burger at the camel

Ah, burgers. I try not to be one of those obnoxious “look at me, look at me” Americans because they give the rest of us a bad name, but it’s still pretty obvious that I’m American. Not only because of my accent and the way I project my voice without consciously meaning to, but in my absolute enthusiasm for meat, cheese, and bread. And being from Texas, not only do I like burgers, I am a burger connoisseur. And sadly most of Shanghai’s options land on the mediocre to mediocre-good portion of the scale.


A bit back I went to The Camel, a pretty popular sports bar in Shanghai, for their Wednesday burger deal (burger and beer/wine for 50 RMB). I had their bacon cheeseburger and yum it was good, but just the standard kind of yum. You know what I mean? Meat, cheese, and bread will nearly always get a checkmark in my book, but it was a bit lacking in flavor and seasoning and just didn’t have that greasy richness I was hoping for. So The Camel won’t make my list, but if I’m in the area on a Wednesday … it’s still a good deal.

The Camel
1 Yueyang Road
Xuhui District, Shanghai

museum myth – the new yuz museum

Yet another museum has popped up in China! Because the only thing that China needs (besides more people or more pollution) is more museums! Because museums equal culture! The Yuz Museum opened a few weeks back on May 18, which oh so coincidentally is International Museum Day. Its inaugural exhibition Myth/History: Yuz Collection of Contemporary Art  is a behemoth, by which I mean: holy crap those are giant installations.

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Zhang Huan, Buddha Hand, 2006
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Freedom, 2009
Madein Company, Calm, 2009
Adel Abdessemed, Telle mere tel fils, 2008

The museum is located in the West Bund area, which is … kind of in the middle of no where. It’s fairly removed from the city, it’s a bit of a trek from the subway station, it was hard to find a taxi in the area, and I didn’t see anywhere to eat in my short wander. But what the area does have is space. Longhua Airport used to dominate the area, so the Yuz Museum is actually housed in a former aircraft hangar – hence the beautiful trussed ceiling and large main exhibition space.

It seems like people are throwing money into the West Bund, hoping to transform it into a lucrative cultural area (with an emphasis on the ‘lucrative’). I’m not so sure the culture part will really come through. Last year there was the West Bund Biennale and earlier this year the Long Museum Puxi opened not too far from where the Yuz is, but plopping museums down doesn’t create culture, especially since the Yuz and Long Museums are cut from the same a-little-too-expensively-tailored cloth – they’re museums that are essentially the private collections of filthy rich people. Not really into public programs, high admission fees, and oh, they’re chain museums too. There’s an existing Yuz Museum in Jakarta, Indonesia, and there’s an existing Long Museum in Pudong … also in Shanghai.

The Myth/History exhibition is good, and I do recommend it. It’s interesting for having so many big names all in one museum. It’s like someone bought a book on contemporary Chinese art and made an exhibit from the artists listed. The highlights were definitely the installations in the Great Hall, which is understandable given the building’s layout, so the galleries along the perimeter edge felt a little like afterthoughts – albeit very well-stocked afterthoughts. The Yuz itself makes the list of good museums in Shanghai, but the West Bund area is really annoying to me. Eventually I’ll have to pluck up and make the long trip out again for the Long Museum Puxi, but … ugh.

Myth/History: Yuz Collection of Contemporary Art
May 18 – November 18, 2014

Yuz Museum
35 Fenggu Road, near Longteng Avenue
Xuhui District, Shanghai
Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Admission: 60 RMB

dixie grill: yummily non-dixied

A new little restaurant (er … hole-in-the-wall) called Dixie Grill opened, so I went with a friend to try it out. And the food was really good. Fresh but hearty Asianified American – think wraps, salads, sandwiches, et cetera with a hint of vaguely Asian flavors. Truth be told, I barely tasted anything Asian, save for the obvious use of kimchi in the kimchi pulled pork fries, but everything we ordered was great nevertheless.


I love Southern food and I love fusion food, but tacos and fries don’t make it Dixie. The food was straight-up random American. And who says Dixie anyway? To me, it’s one of those borderline offensive terms that used to be a source of pride and isn’t in itself offensive, but has all those negative historical connotations that have caused it to fall out of favor. But the proprietor’s not from the South (he’s Canadian-ish), so I guess I shouldn’t blame him too much, even though I’m sure I was rolling my eyes when he talked about the Tex-Mex style as being ‘Dixie’. Sorry honey, but Dixie is down-home cooking like biscuits and gravy or chicken fried steak. Tex-Mex, as much as it is Southern, ain’t Dixie Southern. I think Texas has always been a bit weird to that regard – South, but not ‘the South’.

