff ball, and almondine. Shang, bottom: Yellowfin tuna sashimi with pickled daikon, celery sprouts, and lemon purée ($18US).
The skirt steak, tuna sashimi, and shrimp dishes were all on the Shang menu in New York with only slight differences in ingredients and presentation. Like its Canadian counterpart, the steak was amazing with slightly richer hazelnuts in place of the pinenuts. The little crispy potato puff served with the tuna sashimi at Madeline’s was a fun addition that we missed in NYC. The shrimp dish was virtually the same except for the presentation, which was executed so much more skilfully in Toronto.
Madeline’s, top: Warm molten chocolate cake with hazelnut chocolate crunch and vanilla bean ice cream. Shang, bottom: Warm chocolate cake with hazelnut chocolate crumble and vanilla bean ice cream ($12US).
And the molten chocolate cake? Yes, believe it or not, it was on the menu at Shang and tasted very similar, but was no more exciting.
The server told us that Chef Lee was actually not in the restaurant that night and hadn’t been for about a month because he was doing press and promotion in Singapore and Toronto. Maybe that’s why the dining room was only one-quarter full all night between 7 and 10 p.m. After having our minds blown at Susur restaurant years ago, it’s difficult to get excited about Shang and Madeline’s. But, he’s probably just being smart, as full-blown tasting menus don’t make sense in this economy.
Shang NYC menus are being served at both Madeline’s and Lee until tomorrow. The Shang/Lee menu is different from the one at Madeline’s and has some of the additional items we tried in New York that are fantastic, like the turnip cake (similar to that found at dim sum), jerk chicken, and Susur’s signature nineteen-ingredient Singapore slaw with salted plum dressing. While we can’t have the old Susur restaurant back, we can enjoy the new offerings that are less extravagant, but just as carefully executed. And they taste even better in Toronto.
All Madeline’s photos by Ayngelina Brogan; all Shang photos by Kaori Furue/Torontoist.