One of Shanghai’s more acclaimed ethnic Chinese restaurants, Lost Heaven specializes in Yunnan cuisine, which I only know for the prevalence of tea leaves and the abundance of cilantro.  Its two locations are in the city’s more chic (read: expat-heavy) quarters in Puxi – the Bund and the French Concession.  I’d been to the Bund location, and we’d been at Mr. and Mrs. Bund earlier in the day, so we headed to the French Concession.

Lost Heaven is one of the handful of Chinese spots with the rare combination of legitimate cuisine and a well-designed interior theme the restaurant .  As limited as my knowledge of authentic Yunnan cuisine is, I know even less about the region’s aesthetic and cultural history.

The space isn’t so generic to the point of being wholly “pan-Asian” in that P.F. Chang sort of way – and the lanterns, Buddhist icons, menu imagery, and color schemes do enough to create an ambiance and a sense of place that hint at some vague elements of the visual diaspora of Yunnan’s ethnic minorities.  The decor also stands in stark contrast to most Chinese restaurants because at Lost Heaven, it is so dark that aside from the smells and sounds of a busy restaurant, it might otherwise be mistaken for a spa.

Perhaps for that reason, the downstairs bar is a very cozy place to get a drink, boasting a short list of interesting cocktails.  The upstairs dining area is not much brighter, other than lights centered on the middle of the dining tables, meant to illuminate your food.

Personally, once the food arrives, and as long as it delivers on some sort of promise, I tend to forget about whatever ambivalent feelings I might have had about the mood lighting.  Since we were ordering for four, it gave us a bit more license to try a broader selection of dishes than when I’d gone to the Bund location with Myra.  There, we’d been taken a bit unawares by the persistence of cilantro in almost all the dishes we ordered, been served at a sofa-and-coffeetable set-up on the first floor lounge (and not the boisterous main dining room on the second floor), been attended to by a first-time waiter who had been visibly nervous, bringing us our neighbors’ dishes (and vice versa) and forgetting our order of pork ribs.  And still, despite my mild headache from the cilantro and poor service, our meal had been tasty.

Here, with Myra’s sister and brother visiting us in Shanghai, we were also hitting more classic dishes on the menu.  In many respects, the experience and the food were notably better, which made for a great night for my three tourism-weary companions.

A few dishes I’d asked for without the cilantro, just to temper the meal a bit – the ghost chicken, however, was not one of them.  It was also different than the still-tasty version we’d gotten at the Bund location (perhaps it was our lousy waiter’s fault, who knows) – but this dish was much better, the chicken more chunky and crisped, and the cilantro-chili pepper mix somehow a light, refreshing contrast.

Many of the other dishes we ordered were new to me, but tasty all the same.  The broccoli was surprisingly good, on par (better, actually) than Din Tai‘s, and the stir-fried shrimp with mushrooms and asparagus was my favorite dish of the night (we asked for the heads off, although theoretically you could leave them on – tastier that way, in my opinion).  The noodles and the Lijiang beef were good enough, but probably not ones I’d order again.  The pork ribs, which I missed out on at the Bund, were cooked just right, and very good with its vinegar-y dipping sauce – but left me with the lingering wish that they’d been more ambitiously seasoned, if only so that they were not overpowered by the other dishes.

We ordered one shaved ice dessert.

It stood no chance.

To quote Myra’s sister, “I’m really glad I skipped the acrobat show for this.”

Indeed.

Lost Heaven
No. 38 Gaoyou Road
Shanghai 200031

Recommendations:
(1) Ham pastry appetizer, (2) ghost chicken, (3) broccoli or green beans with shrimp paste, (4) stir-fried shrimp with asparagus, (5) cod steamed in banana leaves, (6) pork ribs, and (7) shaved ice

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