I've been hearing about this place for about two years, but the stars haven't lined up to get my full plenum pointed in that direction, so I decided to sneak over to the Mysterious East Bay mayself to vet the xiaolong bao at lunch today. Based on my limited sampling, parsing of the menu and ogling of other people's selections, it looks like a place that I'll be happy to have only a BART hop away.
Having brought only one mouth, I limited myself to my benchmark choices of xiaolong bao, xian doujiang (savory soy milk soup) and shengjian bao (pan fried dumplings, Shanghai's own "pot stickers"). I also couldn't resist ordering the chou doufu, but they didn't have it, even thouhgh it was on the menu. The xiaolong bao were very good, being of the proper size, texture of solid fill and amount and flavor intensity of the "soup." I'd fault the wrappers slightly for not being delicate enough, and the fill for being a little lacking in sharpness of flavor, but they are up there with Shanghai Dumpling's. The doujiang was also one of the better versions, as good as any I've found hereabouts since the early days of Fountain Court, but benefitted from adding a little chili paste. The shengjian bao were almost street-legal, though predictably lacked the sinful greasiness of Shanghai street fare, but that's a cross I'm resigned to bear, living in such health-conscious times.
To say that the "small eats" (read dim sum) menu was impressive would be to put it mildly. There were five different versions of fried nian gao (Ningbo rice cake pasta), including the pork chop version beloved of fressers like me. It had hard-to-find xie ke huang (crab-shaped pastries), and almost all the stock Shanghai breakfast items. Perhaps the only Gotcha! was that they were missing one of the "Great Buddha's Four Warrior Attendants," as old Shanghainese called their breafast staples, namely cifan gao, a rice cake made from whole cooked rice and fried crispy brown like our hash browns.
The visible staff and many of the customers were Shanghainese speakers, and the ambience of the place was authentic as all get-out, down to the bathroom arrangments (but I didn't have to pee in a trough).
As for the dinner menu, I haven't even started to ponder it. But if my description of the place and its food doesn't motivate the Gang of Four (as my extended family is known) to put a full-court press on Shanghai's menu, the prices will. Shanghai Restaurant is currently running a promotion of three entrees for $15 with steamed rice included, and $5.95 for "specials."
930 Webster St.
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