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Shanghai Cafe


Nathan
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ate here on Friday with Sneakeater and EatMyWords.

we had a Mandarin speaker and recent resident of Shanghai at the table who had heard good things about this place while in Shanghai.

the xiao long bao were better than Joe's...the broth being especially tasty.

the pork with baby bok choy was equivalent to the one at Yeah Shanghai...terrific after you cut through the fat.

an eel dish was a revelation. shredded pieces of bbq eel interspersed with shredded veggies. absolutely terrific.

several other dishes were all tasty and well-prepared.

highly recommend.

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the pork with baby bok choy was equivalent to the one at Yeah Shanghai...terrific after you cut through the fat.

CUT THROUGH THE FAT??????????????????????????????????

DITTO re the eel dish. Best I've ever had at a (NYC) Shanghainese restaurant -- by far.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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the pork with baby bok choy was equivalent to the one at Yeah Shanghai...terrific after you cut through the fat.

CUT THROUGH THE FAT??????????????????????????????????

DITTO re the eel dish. Best I've ever had at a (NYC) Shanghainese restaurant -- by far.

LOL, I had the same thought about "cutting through the fat" comment. What a crying shame...

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I have tried to eat at Shanghai cafe twice, and both times it was closed well before their posted closing time. Their sign says they are open til 11. I went at 10:10 and they were already closed. I doubt I'll ever get to try it. :sad:

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I'll have to check it out. Thus far I've been the Yeah Shanghai camp, especially since I've convinced them to give me the dumplings uncooked so I can steam them at home.

Same here (as far as being in the Yeah camp, although I used to like the place on the corner of Mott and Bayard for certain dishes as well.

Thanks for the heads up, Nathan.

Edited by weinoo (log)

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I went to this place a few times a couple of years ago, if I'm remembering correctly. I liked it but thought Yeah was better. I'll give it another chance or two, though; why not? Thanks for the reports.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I went to this place a few times a couple of years ago, if I'm remembering correctly. I liked it but thought Yeah was better. I'll give it another chance or two, though; why not? Thanks for the reports.

Is this place that old?

Robert Buxbaum

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Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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I went to this place a few times a couple of years ago, if I'm remembering correctly. I liked it but thought Yeah was better. I'll give it another chance or two, though; why not? Thanks for the reports.

Is this place that old?

I may be confusing it with another place in a nearby location on Mott.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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the xiao long bao were better than Joe's...the broth being especially tasty.

I suppose you mean Joe Ng's at Chinatown Brasserie? Those are the best I have had yet. No small praise.

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ate here on Friday with Sneakeater and EatMyWords.

we had a Mandarin speaker and recent resident of Shanghai at the table who had heard good things about this place while in Shanghai.

the xiao long bao were better than Joe's...the broth being especially tasty.

the pork with baby bok choy was equivalent to the one at Yeah Shanghai...terrific after you cut through the fat.

an eel dish was a revelation.  shredded pieces of bbq eel interspersed with shredded veggies.  absolutely terrific.

several other dishes were all tasty and well-prepared.

highly recommend.

Don’t forget the cold Jellyfish app, vibrant with a seaweed-like burst. Another surprise winner was the Kau Fu – tofu like texture made from wheat I believe (I’m sure someone here can validate/correct me). It was similar to bean thread and came w/black mushrooms. Refreshing w/an addictive teriyaki sweetness.

I don’t know how Sneak (or anyone) could eat the fat layer on the top of the pork. (perhaps an inch thick). Once trimmed away the meat was savory......no fat w/in and separated with a fork……best I’ve had in C-town.

The steamed whole fish was very good too but pretty standard in preparation. Ginger sc think.

I agree the eel (under chef/house specials on the back pg) was the best dish. The shredded cabbage and mixed Chinese veggies worked really well with the eel sauteed in a slightly more complex brown sc than most.

I was really surprised with this place. It looks like an 80’s throw back with it’s formica and pink neon lights rolling throughout the room. I assumed an Americanized (predictable) Shanghai meal awaited us. But it was authentic and as good as I’ve experienced in C-town.

That wasn't chicken

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I really like this place. When I have out of town visitors who want to experience Chinatown, I bring them here.

It used to be located at 20? Mott Street under the name Shanghai Gourmet but it moved and changed its name to Shanghai Cafe. Same great food though!

