Shanghai Elan is a spot offering a menu Szechuan cuisine.
I was excited to be going to Shanghai Elan. I'd heard that they had the best Chinese donuts in Vancouver, and I know they're greasy and not good for you, but I love them so much. At Congee Noodle King they are wonderful, so when my friend said that at Shanghai Elan they're even better, I was skeptical but psyched. No, no, noooooo! They were out of Chinese donuts. My friend said that's OK, try the smoked fish appetizer. She loves it. Her friends love it. Yes, they were out of that too. But I was in a great mood because I had fallen in love with the server, and when you're in love it's all good. My friend and I shared a whole sweet and sour rock cod, which was fresh and daring in its sweetness. The sauce on its own was too sweet, but matched with the fish the combo took fish and sauce to a higher level, something I would not have thought possible because the sauce was so sweet. Brilliant. Daikon pastries - good, but daikon could have had more flavour. Leek turnovers with egg - delicious.
Soymilk soup - served not hot enough, and not much more than soymilk, the kind you drink in a cup. But obviously fresh and high-quality. Still, wouldn't order it again. Colourful menu, great location...overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but there were disappointments.
let's get down to business: the steam pork buns (xiao long bao)!
For a shanghai style restaurant that prizes itself on steam pork buns, (xiao long bao), even built with a clear window that allows you to see the little old asian lady making the dumplings behind a glass wall, it really is over priced. 5.50 for 6 buns, which is at least 20% costlier than other restaurants with the similar focus on shanghai centric food that make a tastier dish. the dumpling skin is a little too thick, not springy and chewy enough in texture, and the soup in the dumplings while having good flavour, had a bit of msg overkill. plus the meat itself had very little taste, and it was grainy in texture. i did like the fact that the buns were not greasy at all. in this regard, it tasted clean. but for 5.50, it is reasonable for consumers to expect the most expensive steam buns in vancouver/burnaby/richmond area to wow, and that it did not. in fact, one could walk 2 min to the food court in the same mall and get slightly better steamed pork buns and way better in price.
we also had their beef noodles, which was another disappointment, but at least it was only 7.50 in price. the beef, was so dry and the flavour of the soup did not cook into the meat, so it tasted like card board. the soup was again, not overly greasy, but the flavour of the broth was not as good as a couple of the beef noodle stands in the food court of the same mall. the noodles themselves tasted machine made, flat, and no chewiness of a good hand cut noodle or even a higher quality frozen noodle pack from Japan. they also left inedible spices in the soup that they should have scooped out. again, i would say head for the food court for way better noodles at a lower price.
restaurant layout was way too crowded, even for smaller asian people. the back of my seat was hitting the back of seat of the patron sitting behind me the entire meal. we got quite cosy it's a plus if you like that sort of thing! :)
depending the servers, you'll get very different service. in general, they were attentive, despite the busy, full restaurant, even remembering to check my tea, as well as giving me a fresh paper towel when they saw that i needed one, without me asking. this was unexpected surprise in a busy chinese restaurant. i suspect it was due to experienced hosts themselves and not that the owners trained them well because the service quality between the servers were too inconsistent. when i was paying at the counter, the cashier didn't even noticed us trying to pay until a few minutes after we've been standing there. she had her back to the restaurant polishing wine glasses and never looked me in the eye for the entire transaction. even though my only industry training came from a nameless manager of ronald macdonald's, i can guess she was untrained or trained badly.
they store child seats and napkin boxes in their wheel chair accessible restroom (some vacuum cleaner box was put on the toilet seat), so there is no wheel chair accessible restroom in this facility.
having frequent the previous restaurant before the current owner took over, it appears that the low flow toilets were the same ones left from the last restaurant. the restroom floors were wet.
the kitchen had ventilation issues, so they always keep the back door of the kitchen open while cooking (this was already a problem for the previous restaurant), so you can easily peek in to see the sanitary condition of the kitchen. my advice is to peak AFTER you finish your meal, if you want to enjoy your dining experience (i was glad I followed my own advice :). but to be fair, i've seen worse kitchens in this town (even for fancier restaurants), not that this makes it ok.
maybe the noodles were not the restaurant's forte, but the steam pork bun was their signature dish, and for the price, it was offensively lack luster. i had already scheduled a future family get together in this restaurant to try their fancier dishes (many also higher in prices than other restaurants in the same class), but based on their performance for making such amateur mistakes in their corner stone dishes, i am cancelling my reservation to take my business elsewhere. this is a tough town for restaurants, and if they can't compete, then they shouldn't be asking for these prices. for steam pork buns, go to Chen's Restaurant in Richmond, you won't be disappointed (at the very least, the prices are way better). happy fooding all!