Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

August 24, 2007

Shanghai Cafe Surprised!

Shanghai Cafe
5574 Nolensville Rd
Nashville, TN

UPDATE: Sadly, this restaurant only lasted weeks. It is closed.

Two days ago, I was tipped off by stranger in an email, that there was an authentic homestyle Chinese Shanghai region restaurant in town. The cryptic email said this place was opened in the May/June time frame, the writer had eaten at the restaurant a few times since the opening, and thinks that it is authentic because of the number of Chinese people eating at the place. I do not know where I might know the stranger, but the stranger was kind enough to include a scanned menu in the email for me to study. I looked, and it is a small menu. There are dishes like Shanghai Kaufu, duck wing with brown sauce, stuffed bean curd and puff with minced pork, and potherb mustard with shredded pork. You can't get these dishes at any other mid-TN Chinese restaurants. All the other Chinese restaurants in the area are like "mall food" like that syrupy sweet General Tso's kind of places, and not real Chinese food. This Shanghai Cafe is, so far, the one and only authentic Chinese restaurant in Nashville.

veggie surprise dish

So tonight, we drove down to the place where I thought it was. This place is located in the old Walmart shopping center at the corner of Old Hickory and Nolensville Rd in the Tusculum coummunity of Nashville. This place is tucked back into the far corner of the strip mall, and once was home to iPoh Malaysian restaurant, and before that China Buffet. The location is a bit far from my house, so I won't be going often, but I will support this venture. The location is kind of strange now that the Walmart moved out, and it is a bit of a dead mall. There is the big giant white elephant (the empty Walmart building) and then a few restaurants around. I think this location may be a "hard sell" because it is hidden from the road, and there is no reason to go to this strip mall without an anchor store.

shredded pork, sliced shitake, napa, and moochi rice noodle

So, we ordered two dishes off the menu, the rice cake (moochi) with pork and mushrooms, and the veggie pork fried rice. The specials board was written in Chinese, and the owner did not bother to interpret 1/2 of the Chinese menu. I wish I knew how to read the board. At anyrate, the specials were mostly veggie dishes, and I told the owner that I wanted him to make us a veggie dish, chef's choice.

As the dishes came out, we were happily surprised. The moochi - rice noodle dish was the real deal. It was made with chopped pork, rehydrated dried shitake mushrooms, bamboo shoot slivers, and moochi noodles. The sauce was simple, it tasted like chicken stock and water that was thickened with a little rice flour (from the moochi) or corn starch. It was as homestyle as you can get. It was a good dish. We got the veggies next, again another simply made dish. The ingredients included black fungus mushrooms that are only served in real Asian/Chinese restaurants, and I ate every single one. They have a nice salty and earthy flavor that I am happy to taste. The veggie dish also tasted like there were fresh bamboo shoots, not canned in it. That is impressive in my mind. Most every bamboo shoot served, even in Boston, San Francisco, and New York Chinatowns are the canned yellow variety, not the sort, fresh white variety. The fried rice was also getting close to what I would want in a fried rice. If you go to New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco's Chinatowns and get stir fried noodles like Chow Fun, or any type of fried rice, there is a peanut oil smoke point flavor and aroma that adds to the dish's appeal. When the owner brought out the fried rice, it had that peanut oil smoke point aroma. I was hoping some of the rice would have some crispy burnt bits (I love that) but alas it did not. The chef put in some chopped pork and a green chopped veggie that is probably some type of Chinese broccoli, but it had almost an onion undertone to it. It too was fresh, different from the expected and tasty.
veggie and pork fried rice

I am surmising that Shanghai food is lighter and veggie based food while Szechuan, which is hot and spice. Also, as the chef is making authentic Chinese food, there was not one drop of high fructose corn syrup or sugar in the food, thank goodness. It was really good straight forward Chinese food. It is not "Americanized" food with the label "Chinese" as all the other Nashville Chinese restaurants are. Shanghai Cafe is the real deal.

As we were leaving, I spoke with Dave, the owner. He came from Shanghai 11 years ago, and has owned a couple of other restaurants in Nashville. He used to own a Chinese restaurant in the Rivergate area, Golden Garden, but sold it. The only Chinese restaurant I had been to in Rivergate was sadly that same old "Americanized mall food" like General Tso's chicken made with a high fructose corn syrup sauce. I am wondering why Dave would open such a business like this new one with authentic food. I am totally on board with this restaurant, there were a couple other Asian diners there who are totally on board, but who else? I really hope more people catch wind of this place and try some of the real Chinese food.

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At 8/25/07, 8:19 PM, Blogger Traci said...