Jeff

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Had a quick lunch there. We thought the xiao long bao had thick wrappers--a little too thick. On the other hand, none of them broke between steamer and mouth. In fact, they could be treated rather roughly without fear of breaking. I don't find that a plus. The Shanghai noodle soup was quite a bit different from that served at Joe's Ginger which used to be right across the street, but now gone. It was more like my favorite Shanghai Noodles. Joe's' was mostly noodles, chopped cabbage, pork and broth. Shanghai Cafe had pork, a few shrimp, vegetables, mushrooms and very al dente noodles. Both versions were good, but if pressed, I'd pick Shanghai Cafe. Mrs. B thought the broth was richer at Joe's. It was hardly enough food to make us come to much of a conclusion about the restaurant, but I suspect it will be at least good enough not to make me miss Joe's Ginger--that, and the fact that Joe's Ginger had gone to hell on the last visit. At least I can now surmise that the chef was reassigned to the new Joe's down (or up?) the street from Joe's Shanghai and a few blocks further south of Canal. I live north of Canal and am always looking for places north of Canal.

Service was cold and perfunctory at best. The check arrived without my asking. Tea comes in a water glass. Six guys can't come in and order just a noodle dish--there's a three dollar minimum per person! Three dollars a person! Pork xiao long bao are four bucks. With crab, they'll set you back another two dollars, actually I think it's $5.95 and thus won't qualify as a meal for two. The soup wasn't much more. It's hard to fault the service at those prices, although the staff at Joe's Ginger had become very friendly. Come to think of it, they were rather reserved the last time we ate there. It was as if they knew they were going to serve unacceptable food.

It seemed more like 21st century Hong Kong than a throwback to any Chinese restaurant style in New York to me, although I judge that by other restaurant opening in NY. I was in Hong Kong once and that was back in the 90's. At any rate, it seems typical of a new Chinatown style that's an abrupt change from the one I first became familiar with in the early 60's. I miss the wood paneled Chinese restaurants that were already going out of style then. I don't miss the red and gold dragon interiors that are still around. I miss the second floor and basement dives I knew well. I found Shanghai Cafe far more hospitable and comfortable, at least for lunch, than a description of pink, blue, green and yellow neon behind plastic diffuser panels might suggest. Table are a bit small, but I imaging rents in the area are going up along with the new luxury condos. Something has to give. Either it's the price or the table size. I guess the food could also be an alternative. Small tables could be a good sign.

I've always assumed it's proper, or rather expected, for one to eat the fat when having pork belly. At Grand Sichuan, I recall being asked if I want fatty pork (belly) or lean pork in a dish at least once. I've had cubes of very fatty pork belly in western restaurants as well, including with cassoulet at Payard on the upper east side and at Blue Hill more than once. Blue Hill is known for more delicate food and I'm not sure that pork belly has ever appeared on the menu. Think unrendered lard and it might stick in your throat. Think savory ice cream, smooth and rich. On the other hand, I don't play a doctor, even on the internet, and I'm not telling you to eat a lot of it though it's not the killer fat some make it out to be.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I had dinner for one at Shanghai Cafe tonight. I got the cold seaweed and vegetables dish and zhajiang mien. The seaweed dish is different from the cold seaweed at Yeah and other places that I used to go to (New Green Bo, Moon House): It's made with green and white seaweed and some cucumber, topped with sesame seeds and sesame oil, so it's more like a type of Japanese seaweed salad than the black seaweed that's served in the other places. It was good. The zhajiang mien was OK, with a strong sauce that was rather salty (perhaps a bit too salty) and somewhat sweet, with a touch of hot pepperiness. I prefer Yeah's version, overall. In my case, too, the check arrived while I was not nearly finished with my food (though with the remark "just for when you're ready") - something that if anything tends to cause me to spend more time before leaving, except that I respect the people who are waiting. I gave a good tip, anyway. I will come back and check out more of the menu. The place was well-patronized at around 7:30, and for whatever it's worth, easily 90% of the clientele was Chinese.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Maybe it's just me but I always get better/friendlier service from waitresses (in C-town). Waiters often rush the hell out of you, could give a rat's ass if you have a good experience and will yell out of you if you give any lip.