Naming complaints aside, the food is delish. Delicious. Fried chicken taco was great. Fresh pear and orange juice was refreshingly fresh. Kimchi pulled pork fries were ohmygosh amazing. And the prices are reasonable. The chipotle sauce was a bit meh though. Apparently Dixie Grill opened for business around seven or so weeks ago, so it’s still in its fledgling stages. I hope it survives, if for those fries alone. They were talking about starting up delivery service, which would be a really, really great idea since the place is too small, even though it is clean and bright and in a good location. Try it out. The proprietor’s name is Jeff and he’s very willing to chat and listen to your advice on how to improve his place. And while you’re at it, check out DiscoverWish.com, founded by two guys, one of whom is a Houstonite I met here.

Dixie Grill
688 Changle Road, near Fumin Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

a good burger at piro

Yum, that’s a good burger. One thing I miss about the States is all the ground beef. I suppose that’s not typical of the whole of the States, but in Texas, I basically survived off of red meat and carbs. Steak, burgers, barbecue, and Tex-Mex galore! The meat quality in China can be iffy at times (and downright revolting at other times) so it’s hard to find good steak here without paying an arm and a leg for it. Thankfully there are a number of fairly decent burger places! (Not arm and leg prices, but not everyday deals either.)


When I first heard of Piro, I thought it was an Italian joint, because Piro sounds Italian, right? But thankfully it’s not! Because Shanghai really doesn’t need another mediocre Italian restaurant. Piro in Xuhui District (right by where Fortune Cookie is located) is American pub kind of food and it’s one of those bar/restaurant sort of deals where there’s always some kind of NBA game or what-not playing. Id est, it’s the typical American restaurant that doubles as a sports bar, which is the only kind of American restaurant you’re likely to see in Shanghai. I guess it’s the prevailing view that all Americans are obsessed with sports and beer. Hm … no comment.

Anyhow, their burgers are good, which makes sense given burgers make up half their menu – lots of burger options! Their burgers tend to the fancy shmancy type (small but tall) versus the more low-key wide and squat that I actually prefer, but taste and texture were good and my arms and legs are intact, so yay!

91 Changshu Road, near Changle Road
Xuhui District, Shanghai

night lights from the overpass


Architecturally speaking, sites of government and worship are often placed on higher elevations (atop hills) because of our societal connotations of height with power and oversight. This picture looks south from the pedestrian overpass that crosses Yan’an Road, which is a major road that runs east-west through basically all of Shanghai. I love walking on it because, a) it’s the easiest way to cross into Xuhui, b) it offers a nice view, c) I love when cities consider pedestrian circulation, and d) it’s a weird power trip to walk over the cars below. Especially when the weather’s nice and the lights aren’t murked out by hazy skies.

Shanghai at night is quite peaceful, because unlike cities like New York, Shanghai closes pretty early with most restaurants closing around 9 and the subway done by 11ish. The main exceptions would be the Bund area and the former French Concession. For all intents and purposes, Yan’an Road can be considered the dividing line between the more business and residential Jing’an to the north and expat- and restaurant-heavy Xuhui to the south (part of Jing’an is south of Yan’an … but whatever). This follows the historical lines between the International Settlement of which Jing’an is a part and the French Concession, now part of Xuhui. I’m completely oversimplifying this, but let’s just say that I’ve crossed this overpass many times and often at night – either on my way to dinner or on my way back.

osage: over the ocean

A few weeks back I went to the opening of My Father Is over the Ocean (solo show by Hong Kong artist Au Hoi Lam), which also represented the re-opening (in a new location) of Osage Gallery. The exhibition is almost entirely about the relationship between the artist and her father and her grief at his passing, with the title derived from the folk song “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” (which according to my Chinese colleague is not widely known in China). Overall I liked the exhibition and thought it was well done, partly because I’m a sucker for this kind of softer, more nuanced art, but it lacked a kind of power I was hoping for, so I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see.


Sixty Questions for My Father (or for Myself), 2012-2013

I had never been to the original Osage Gallery, which closed before I arrived in Shanghai, but I gotta say … the current location is awkward, at the edge of an apartment complex in a fairly isolated area, and the interior layout is troublesome. The gallery is split between the building’s ground floor and basement, and it’s pretty obvious the basement was converted from mechanical services because the small adjoining rooms and narrow entrances are super aggravating. The original folk song is about someone who has gone – Bonnie in the song and the artist’s father in the show – and the repeated lyrics create this feeling of nostalgia and interiority with a twinge of melancholy. The piece Sixty Questions for My Father played nicely into this. Au Hoi Lam had disassembled the bunk bed her father used to sleep on and wrote questions on each piece. The repetition of these various wooden boards against the half-painted blue walls reflected that nautical, drifting theme quite nicely.

There is definitely an interesting thought process to Au Hoi Lam’s work, but her over-reliance on personal stories felt a bit limiting at times. And I found her paintings to be quite subpar. Without the blue walls, all the pieces would’ve been blah. I’m not sure if the blue paint was the artist’s decision or the curator’s, but the bright hue was definitely necessary to tie the works together, keep the mood buoyant, and provide some color in the space. The exhibition found a greater measure of success in the larger multi-piece installation works, but will I visit the exhibition again? No, it’s not powerful enough to warrant a second trip. Will I visit the gallery again? Only if there’s something I’m absolutely dying to see, which is unlikely. Because the location really sucks.

