Disconcerting atmosphere, sublime food

The first review from Shanghai, where I’ll be until the end of the year!

With traditionally-prepared dishes with a bit of experimentation in the ingredients, eating at La Vita in Shanghai’s Jinqiao area is a great choice for those looking for really good Italian food prepared the real Italian way, not the American comfort food way.

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Toasts with olive oil to start.

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Then we ordered this pizza to share, made with the house sausage. It was a thing of beauty.

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Nearly paper-thin, with yeasty bubbles of chewy dough, judiciously applied cheese, and good sausage.

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My friend Welton got a cream spaghetti dish (I can’t remember if it was carbonara or alfredo or something else) with mushrooms. The flavors and textures worked together beautifully.

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Alexis got a vegetable and white meat chicken dish with angel hair pasta. We thought this looked like a very Chinese dish when it came out – the angel hair in the cloudy broth looks like la mian. This didn’t have enough flavor.

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Christian got the lasagna which turned out to be this majestic work of art.

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I had the crab ravioli with fresh mozzarella. The almonds weren’t necessary but I was overall in love with this. The sweet and pure crab wrapped in thin pasta sheets worked well with the pesto and cheese, something I wasn’t sure was a good combination. I was still thinking about this three days later.

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From the food pictures alone, everything is wonderful, but I would not call this a fine dining experience. The aesthetic of the decorators mixes bland commercialism with beautiful settings (like the entire bar area, with its pizza oven and cookies).

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The anime film My Neighbor Totoro as playing on a large projection screen the whole time we were there. The modern casualness with whatever rustic Italiano vibe looks hastily-thought out and inappropriate, which is unfortunate because there’s a lot La Vita gets right.

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Prices are relatively expensive. Paying these prices (converted from RMB to USD of course) would be normal in New York, but the cost of one dish here can cover dinner for 5 easily somewhere else. It’s a shame La Vita’s sloppy ambiance has it in an awkward place between fine dining and being a family restaurant for normal weeknights. The biggest thing is that I couldn’t imagine getting dressed up to go here, and La Vita is obviously trying to be a place you get dressed up to go to.

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