Ok, I'm generalzing a bit but I've only had negative service experiences with waiters. I don't think they get enough sleep. :shock:

I noticed a mostly female staff at SC

That wasn't chicken

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My wife and I ate here on Friday night, no Mandarin speaker present. Some thoughts and observations:

What is the name of the pork with baby bok choy dish on Shanghai Cafe's menu? Our waitress didn't seem to have any idea what we were talking about. It could be the language barrier, but there was nothing that sounded like it on the menu. I just looked at the take-out menu again to no avail. Then again, on a menu with somewhere near 170 items, I'm sure I could have missed it. :-P

Xiao long bao - we followed up with visits tonight to Moon House Restaurant and New Yeah Shanghai for comparison.

- Shanghai Cafe's was the saltiest of the three and had a deep pork flavor. Not too fatty/oily. The wrapper did seem a bit thick.

- Moon House's was the least salty and had the least amount of broth, was very light in color and had (to us) the most soothing pork broth flavor. The wrapper... well, had a tendency to stick to my teeth. Very strange. Maybe it's my teeth. :-\

- New Yeah's saltiness was in between the other two and was very fatty/oily. The pickled ginger was extremely strong (though not unpleasant). The wrapper here was probably the thinnest of the three.

Shanghai Cafe did not have the eel dish, assuming it is "Stir Fried Eel Ninplo Style," on our visit.

We had Tong-Po pork (pork with baby bok choy) at New Yeah - delicious! The meat was tender, sweet, and aromatically spiced without overpowering the underlying taste of pork. The thin layer of fat/rind is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of this dish. Given the tenderness of the entire cut, most of the fat had to have been rendered out into the sauce. There were two other pork dishes on the menu that looked potentially interesting: pork shoulder with honey sauce and salty pork belly with bean curd sheet).

Service among all three:

We haven't noticed significant differences in service between male and female servers. Female servers at Shanghai Cafe. Male at both Moon House and New Yeah. We never felt rushed, never had the check pushed on us.

Fish head casseroles were being ordered by the Chinese patrons in all three restaurants. I think we'll go back to try those.

Edited by larrylee (log)
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  • 5 months later...

For some reason this place always falls under my radar when I go to Chinatown. Tonight, however, I was specifically yearning for pork and fat. Many years ago, after reading an article by Alan Richman, we went to a place called Lake Spring Cuisine (in So. California), and ordered what was called 'Pork Pump'. It was the definition of pork and fat. The dish actually giggled (much like jello) when we shook the plate, and had an incredible anise star flavor and aroma. In the years since, I've often thought about that dish, and recently I read that Shanghai Cafe makes a respectable version (I didn't know about this thread until tonight).

The dong po rou (at least I believe that's how it's spelled) is not on the menu, but you can ask for it. It comes out as almost a perfect square, 2.5 inches high sitting atop a dark brown sauce and baby bok choy. The underlying flavor is soy and ginger, and I detected some anise star. The layer of fat is about 1/3 of an inch high, and it has the most unimaginably silky texture (think the softest tofu), and the meat itself is perfectly tender. (Incidentally, we were at R.U.B. last night and their pulled pork has nothing on this stuff.) It's impossible that the dish is made to order; I assume they finish it by steaming or braising. For a hunk of meat this size, it is quite shocking how delicate the whole dish is. Since it wasn't on the menu, I was wondering how much it would be. I was guessing around $15. In fact, we were charged $8.50! How can they make money at that price point?

We also had the soup dumplings--very good. And, the braised noodles with crab and young chives. The noodles had great texture and the chives lent a nice crunch. I would have wanted more crab flavor, but the smokiness imparted by the 'wok spirit' made the dish work just fine. We also had the stick rice wrapped in bamboo leaf. It's stuffed with pork and seriously delicious.

A great meal. The service is hurried, blunt, but efficient. My only (small) criticism of this place is how cramped it is. The two-tops are very small and couldn't hold all the dishes we ordered. Therefore, we had to plow through our soup dumplings to make room. Not the end of the world but, on the other hand, the scalding hot soup does not lend itself to quick eating.

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I believe "rou" (or the sound that would be made by those letters) means pork, so that sounds a lot like New Yeah's "tong-po pork." The description is spot-on (as matched by this picture). I'm glad you mentioned it's on the menu because I came here once earlier and couldn't find it anywhere. I should have just asked for it.

As for how they make money on it, it's probably not Berkshire pork! ;)

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