Back in April, 1996, I first started going to a new place in Chinatown, Joe's Shanghai. Ruth Reichl of the New York Times had just given it a rave review, and even though I was expecting great things I was nonetheless amazed. I must have gone there at least fifty times in those early years. I never ordered xiao long bao, the worldfamous soup buns, but I tried just about everything else. It was my first introduction to Shanghai food and thinking back I don't think I have had better since. I loved the braised pork shoulder, the loin's head, the stewed bean curd with crab meat, the big prawns with the shell on, prepared three ways. But my favorite was the whole yellowfish. They prepared it in seven different ways. Steamed, braised, spicy, sweet and sour, in a casserole, in fish fingers, in filets with wine sauce. All excellent.
I'm not saying you can't get better in other cities. I'm sure from what I've read you can get much MUCH better in Shanghai, and maybe in L.A. too. But we're not in Shanghai.. And I should note that Jonathan Gold, who is no fan of New York, gave the restaurant glowing praise when he reviewed it in Gourmet Magazine.
Until tonight, I hadn't been there in five years, maybe more. I started going to Shanghai Cafe, Moon House, even New Green Bo. And there was a great place in Flushing... except that one went downhill after a few months. And everyone on Chowhound said the food at Joe's was just plain horrible. So I didn't go. Tonight I finally went back. Pouring rain, and I got there early, so I got a table in front. Usually you'd have to get there at 4 to get that table without a wait. The manager remembered me, and so did the waiter who used to serve me. They were excited to see me again. I ordered the braised (aka red-cooked) yellowfish. It was as good as always. Rich brown sauce, lots of sliced pork and mushrooms long simmered in that sauce. Yum.
Let me just stay, before I crawl out on a limb and saw it off, that this was my only visit. Maybe the place has gone way downhill since its glory days and I lucked out. But I don't think it has.
9 Pell Street
9 Pell St, New York, NY 10013