peeling back the layers

Monday was Tracy’s birthday, and we spent the morning wandering through the Yu Gardens and Market. It was in the Yu Gardens that we suddenly saw all the foreigners and tourists that had been conspicuously absent in our previous wanderings around the city.

As the Lonely Planet book opined, the Yu Gardens presented sort of a Disneyland version of Chinese dynastic culture, but there were lots of pretty little nooks and niches and some nice photo ops…

me & tc “rockery”

For Tracy’s birthday dinner, we took a taxi to a Japanese restaurant called Shintori. Minimalist but somehow welcoming, it was a really beautiful place to share a meal.

The experience of Shintori begins before you enter the place. The entrance is tucked into a hard-to-find little alley. A winding path of pebbles and concrete slabs, lined with upward-pointing halogen spotlights and tall, tall bamboo, it’s unmistakeable once you spot it. The door is a huge, dark steel panel with no discernable knob or handle. As you reach out to touch it, it silently and weightlessly pivots inward.

The restaurant has a spacious, open layout – tall, three-storey concrete walls surrounding large ebony tables on the ground floor. One storey up is a a narrow mezzanine, with smaller tables along the walls, looking down.

The welcoming effect is partly thanks to the kitchen, which is in full view, in the back.

Tracy and I shared an incredibly mild and buttery filet of cod, cooked in a dark miso sauce, along with a salad and an assortment of sashimi. We sipped a delicious dry sake and a couple of beers. For dessert, we ordered a divine (to use Tracy’s word) green tea tiramisu. Before it arrived, I excused myself to go to the washroom.

What I was actually doing, however, was asking our waitress if the restaurant wouldn’t mind doing something a little special with our dessert, for Tracy’s birthday. The waitress – who was very shy – arrived a few minutes later, accompanied by two of her colleagues. They held out the tiramisu, which was adorned with a small candle, and proceeded to sing an extremely sweet and shy rendition of Happy Birthday. I wanted to hug them.

It was the perfect way to end the tourist portion of our trip to Shanghai, and it left us with a much better impression of the city overall. In my next days’ wanderings, with and without Tracy, I found myself able to look just a little deeper and really enjoy the Shanghai I was now seeing – a city known for its dumplings, sci-fi architecture and beautiful people…

flying a kite junior fashionistas sci-fi shanghai dumplings