I'm with you on this. I hate most of the Chinese restaurants in Nashville. But Nolensville Rd is too far for us. I love your reviews.

At 8/26/07, 11:24 AM, Blogger Katie Zeller said...

The last 'authentic' Chinese restaurant I was in had chicken feet on the menu... I don't want that authentic...
But I'm with you regarding 'mall Chinese!

At 8/26/07, 4:54 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks so much Traci! South Nolensville Rd is a bit far for me too, but this little restaurant is on our list of places to go. It is tasty, inexpensive, and family run.

Hi Katiez, this little place might, one day, have chicken feet on the menu. It does have duck wings though, which are normally a part that does not usually get sold to eat here in the USA.

At 8/27/07, 8:24 AM, Blogger Eric and Katie said...

Wow...that's pretty cool. I agree, it's quite a haul, but worth it for authentic chinese food. Any sign of Dim Sum on Sunday's???

At 8/27/07, 9:46 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Eric and Katie, no sign of dim sum. :( I was hoping for that too, but no. I learned this about dim sum from my uncle (who thinks everything was invented in China), that dim sum is mostly a Hong Kong, or South China thing, and not really a Shanghai or east coast thing. Oh good news for the veggie eater, there are plenty of tofu (kaufu as written on the menu) and veggie dishes to choose from. I was impressed with that, and thought of the veggie eater.

At 8/28/07, 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the original person who tipped off Lannae, a couple of small corrections. One is that Dim Sum is a specialty of Hong Kong and Guangzou so that it will not appear in a Shanghainese place. And the other is that kaufu is not tofu--the menu does have that speparately. Kaufu is actually a dried wheat gluten often used in Chinese vegetarian and Buddist cooking.

At 8/29/07, 2:19 PM, Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Unrelated to Chinese food in Tennessee...
I found you a new food blogger in Nashville: Claudia at

At 8/29/07, 9:54 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Anonymous, yes, you are right about dim sum, as I have learned from my old wise uncle. Dim sum is a southern China thing. I asked Dave, owner of the restaurant, what Kaufu was, and he said it was tofu. Thanks for the further clarification, but I think I might need some more. Is the Kaufu then like those this sheets of noodle like things, or are they more like the texture of Buddhist meat substitute that is made into fake duck and the size of a dried prune?

Hey Cookie, wow, thanks for the clue into another food blogger in Nashville. Hmmm, nice photos she has, and lots of fresh veggies from her CSA. I love seeing other Nashville Food Bloggers!

At 8/30/07, 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When one finds Kafu in a Chinese market, it comes dried in cubes in plastic bags and looks like oversize croutons--although less dence. It must first be soaked and then wrung out. When cooked, it absorbs the flavor of any simmering sauce like a sponge. Unlike tofu, which is truly a pressed curd product, it is less dense and the flavor permiates it. Now soybean products can also come dried--in sticks, sheets, and even in knots. You will find the knots in some of the Shanghai Cafe dishes.

At 8/30/07, 8:03 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the clarification. I looked in my pantry, and I did figure out the soybean noodle sheets (the only 3 English words on the package). The Kaufu, I now understand what it is, and I know I have not had that very often. I like the wheat glutton that is canned, and I would like to try some fresh glutton sometime. The canned wheat glutton reminds me of eating chunks of meat without the meat.

At 8/31/07, 5:28 AM, Blogger mIKES said...


You scooped the Tennessean! They are just reviewing this place today. I BET you a dollar he reads your blog!


At 8/31/07, 8:46 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Sweet! Thanks for the info Joisymike! And, happy eating to you!

At 9/4/07, 10:36 PM, Blogger Joey said...

China Chef in the Hickory Hollow mall area, right next to the Carmike 8, has really authentic Chinese food as well. You may have to ask for the 'paper menu' if your regular menu does not have it. They have a great five flavor eggplant, and the spicy bean curd is good as well.

China Chef's location isn't much different than Shanghai Cafe, so I don't know if that will help anyone out on that front though.

At 9/6/07, 3:55 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Joey, for the clue about China Chef, and putting me in the know. I will have to ask for the "paper menu". When I eat at CC near HHM, I will certainly blog about it!

At 9/18/07, 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OOOH I'm going to have to try it. I've never had Shanghai style Chinese food before (and if i have I wouldn't know it, it's just food in Singapore, not much is categorized).

Up till now, the one place I've found authentic food is at Golden Coast, only on weekends on their buffet line. It's pretty darned good. I put my Chinese Person Seal of Approval on it for sure.

I'll have to try China Chef too!!

At 9/21/07, 7:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey M, some of the weekend buffet is good at Golden Coast. Next time you find good Chinese food in Nashville, please let me know!!


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