Last week was a national holiday here in China, celebrating National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival. This October holiday, much like Chinese New Year, is a time where Chinese and expats alike get the heck out of the big city for either a trek home to see family or to do some traveling. This year we spent a few days in Shanghai before skipping town. We got to see the slowed down version of Shanghai: quiet streets, no blaring car horns, fewer buses zooming by, and the added bonus of being able to get into any restaurant in town without a reservation. Nice!
Austin Hu has been on the culinary scene in Shanghai since 2010 operating as the chef and owner of the restaurant Madison. Before starting up his own business, he worked as a sous chef at the famous Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Since its opening, Madison has had a positive reputation in the growing Shanghai food scene, making Austin Hu one of the top new chefs in the city. With Madison’s success, it only made sense to open up a second spot – Madi’s, a more casual dining alternative to the fine dining experience at Madison. I was excited when I first heard about this because I have been to Tavern, the more casual front room of Gramercy Tavern and really enjoyed the sophisticated but approachable new American food they serve. Could Madison and Madi’s be Shanghai’s answer to Gramercy Tavern and its front room? I wanted to find out. Here is how it went:
Upon arrival, I was excited to see the location of Madi’s and also the new Madison that would be opening right next door. It’s definitely an upgrade from where the old Madison used to be. The entrance is bright and open with large windows surrounding the room. It’s an environment much more fitting to this style and personality of the restaurant as opposed to the old location which was hidden above a dark and desolate entrance. A long bar nearly stretches the length of the room, offering a nice place to grab a drink and a tasty bar snack while waiting for a table to open up. The decor has a simple, industrial look with an exposed ceiling and low-hanging lights (which were actually a bit too bright). A smattering of candles here and there would have made the room a bit more intimate and inviting. Or just dim the lights so I feel less guilty from stuffing my face with short ribs with a side of meatballs and duck fat fries.
Much like Madison, Madi’s menu uses fresh, seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. However the menu items are much heartier and not for those counting calories. It’s the epitome of upscale comfort food. It’s the food you eat when your boyfriend just broke up with you. Or on the contrary, if you’re in love and don’t mind the boyfriend weight. It’s where you go when you had a “China day” and need a hug. Everything on the menu that evening sounded enticing.
We started off with the Spinach Salad with Beijing blue cheese and hickory nuts (RMB 45). Although not noted on the menu, it came topped with mixed wild mushrooms and a deep fried soft boiled egg that was just cooked perfectly. The creamy yellow yolk just oozed out of the center and was a lovely surprise. There was a good balance of flavors between the sweet and tangy vinaigrette dressing, the pungent blue cheese and the crunch of the hickory nuts and spinach. Can I get this in a full size? Yum!
We also ordered the Mac and Cheese with brown butter topping (RMB 48). The macaroni was cooked a little past al dente but not yet to the point of being mushy. I think if it would have been baked a second longer it would have been overcooked. This was your classic American-style mac and cheese. The cheese was really creamy and rich the way a good mac and cheese should be. While it was not necessarily the best version I’ve ever had, it was certainly satisfying and among the better macs in town.
From the sandwich section we ordered the Madison Burger with arugula, cheddar and saffron aioli (RMB 58). It was ordered at medium rare but it came teetering more on the rare side with a lot of red. A lot.
It’s surprisingly hard to find a good burger in this town, and maybe it’s because I’m spoiled coming from Los Angeles where we have the likes of In ‘n Out, Fatburger, and Father’s Office. Madi’s burger is a valiant effort. The patty was freshly ground and juicy, surrounded by pillowy soft and buttery brioche-style buns. I would have liked the burger to have delivered a bit more of a kick, as the saffron aioli was a bit too mild. A sharper cheese or a bolder spread would have made this burger truly a standout.
Next up was the fried cauliflower. I have a slight obsession with cauliflower. There’s something rustic about it and it can be prepared in so many different ways. Grilled with a smoky char, pureed to a soup, mashed or even enjoyed raw. At Madi’s it’s fried and I am certainly fine with that! These beer-battered deep-fried cauliflower fritters were served with a curry dipping sauce with bits of raisins. I really enjoyed this dish. It was perfectly fried and not overly battered which shows the oil temperature was just right when cooked and the sauce had the perfect spiciness of curry with sweet raisins.
The cauliflower was the last of the savory dishes we ordered but I was curious about the bar snacks that Madi’s had on the menu. I always appreciate a little snack to go along with my cocktail at the bar especially at happy hour, so I was intrigued. We ordered the Salt and Vinegar Kettle Chips (RMB 25) but they also offer Spiced Popcorn as a snack. Kettle chips differ from regular potato chips in that they are fried in batches rather than processed by a machine to ensure the oil temperature is controlled properly and to optimize texture and flavor. This batch-processed method also allows greater control over the quality of potatoes that go into making each chip. The kettle chips at Madi’s needed a little more punch in terms of both more salt and more vinegar. I also thought a cuter presentation — perhaps a paper bag, basket, or ramekin — would have been more appealing than the plate in which it was served.
After our meal, the server listed off the desserts they had that day. I don’t remember the full list because she had me at American Blueberry Pie! Yes, ma’am! Okay, so when this arrived it wasn’t what I expected at all. When I think of American Blueberry Pie, I think of a big warm slice with gooey filling oozing out the side and a buttery flaky crust. This was more like a small blueberry tart. It was served with a spoon but the crust was really hard and difficult to break through. It was also served cold. Even if it wasn’t just baked, I guess I would have liked the illusion of a freshly baked blueberry tart with a warm filling. This could have been an easy fix of finishing it off in the the oven or popping it in a microwave. I also like an option of a la mode or even a quenelle of whipped cream (that’s that football shaped thing they do to ice cream or whipped cream you see in restaurants). Despite these misses, the flavor of the pie was on point. There was a good balance of sweetness from the filling and tartness from the blueberries. I don’t know….I will probably try one of their other desserts next time instead. “American pie” are bold words to use for this dessert.
Overall, my experience at Madi’s was good. It’s a great start to the newly opened restaurant and I really admire Hu’s passion for bringing a high calibre of cooking to Shanghai. While it may not be quite up to the same level of Gramercy Tavern at the moment, I would definitely say it’s one of the better American restaurants in Shanghai and it’s worth checking out.
Madi’s| 3 Fenyang Road, Bldg 2, Shanghai | 6437 0136