Doing a number on beef

Updated: 2013-08-03 07:35

By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

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Doing a number on beef

1515 West Chophouse & Bar's signature dish is Wagyu prime rib specially imported from Queensland in Australia. Provided to China Daily

The restaurant is named for the original address of the hotel, but that's the only thing local about it. Instead it offers Australian Wagyu, French oysters, Maryland crab cakes and a chef from Kentucky. Pauline D. Loh reports from Shanghai.

It is all old wood and bluegrass music with a honky-tonk atmosphere reminiscent more of the American Deep South than old-time Shanghai. The only things missing are the crunch of goober shells underfoot and the blue haze of cigarette smoke floating above the tables.

The unmistakable aroma of grilled beef sets our noses wuffling like bloodhounds as we settle, but we manage to get distracted by the appetizers that quickly arrive.

Australian oysters from Tasmania from the Raw Bar appear perched on ice shards and garnished with lemon and red vinaigrette. They are fresh, sweet and salty from the sea. As we quietly lick our lips, the next platters arrive filled with French fin de Claire oysters.

A basket of baked hot rolls is served with saucers of tapenade, and we fall silent, succumbing to the temptation of fresh bread and pungently savory olive paste.

Our first taste of beef appears as carpaccio, air-dried and sliced fine as paper. The slightly smoky, slightly chewy wafers almost make us forget that it is mostly raw while the slices of hard cheese that decorate the plate made a very good contrast in both flavor and texture.

The beef carpaccio is served with crunchy slabs of garlic bread as well, which we demolished in spite of the small voices in our heads that warned us to reserve some space for what's to come.

There is some movement behind us and we turn to discover that a trolley had silently appeared laden with a huge rack of beef. This is 1515 West's famous Wagyu prime rib, specially imported from Queensland in Australia.

The restaurant's other import from Queensland stands behind the trolley, eager to introduce diners to the fine slab of meat that had come from his station on the east coast, Down Under.

The butcher expertly slices a huge rib that will be shared by our table of eight and disappears back into the kitchen, but not before the eager food bloggers gathered at 1515 West had gotten him to take photographs with them. Some even take turns wielding the lethal looking butcher's knife that he had used to carve out the slab.

As the excitement of carnivorous anticipation dies down a little, our turf is complemented by surf - perfect crab cakes that announced "Maryland!"

Chunks of sweet white meat are barely held together in a breaded crust and they fall apart under our forks, only to be quickly scooped up into mouths. The little pile of micro greens on top of the crab cakes was just what we needed to refresh the palate, along with the dollop of gaucamole.

It's hard to do a good crab cake and harder to create a great one, and it does take a true-blue chef from the southern States to pull off a crab cake that silences even the most finicky of food critics.

And then the main attraction reappears - a huge platter of prime rib thoughtfully cut into cubes that will make enjoying it so much easier. Grilled corncobs slathered with butter leaned against the pile of meat, while a separate, equally gargantuan platter of whole baked potatoes gleamed in their foil jackets.

Doing a number on beef

It is always a treat to eat Wagyu, especially when you know it comes from a source known for good practices in farming.

The beef was rich and needed a minimum of flavoring from salt and pepper. I would have liked my meat a little more pink, but I realize that many Chinese diners do not share my preference.

It does seem a shame to cook a good thick slice of Wagyu till it's brown and firm when it can be so juicy and oozing with flavor.

No meal is complete without some liquid lubrication, and the 1515 West Chophouse & Bar lives up to its name with a really good selection of New World reds, as well as a selection of white wines, champagne, vermouth and sherry.

If in doubt, sommelier Jerry Liao is ready with recommendations.

For those who want something a little more fancy, bar manager and resident mixologist Dario Gentile will mix you some unique concoctions while you sit at the bar and muse on history and ambitions as you gaze out the window and look over the compound of the former residence of Mao Zedong in Shanghai's famous Jing'an district.

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