The wind swept around us, skidding off the East River and swirling between the new high-rises of Long Island City, as we searched for Shi. The thick wooden doors had intricate carvings and dark metal bolts, decidedly anachronistic amidst the the glass and steel nearby. The night seemed spooky, even though it was only 6:30. No one was out in nearby Gantry Plaza State Park, save a group of teenagers huddling around a flame. Inside, we blinked at the large television screen, willing our eyes to adjust. We could make out a series of geometric shapes lined in white leather, and a hostess beckoning us deeper into the dining room. In a restaurant so focused on appearances, the very dim lights meant we often had trouble seeing what we were eating. So we focused on texture and taste, letting our eyes have the night off.
The shumai ($6) were plump with minced pork and shrimp, the wrapper rendered soft by steam. With their slight rubberiness, they might have passed for eyeballs in a Halloween mystery box game. The season dominated Shi's atmosphere that night: cottony webs hung from the chandeliers and crystal skeletons danced against the walls. Some decor--such as the large gold comedy and tragedy masks--appeared more permanent, unfortunately. Shi doesn't seem to know whether it's a lounge or a restaurant, but you'd have to be a curmudgeon not to take some pleasure in eating with your romantic interest while watching the lights of the Chrysler Building flick on.
The homestyle steamed bao ($6) came filled with tightly packed balls of meat surrounded by a thin broth. The dough had the tell-tale folds, pinched and crimped. We nibbled carefully to avoid a scorching. But they shimmied about the spoon, like naughty children who don't want to go to bed.
The shrimpy ($13) offered shrimp tempura topped with slips of tuna, doused in a soy glaze, and shaped like tombstones. Sure, this is pre-party sushi, when you've got on your fake eyelashes or nicest Ed Hardy. It's easy to eat, moving along a spectrum from crunchy to sticky to totally pliant. What's harder is ordering something called "the shrimpy." In addition, we tried the spicy scallop roll ($6), awkwardly constructed with a nice plop of mayo in the middle.
Pineapple really, really sweetened the red curry duck ($17). Peppers, onions, duck, and eggplant meant subtle variations with each bite; we never knew what we were going to get as we brought fork to mouth. Yet once we stopped thinking about the red curries of our past, we enjoyed the one we were having in the present, which is not bad advice for dating, come to think of it.
Shi perfectly encapsulates this section of Long Island City. Both exude glitter and polish and sexy elegance, deliberate planning and careful marketing and a little bit of blandness. From inside, you watch Manhattan shine and sparkle, doing the dance it's done in the imaginations of so many for so long. With its floor-to-ceiling windows and plush leather seats, Shi is best for: a loungey date with a lovely view.