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Old hands on deck Even the mayor shows up for view at Shanghai Red's

Shanghai Red's, a restaurant that leases a spectacular patch of city-owned land overlooking the Erie Basin Marina, has had its ups and its downs -- literally. The operator, California-based Specialty Restaurants, ran the late, unlamented Crawdaddy's on the same site in the early '80s, only to bulldoze the building some 16 years later when it was closed because of poor maintenance. This new building has been open for about three years.

And it's a large building, too, with several view-filled dining rooms, banquet rooms, a barroom and a ballroom. Walls are glass and overlook the boats in the marina, the lake and the Buffalo skyline. The ground floor deck -- it stretches across the building -- is especially attractive, with umbrella tables that are far apart and a firepit. Sit there and experience the waterfront at its best. (No wonder Mayor Byron W. Brown was in the building the evening of our visit -- he must enjoy showing off the place.)

There are changes on the way. The restaurant has filed plans with the city requesting permission to enclose a second-floor porch and install a Japanese steakhouse. The restaurant hasn't had the success, managers admitted in a News story, that the chain had hoped it would have. So, sit at lake level and gather the rosebuds while you may.

The lunch menu served here is casual. Dinner is upscale and, truthfully, it won't exactly knock you over with its creativity. Of course, with a setting like this one, creativity may not be a necessary thing.

Despite the restaurant name, only a couple of items on the printed menu are even remotely Asian. Instead, Italian and good old American take center stage.

So we began the meal with the best dish of the evening: Baked New Orleans Shrimp Bread ($10), a big enough appetizer for two people. It features slightly spicy shrimp resting on artichokes and spinach topped with cheese over big chunks of baguette. What made the thing so good? The fresh taste of the ingredients, especially the seafood. And the bread offered a good crisp contrast to the vegetables, too.

House salads were well made with a good combination of lettuces, though somebody out there in the kitchen must have dropped the cap off the Companion's Balsamic Dressing. Picture a very dark brown (and very deep) ocean at the bottom of the bowl.

Back to the crustacean world again for one entree: Shrimp Cantonese ($22) was served with fried noodles, and it's too bad there weren't more of them -- they added a good contrast to the stir-fried snow peas, baby corn and mushrooms. There was some sort of mystery here. Why did the shrimp in the Cantonese dish taste of iodine when it was so delicious in the appetizer? Only the great god Neptune knows.

Creamed spinach, ordered a la carte for $6, was a disappointment. There were perhaps 10 leaves floating on a pool of medium white sauce.

The rest of the printed menu is devoted to meat (N.Y. Strip, $27; grilled Pork Chops with merlot cherry demi glaze, $24; Pinot Noir-braised short ribs, $20) and seafood (crab cakes, $24; grilled swordfish, $22; and a seafood collage of lobster, shrimp, scallops and Atlantic salmon, $33). Chicken Grand Mere (bacon, garlic, asparagus, red wine, $19) had run out, the server told us, the night before our visit. Not a good seller, we guess -- since they didn't make more.

There were specials. Like the lightly teriyaki-glazed top sirloin, served with a huge salt-coated baked potato and roasted vegetable for $30. Loved the potato; was uncertain about the sirloin. It had been ordered "medium rare" but was served much better done that that.

Desserts at this restaurant are not made in-house, but they do come from Western New York's Butterwood Bakery. A huge slab of Hazelnut Cake ($5.95) was light and very good.




Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)WHERE: 2 Templeton Terrace (852-7337). The spectacular ground-level terrace overlooks the Erie Basin Marina and the Buffalo skyline. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: New Orleans Shrimp Bread
NEEDS WORK: Creamed Spinach
PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $18 include vegetables and salad.
SERVICE: Excellent.
HOURS: Lunch, Monday through Saturday. Dinner, seven days until 10 weekdays, 11 weekends. Sunday brunch 9:30 to 2:30.
PARKING: In the lot. (Valet parking also available.)
RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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