Au Hoi Lam: My Father Is over the Ocean. Shanghai Postscript.
March 14 – April 14 May 30, 2014

Osage Shanghai
Room 101, Block 5, Wangzu City
251 Caoxi Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 AM – 6:30 PM
Sunday, 2:30 PM – 6:30 PM

fortune cookie, the restaurant

Simply to-die-for amazing. One bite in and I was back in New York in my pajamas, foot propping open the door while awkward signing the credit card slip on my wall, itching to grab the plastic bag filled with takeout cartons. Ah, good times. Oh, and they give those fried crispy noodly things with the super sweet dipping sauce as an appetizer! Yay!

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American Chinese food. In China. GENIUS. The restaurant is located in a heavily foreign food-laden area, but its location on the fourth floor made it a bit difficult to find. The interior was nicely done and you can definitely tell a lot of thought went into designing the place, even down to the menu. I went with a local friend, and whereas she usually does the ordering at Chinese restaurants, I totally took the reigns here … and gleefully over-ordered.

The egg roll, moo shu pork, General Tsao’s beef, and tofu chop suey were all fantastic. Just the way they should be in proper American Chinese style: the egg roll had a thick chewy/crispy skin, the moo shu pork was served with the thin pancakes and hoisin sauce (to wrap ’em like burritos), the General Tsao’s was the perfect sweetness with just the right amount of batter, and the chop suey had a good thick sauce as well.

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In short: Fortune Cookie is fantastic. It’s been getting quite a lot of press recently, and for very good reason. With how many expats there are in Shanghai, an American Chinese restaurant makes complete sense. Back in the States I’d joke that American Chinese food is ‘fake Chinese’, but they’re truly two entirely separate cuisines and should be evaluated on their own merits rather than be compared to what’s ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’. Authenticity is overrated anyhow. In today’s age of merging cultures, dismissing innovation in an attempt to protect the sanctity of past culture is simply naïve.

Perhaps it would be better accepted if we called American Chinese food ‘fusion’ instead … perhaps then the Chinese people will stop yakking on about how we’re butchering their dishes and using way too much sugar. But in a way, saying American implies fusion, because that is the American way.

Fortune Cookie
4/F, 83 Changshu Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 AM – 10 PM
Friday to Saturday, 11:30 AM – 11 PM

adding it to the list: pho real


One evening I was walking around French Concession (Xuhui District), which isn’t somewhere I frequent, and out of the corner of my eye I see this restaurant: Pho Real. Ha! Love it.

I can’t speak for the food because I haven’t had the chance to go back and try it, but with a name like that, it’s gotta be awesome, right? I developed a taste for Vietnamese food in college because there was a pho place on the southern part of the Drag in Austin that was a short walk from our architecture studio. But my love affair really got serious in New York. There were two places in Chinatown we ventured to way too often (Pho Bang and Pho Grand), and it’s there where I discovered that pho with spring rolls is (as my NoCal friend would say) the bomb, and summer rolls and peanut sauce are delish as well.

One of Shanghai’s advantages that most foreigners mention is the variety of food options available, especially in the expat-heavy French Concession area. The reviews of Pho Real seem decent enough so I’ll definitely have to try it sometime. It’s a chain with three locations in Shanghai, but they’re all called Pho Real. If I was in charge, there’d be Pho Real, Pho Sho, and Pho Shizzle.

so-called tex-mex

I am by no means an authority on Tex-Mex. I can’t really cook, but I can make pretty good enchiladas, quesadillas, and tacos ’cause they’re easy. (Although according to my friends, mashed potatoes do not belong anywhere near a tortilla. I disagree.) Being from Texas, I take my Mexican, er … Tex-Mex, seriously. Yeah yeah, I know there’s a GIGANTIC difference between real Mexican and Tex-Mex, but in Texas we just call it Mexican food and usually assume everyone knows that we’re actually referring to Tex-Mex. It’s like how the French don’t say French fries.


Anyhow, for dinner I went to Cantina Agave on Fumin Road here in Shanghai. It’s a pretty famous Mexican restaurant in Shanghai … famous because it’s one of the few Mexican restaurants here and it’s been around for a few years. My opinion: It’s decent. Eh. Didn’t really hit the spot. I found the flavors quite bland. Maybe it’s because the burrito I had was kind of dry, the tortilla was definitely not fresh, the nachos didn’t have the right crunch, and the guac/salsa/beans/rice were simply lacking in lemon/spice/whatever. Sigh. Overall, it was okay, just not that yummy. Maybe I have too high of standards? I feel like I could have done better myself. My friend liked the food, but she’s Chinese and it was her first time trying Mexican food. So really, her opinion doesn’t count. Not to say I don’t value her opinion, but it’s like asking a person from Maine the best way to prepare barbecue … he/she really doesn’t get a say.