Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gemma Restaurant….Italian Style Food in Shanghai

Hello and welcome back! This blog post will be another food review (seems I’ve been writing a lot of those lately); specifically, my adventures in Italian food. There is currently a food and beverage explosion going on in Shanghai with a slew of new restaurants (that are not Chinese cuisine) opening up just about every week. 

I was interested in this restaurant after reading several favorable reviews on expat websites and magazines. I was also craving a good pizza and Italian style dessert and according to the reviews, I would be in good hands. Ironically, one of my foodie friends was also interested in this restaurant, so we invited some more people along for a nice group outing. 

Another reason I wanted to try this restaurant was the location. Gemma’s is located in the trendy Former French Concession (or FFC for short) right on Donghu Lu. Donghu Lu is also home to a slew of popular restaurants and nighttime entertainment venues all of which are a stone throws away from my home. So, I had no real reason to skip out and miss this opportunity.

First Impressions:

When I arrived at the restaurant, it was the late evening and it was very, very quiet. There were only two or three other tables of people; but, things picked up as the night went on.  From the moment I arrived, the service staff was very attentive and they helped me with my belongings and seat(I may be off crutches but I walk with a noticeable gimp after all). Overall, the restaurant looked clean and very inviting. The tables were set nicely with wine and water glasses and silverware. Instead of a closed off kitchen, the kitchen was nice and open so you could look at the cooks preparing the food. There was even a nice, big wood fired oven for cooking the pizzas. I was very pleased with the set up and I couldn’t wait to see the food choices that Gemma had to offer.
Watching the pizza magic happen

Food and Drinks Menu:
I was shocked when the waiter placed a menu in front of me as soon as I sat down which is not so common in Shanghai. Typically, a restaurant will give you one menu per table and one must request additional menus or, you and your guests share the one menu and you patiently wait your turn to look at it. 

Gemma’s specialty is its pizza (hence the nice oven) so it was no shock that they offered 10 different pies. Customers can choose from a list of pizzas labeled Red (tomato), White (alfredo), or Green (pesto) list.  You can also build your own pizza and pay for the toppings individually.
Besides pizza, there were several antipastis and a selection of desserts.  There was also an extensive wine and beverage list (for those non-wine drinkers).
Pizza List

Salad Antipasti list

After a bit of deliberating,  we ordered two different salads from the antipasti list: The “Rughetta “ salad which was a mix of arugula, shredded parmesan, radishes and chives and the “Delle Alpi” which was a mix of lettuce, cherry tomato, shredded carrot, fennel, radish, cucumber  pine nuts and pomegranate seeds (wooo that was a lot!).  In terms of drinks, I settled for water instead of wine and the rest of my group ordered a variety of different drinks.

For the main course, we would try two different pizzas: one from the red list and one from the green list. We got the “Serafina” which was tomato sauce, mushrooms, stracciatella cheese, and prosciutto.  For the second pizza, we ordered one that was simply called “Pesto” which was pesto sauce, stracciatella cheese, arugula and prosciutto.

First Bite:
Before our antipasti arrived, we were given a side order of bread that consisted of long crunchy breadsticks and regular baguette. The breadsticks were nice and crunchy and they paired well with a little olive oil. The baguette was also equally good; nice and soft on the inside with a crisp exterior.
After having a couple of portions from the bread basket, the salads arrived at our table. 
Bread basket!
 The “Rughetta” looked simple, but it was truly love at first bite! The arugula and cheese tasted fresh and a little olive oil gave it an even better flavor. Apparently, the “Delle Alpi” was just as good (I never tried it). We polished the salads off in a matter of minutes just before the pizza main courses arrived. 
The "Delle Alpi" salad

The "Rughetta" simple yet tasty
 The “Pesto” pizza arrived at our table first.  Hot and presliced, the pizza was accompanied with salt and pepper,  olive oil and chili oil, one of my favorite oils for pizza. Each member of the group took a slice and after those first few bites we agreed it was delicious! The base was cooked well and the crust was chewy, but not too soft.  The pesto sauce was tasty and the cheese had a nice and creamy flavor. You could just taste the authenticity of the ingredients which were far superior than the waxy stuff that appears in some other pizza restaurants in Shanghai. 
The "Pesto" Pizza...such a beauty!
After several moments, the “Serafina” pizza arrived and we dove into that one. Upon the first bite, we noticed that the base seemed a bit too doughy, almost like it was not cooked through. This gave the pizza an overall “O.K.” and we equally agreed the “Pesto” pizza the clear winner. 
The "Serafina"...not bad, just need a bit more time!
After our meals, we decided to go all out and order desserts. Each of the people in the party ordered something different: Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Chocolate Mousse and for myself, I ordered the Nutella Calzone with vanilla gelato.
The Panna Cotta

The Tiramisu

Chocolate Mousse
After a 15-20 minute wait (which was more than reasonable) the desserts arrived and everyone was pleased with their choices. In fact, some of the choices (the tiramisu and the panna cotta) were maybe a bit too rich. My Nutella calzone was delicious. It arrived nice and warm filled with almonds and Nutella on the inside. It was a big portion so I would recommend splitting it next time.
The Nutella Calzone...I could have this again!

Overall Thoughts and Score:
I would give Gemma a solid 4/5. The only reason why it lost was a point was due to the undercooked “Serafina” pizza; otherwise, I really enjoyed the food and service here and I wouldn’t hesitate to come back again.
I admit that this restaurant is a bit on the pricy side (I ended up pay 190RMB with no drink) so make sure to have enough cash.

 Next time, I’ll make sure to order another kind of “Green” pizza and I will make sure to split that Nutella Calzone with a friend!

Thanks again for reading and tune in next time!

