Bai's Old Shanghai Restaurant – Death of a young classic

I loved Bai’s before the apocalypse.
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Bai’s is really quite a little place. It’s down a little alleyway across from the aging ballroom dancers at the tip of Xujiahui park, and it hasn’t been there for too long — maybe nine months, judging by the freshness of the sign, and the paint.

Old Bai watches over this tiny place daily, and, as he told me and my friend Pat on our first visit, he makes ‘Old Shanghai Cuisine’ that you can’t get anywhere else. His commitment to aged authenticity extends to the furniture — the tables are old and the benches backless, for the most part. The place has but 5 tables, though there may be a few private rooms on the second floor. He told us he sources his favorite huangjiu — not the most expensive, but his favorite — straight from the brewer, and it’s the only one he serves, from the big clay pots into the small metal pitchers.

On my last visit, things were not quite up to the previous visits, and on our way out, we discovered why.

As we were paying our bill, a large group of Italian hipster 20somethings came in and sat at the largest table. They puzzled over the menu, clearly not speaking or reading any Mandarin, until one of the party approached our table and asked what we’d ordered. An enterprising friend sauntered over to help them out. On our way out, a similarly aged and dressed couple sat on a low bench waiting for a table. The male 1/2 was clutching a Lonely Planet. I walked by, then backed up.

‘Excuse me’, I said ‘but is this place in that book?’
‘Yeah,’ he said ‘this is the new one! We looked all over for this place.’
‘#$(%&*@$(*($#%$#)(*’ I said.

I can’t blame the hoards of expo tourists for taking the advice in the LP seriously. Nor can I blame Bai for lowering his standards a bit. Would you try so hard to maintain authenticity with hoards of book clutching westerners pouring through your door, begging for a ‘taste of shanghai’ with no prior knowledge of what Shanghainese food should be? I’m not sure I would. I wouldn’t blame him if his prices went up a bit either.

If you do go, the 红烧肉(hong shao rou) was excellent.

Sigh. I miss Bai’s already.