You gotta be careful when you order tea these days. Chinese restaurants in the U.S. of my youth would throw a pot of floor-scrapings tea on your table for free. Memory may not serve precisely but I seem to recall we’d get our pot of tea no more than one or two kuai, back in the Shanghai of twenty years ago. If you just relax in to place with even modest pretentions these days you can be hit with some silly pot of green tea that costs more than bottle of wine were you to casually let slip: “Oh yeah, and a pot of tea for the table.” Don’t assume. Ask before you order your tea.
I’m at another one of my local staple restaurants, trying not to have a beer. If I do, I’ll go back to my room and fall asleep shortly thereafter. And I have quite a bit to do this evening. If I stick to tea, I’ll squeeze another hour or so out of the night.
My waitress was patient as I flipped through the menu. I have learned the hard way that photos are particularly deceiving in this place. They must have downloaded these glossies off the stock photo bin on Chinese restaurant dot com. This place make food that tastes alright, but the dishes presented are rather far afield of what you’d been tempted to order, what you’ve imagined putting in your mouth. The lamb I considered had big cumin seeds spread all over the glistening cubes which rested on an interesting bed of celery leaves. What was served is all a bit mushy with a few hot pepper pieces on top, served on some shredded iceberg lettuce. The green vegies are a chaotic mess of odd choppings rather than the neat stack I was sold on. No worries. The tieban eggplant is not too far off the photo.
My waitress is an older later with a kind smile. (To be fair she is probably my age. You know, ‘older.’) At the end of my order I asked her for a suggestion as to the most “common” tea that had. “What is most “every day” tea you have?” I’m concerned for a moment that perhaps I haven’t made myself understood. But soon she is repeating back to me what I said: “probably the most ‘common’ tea we have is this moli tea. I give you a cup and a pot of boiling water.” “Right. And will that run me?” “Ten kuai.” “I’ll take it.”
And so its me with my visually accurate eggplant and my not so representative lamb and greens and a brimming glass of floating flowers and sinking dried currents staring out at the passers by on a Wednesday night at nine twenty, as this is the big advantage of this place, if you’re in the mood for it, is that this first floor window seat is always free and the progression of people is fairly constant with most pedestrians oblivious like fish in a tank and a few pausing to consider me and my my evening meal, which is never as tasty as the place down the street, but generally serves as the next best thing and a point of variance on the rather predictable routine of solo dining here in the neighborhood of my temporary Puxi residence.