Long time reader... First time poster....
Having consumed a lot of Chinese food in Chicago, I was resigned to the fact that we would never have XLB's near the quality of NYC, SF, LA, Vancouver, Toronto (or even Beijing and Shanghai). Friday night changed all of that.
I heard that Phoenix was trying their hand at Shanghai style dim sum in their infamous space below the main restaurant (a space that has gone through more incarnations than Dr. Who). I decided to give it a shot Friday night. The restaurant was absolutely empty. There's an open kitchen so you could see the chefs sitting around looking extremely bored. I spied the pork XLB (no crab) on the menu and gave it an order. When the order reached the kitchen, I saw the dumpling chef spring off her chair and into action... quickly stuffing and folding each dumpling (I couldn't tell if they used aspic or frozen meat to generate the soup). A few minutes later, I was presented with a steaming basket of eight dumplings.
The dumplings didn't have the same look as the ones in NYC (Joe's Shanghai, New Green Bo, Shanghai Cuisine). When I picked it up with my chopsticks, the dumpling wrapper didn't buckle from the weight of the soup. I was ready to be disappointed.
I placed one in my spoon (w/ some ginger, soy, vinegar, and hot oil) and plopped it into my mouth. The skins were definitely thicker, so you didn't have to be as gentle with them to avoid an accident (those of you who have had good XLB, know what I'm talking about). The skin and meat inside were similar in texture to the ones I had in Beijing at a place right next a BMW dealership (don't know the name, just know that the dumplings were yummy). Most importantly, there was soup.... lots of soup... I thought to myself. FINALLY IN CHICAGO!!!
IMHO these were better than the ones I had in LA (San Gabriel), and SF proper. Definitely not as good as the ones in NYC, Canada, or China... but good enough.
Today, I went for round two (test-retest reliability). Being Sunday, Phoenix itself was packed to the gills with a throng of people waiting outside. However, the Dumpling House was completely empty yet again. This time around, I ordered a few other things with my dumplings: Soy Milk, Fried dough stick, Scallion pancake, and a Red Bean Crepe. The Scallion pancake was very good. You could tell that it was actually made by hand as opposed to machine made frozen and dumped into a deep fryer. Everything else was above average. The dumplings were again very very good.
On my way out, I talked to the Manager about the possibility of crab on the menu. According to her, they've been working on the pork ones for a while to get them right. They're still not completely where she wants them, but they're getting there. As for the Crab, since it doesn't make sense for them to get fresh crab (they wouldn't sell enough and too much of it would go to waste), they are experimenting with several different canned types of crab. It's still not good enough to place on the menu though.
Moon Palace is still the place to get Shanghai food in Chicago (rice cakes, pan fried mini pork buns, Ko-fu, etc). But, if you want XLB... you've got to go to the Phoenix Dumpling House.