20 Donghu Lu,
near Huaihai Zhong Lu

Metro: South Shanxi Road (Lines 1,10)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Crusin’ on Crutches… How to Get Around Shanghai with Semi Mobility (Part II)

(This is a two part post. Click here to read part one.)

I know it’s been awhile, but I’m back! Unfortunately, I’ve had internet issues (mostly due to the recent APEC conference and simply living in China) so, I was unable to post anything on this blog for a while. Besides the internet, I had a pretty busy month of school stuff which has recently slowed down (only to pick back up again in a few weeks due to Christmas).

In terms of my recovery, things were going well for a while, but I’ve become discouraged recently. I feel as if I’m not progressing and I miss doing dancing and other physical activities. I tried hopping on one leg today and I honestly got two centimeters off the ground :( On top of that, I spoke with one of the physical therapists yesterday who told me to expect another two to three months of recovery! I guess I was a bit disillusioned (and I’ll be honest, even lied to) about this procedure. What I thought was going to be a nice and simple procedure, is turning out to be quite difficult.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’ve decided that I really need to commit myself to doing my recovery exercises more and making a true effort in being a bit more healthy. Hopefully I can make my goal of getting out of mainland China for the Chinese Spring Festival come February.

So, I won’t waste any more time, here is Part II…

      5. China is not really made for people with disabilities
This probably should be number one on the list, but it’s no secret…China isn’t really a comfortable place if you have any kind of physical disability (and I would even add a mental one). Despite the glitz and glamour of Shanghai, China is still a developing nation that is still trying to get other parts of the country up and running to 21st century standards. While the center of the city may have more elevators, ramps, and even handicap accessible restrooms, outside of that, you may have to conquer loads of stairs, uneven sidewalk (pavement) and crazy pedestrian laws that put the pedestrian at the bottom of the transportation hierarchy (just under manual bicycles). I never really saw any local people in wheelchairs or on crutches and now I understand why…sometimes, it can be too damn difficult to get around!

  6. Be Prepared to Spend More
With all of those taxis and delivered meals, your wallet may take a hit. I advise that you have a budget each week and try to stay within that figure as close as possible. It would be best to cook a few large meals a week and then refrigerate/freeze the leftovers. That way, you can have some homemade ready meals to last you for a few days. Now, you don’t have to be Jamie Oliver in the kitchen, but understand that boiling water, spices and ready-made sauces (with few ingredients as possible) will be your best friend.

7. You Could Save Money
If your only expenses each week are taxis and a take-out meal every so often, you could end saving some money in the long run. In the beginning, I was a bit upset about all of the money I was spending on my work commute.  I went from 6-8RMB a day taking the bus to 30-34RMB a day by taxi. While this is a considerable jump, I wasn’t really spending any money on anything else besides my groceries. I didn’t go shopping at the mall or markets, I didn’t go for any meals or drinks, and I wasn’t spending frivolously since I barely left my home.  So, sometimes it does pay (literally) to be a homebody.

While were talking about staying home…

      8. Make your home as comforting and entertaining as possible
Pre-operation, a lot of my entertainment came from outside sources (restaurants, bars, shopping malls), but due to my limited mobility, those aforementioned entertainment sources had to sit on the backburner for a while.  You may experience this as well, so I suggest that you turn your home into your own entertainment area (if you haven’t done so already). This way, you won’t go completely crazy with boredom or even develop depression type sadness.

In order to keep myself entertained, I stocked up on lots of reading material (books, magazines, Chinese language manuals); streamed some shows through Chinese internet sites; stayed in touch with friends and family (through emails, skype and social media) and I even got crafty and started a vision board (which I need to finish this weekend)! I also did a number of beauty treatments to my face and hands so at least I wouldn’t look so bad when I finally went out to meet the public.

Speaking of the public, this leads to my next point:

  9. Don’t turn down offers of help
Anyone who’s ever been to China could tell you that China is not the most hospitable place.  The people here are not really as friendly or helpful as they would be in say America or Canada (apart from the language barrier). One thing that impressed me during my time on crutches was the fact that random people offered ways to help when possible. Whether it was telling me “ma dian (slow down)” or “xiao xin (be careful),” giving up their seats for me on the bus, or actually touching me to assist me, I felt very thankful for the help. 

While I did encounter some rude people who made comments or who tried to cut ahead of me for a taxi (on a few occasions), the majority expressed words of sympathy and they offered their help whenever possible. Heck, even my young ones loved to carry my books or bag without hesitation, and they would try to make the class comfortable when I arrived.
At first I felt awkward about this, but then, I simply embraced it and accepted it whenever possible. I suggest that you don’t shun others when they try to help you, accept their help with a smile and a thank you. After all, you may never experience this kind of V.I.P. treatment in China again!

And now for my final tip…

110. Be positive!
Anyone will tell you that surgery is no fun, but combine that with being alone in a foreign country and one can get downright depressed. I’m not afraid to admit that I experienced a lot of sadness and bad thoughts at the beginning of my recovery. Feelings of loneliness washed over me combined with anxiousness, boredom, helplessness and even anger. I was angry at myself for being in this position and even became jealous of seeing friends and even strangers going about their life and having fun. All I wanted to do was get off the couch and be outside; yet, I was stuck indoors with my foot propped up looking at clothing websites for the umpteenth time.  

What got me through those dark times was going to physical therapy and seeing my progress. Talking to friends and family on the phone who cheered me up with encouragement; and finally, knowing that my full recovery would happen in the near future.
So don’t give up! Do what you need to do to put a smile on your face and get yourself happy.

To be honest, I think I need to do again after expressing my doubts at the start of this post. After all, I know that my situation isn’t permanent and I’ll be back to doing tree pose in no time!

Well, that’s all! Tune in next time to hear more of my adventures abroad!