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When chef Harry Zhou and his wife Alice visited Denver for the first time in 1990, they were immediately drawn to the Mile High City’s friendly residents, clean and quiet communities—and lack of restaurants offering fare from their native city of Shanghai, China. “There were not many Chinese restaurants at the time, and I wanted to bring the most authentic Shanghai-style food to Denver,” Harry says. “So we decided to move here.”
A few years later, the couple relocated from China to the metro area and opened Shanghai Kitchen in Greenwood Village in 2000. Since then, they’ve served a menu of Chinese-American classics—lo mein, kung pao chicken, beef broccoli—alongside a stellar menu of dishes representative of the Shanghai and Sichuan cuisines they grew up eating.
Harry dreamed of becoming a chef as a child and honed his skills in restaurant kitchens in the central coastal city of Shanghai and the Sichuan region of southwest China for nearly a decade before moving to the United States. “My initial interest in cooking Shanghai cuisine came from my family’s kitchen, where I heard, saw, smelled, and tasted dishes when I was young,” he says. “I serve the food I grew up eating because I want to preserve our culture.
Because Shanghai is situated near the East China Sea and Yangtze River, the area’s cuisine is centered around seafood and seasonal vegetables. “There are many Chinese cuisines throughout the country’s regions, from south to north, east to west—and each has its own characteristics,” Harry says. “We are from Shanghai, which is called the land of fish and rice, and the ingredients are very rich.”
Harry says the specialties consumed in their native city and the surrounding coastal region tend to feature fish, crab, and pork and seasonings such as soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, and rice vinegar to produce dishes brimming with sweet, salty, and tart flavors. Conversely, the cuisine in the Sichuan province often includes the use of more chiles (both fresh and dried).
You can taste staples of both cuisines at Shanghai Kitchen. Here are some of our favorites—all are best paired with a side of white rice.
Tea-smoked duck: To make this quintessential Sichuan dish, Harry marinates whole ducks for 24 hours, then slow-cooks the birds in an oven for about 48 hours over a bed of jasmine or green tea leaves. The process results in juicy, fall-off-the-bone pieces of duck scented with sweet soy sauce and Sichuan peppercorns. The accompanying side of tart and spicy cabbage pickled with habanero peppers adds balance to the dish’s rich flavors, Harry says.
Eggplant with pork: Thin slices of Chinese eggplant (known to be more tender and have fewer seeds than its American counterpart) and bits of ground pork are stir-fried in a silky, garlicky, soy-based sauce.
Dynasty fish: While the restaurant offers several preparations of fish, the Dynasty—a whole steamed sea bass topped with peas, carrots, pine nuts, corn, and a sweet-and-sour sauce—is our go-to. Other fish dishes to try include variations cooked in ginger-wine sauce (Shanghai style) and hot chile oil (Sichuan style).
Braised pork meatballs: These tennis-ball-size beauties (also known as Lion’s Head meatballs) are a popular dish to enjoy at Chinese celebrations in Shanghai like Lunar New Year. They are spiced with minced ginger and scallions and presented on a bed of steamed cabbage.
Crab with rice cakes: If this finger-licking speciality—a whole steamed crab wok-fried in a thick, ginger- and garlic-studded sauce with chewy rice cakes—isn’t on the menu, you can ask if it’s available. It’s a common special-occasion dish that Harry says Shanghai Kitchen strives to offer year-round.
Xiaolongbao: Harry says Shanghai cuisine is known for its “exquisite and delicate pastries,” and xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) are one of the most beloved. Order a basket of the steamed dim sum staple: nuggets of pork and soul-warming broth wrapped in dough.
More delicious things on the menu to try include braised pork belly with bok choy, sweet and sour pork ribs, and comforting soup studded with bamboo, braided bean curd, and pork spareribs.
While you’re digging into your feast, take note of the eatery’s dining room, which sports wood accents and a wall decorated with a traditional brick archway—elements of a traditional Shanghainese architectural style called Shikumen. “It combines Chinese and Western styles of architecture,” Harry says. “Shikumen was not only an architectural form that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s for modern housing, but also a symbol of Shanghai culture. Coming to Shanghai Kitchen is like being a guest in the city of Shanghai.”
4940 S. Yosemite St.,E-8, Greenwood Village