The dessert combination at The Terrace provides a bite of perfection. Provided to China Daily
Do you remember what you ate last night?
That was the first question the Chinese owner of this Italian eatery, who used to be the chef of a Japanese restaurant, threw at me when I dined at his "little business". Ken Woo's The Terrace is on the city's artsy Anfu Road, where the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center is situated.
And I was stumped, speechless and incapable of recalling a single food I had had for dinner the night before, though I did remember I had gone to bed chock-full, as usual. But now, weeks later after the three-course lunch with Woo, I can clearly recollect the flavors of every bite.
"Cooking for me is like setting ambushes and laying mines," says Woo, the 30-something Shanghai native who started his kitchen career in Japan as a teenager.
Harboring ambitions to have a restaurant since the age of 19, he returned to his hometown and tried his luck in 2011 when the devastating tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, leaving the ambitious chef jobless.
Co-founded with a partner who is now the head chef, the former Italian Kitchen 26 quickly became the hot spot on the restaurant-dense street, frequented by foodies looking for some value-for-money bites before or after plays performed at the Arts Center.
In 2012, the bistro also opened a more spacious branch on the city's west side.
"I'd love to see customers striking my mines and getting surprised, otherwise cooking could be boring," the slender, genteel-looking man says solemnly.
The bombardment of my palate started with the Australian beef carpaccio dressed with black truffle sauce, rocket leaf and cheese. Everything is served in the traditional way: paper-thin fresh beef, cold but not teeth-chilling frozen, shavings of cheese and an appropriate amount of rocket to balance the heavy proteins.
It turns out revenge is not the only dish "best served cold".
As the restaurant's hulking pizza oven has been undergoing "safety checks by the government" for some months, the restaurant has developed a menu of handmade pastas and raviolis to sustain the business. And as it turns out, every cloud has a silver lining.
I tried the black squid-ink ravioli with seafood, served with tomato, zucchini and balsamic dressing. It was love at first bite. The juicy seafood fillings conquered my taste buds immediately. The secret to the elastic pasta pouches is that the chef has replaced water with squid juice and egg to make the dough.
The winning "blast", however, is the dessert, camouflaged in an assortment of the simplest ingredients including chocolate, cherries and cheese. But the combination is killer.
There is also the crispy chocolate cracker. Atop it is frozen ice cream, sided with sweet-sour strawberries and blueberries. But as you hit the cracker with your spoon, the sticky coconut rice pudding "lies in ambush" quietly with the warm chocolate syrup. With one spoonful of all that, one's determination to diet crumbles completely.