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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Shanghai Dumpling Shop

There are a few things that I never order in restaurants because I'd like to think I can make the same product at home (like a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, or a grilled cheese, for example), for less. Dumplings is not one of those things. Because when they’re good, like really, really good, to me they are worth every penny, and then some.

Dumplings are just about my favorite things to eat. I blogged about my
love for New York's Joe’s Shanghai last year – and after a long, hard search, Shanghai Dumpling Shop in Millbrae almost takes you there. Almost. My friend Ray who told me about this place prefaced it by saying it's pretty darn close.

If the sign of a good restaurant is a massive crowd that lines up before it opens, SDS has that in spades. We came early and sampled a bunch of Shanghainese classics.

Green onion pancakes. (Light, flavorful, with a slight bit of the toasty, salty flavor you’d get from a perfectly seasoned pan). Shanghai noodles. (Thick and savory with strips of pork and vegetables). Soy sauce braised pork. (Tender, saucy and unctious, in a good way). And perhaps the biggest surprise was the sauteed bean curd sheet and vegetables (see pic #6 above), which was simple, satisfying and delicious (how come I’ve never tried this dish before?)

To me, a good dumpling, or xiao long bao, is meaty, chewy and juicy all at the same time. The outside, which is is just as important as the inside, is kind of like a good supporting actor, sturdy and capable enough to keep everything together, while still letting what’s inside shine.

So what's inside? Well, first you need a good-sized soup spoon, rather than chopsticks, as your eating untensil. It's to catch all the flavorful juice that oozes out once you take a bite. It’s rumored that Joe’s Shanghai stuffs a gelatin cube of broth into each dumpling before steaming (another reason why I wouldn’t attempt to make this labor-intensive dish at home), perfecting that experience (and occasionally scalding the mouths of those who can't wait for them to cool down).

SHS does a pretty good job too. They offer two fillings and I favored the pork with crab while a few of my pals preferred the pork-only dumplings. The pork does it's meaty, juicy magic while the crab adds texture and richness. And the delicious soup that runs out takes it to a whole other level. My favorite way to eat them is with a splash of vinegar and a sliver of ginger. No hot sauce needed. It is, in my opinion, the perfect soupy-savory bite.

If the sign of a good restaurant is also hovering, glaring customers waiting for you to give up your table, SHS has plenty of that too. It might not be quite the same experience as my beloved Joe's, but Ray was right. It's pretty darn close, and I'd happily eat here again and again and again.



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