I heard about Taste of Shanghai on chound and yelp. I also read that it was the former chef from Shanghai Tide, which is run by the same owner / chefs as the now defunct Yangtze River Restaurant across the street, which was the best shanghainese in NYC by far when it was open. So I was excited to try it since Yangtze River was really good.
It occupies a space that has been a rotating door for chinese restaurants on the corner of 39th and Prince wedged between the parking lot for the Sheraton and a chinese bar who's name escapes me. It's got a yellow onning and is hard to miss. When you walk in there are two stories and maybe 6-7 smaller tables on the bottom floor and 5-6 bigger tables upstairs. The decor is nothing to write home about, but its not a total dump either.
The service was brisk, but fine and the waiter was reasonably helpful when ordering explaining some of the dishes. I'm not sure how good or not good their english is b/c we ordered in chinese, but the menu is totally translated into english, so it shouldn't be a problem either way. The menu is 90% shanghainese dishes with a few random other dishes in the mix. The prices are super cheap, I think the most expensive dish on the menu was maybe $15, most dishes range between $5-8.
We ordered an absolute ton of food (we were there for 2 hours):
- scallion pancake with beef (niu rou jia bing): this isn't really a shanghainese dish, I've had it at lots of taiwanese places and the best version I've ever had is at a shandong place in LA. It's pretty self explanatory, its a scallion pancake brushed with hoisin (haixian) sauce, sliced beef and cucumbers. It was pretty tasty, the scallion pancake was a bit thick, but fresh and crispy and not that oily at all. The combo of everything went well together. Fyi, their version is pretty small, its probably meant for two people (we had four people).
- cold cucumbers in garlic sauce: this was excellent, the cucumbers were very fresh and were sliced small enough (I hate when they give you big chunks), had sesame oil, garlic and a big a salt. Very refreshing
- crab and pork soup dumplings (xie fen xiao long bao): the XLB here are decent, but not great, I don't think they are any better than the ones in manhattan. The skins are slightly thicker than most, the filling was good and a little lighter than most XLB. The crab wasn't really worth it as they didn't really give you very much. I'd order them if you can if you like XLB, but you're not going to be wow'd by them
- sauteed watercress (kong xin cai): pretty standard, just sauteed kong xin cai with oil and garlic. I'm not sure if this was on the menu or not, but the waiter recommended it as a vegetable, so we got it. I love kong xin cai, so it was good.
- egg and tomato: this is sort of a homestyle dish. It's basically just scrambled eggs with tomatoes. Wasn't the best version, I've ever had, but i like the dish alot, so I enjoyed it.
- scallion and dry shrimp noodle: this was interesting, the noodles sort of reminded me of ramen noodles, it was in a sort of salty sauce that was soy sauce and scallion oil. It was topped with scallion that were brown, I believe they were fermented and put in the oil, there were also tiny dried shrimps on top. It was pretty good although not mind blowing
- spicy blue crab (xiang la xie): wow this was so good, blue crab chopped into pieces sauteed in a dry sauce of oil, fermented black beans, peppers, scallions, green onions and maybe one or two other things. Really good, meat was sweet and tender, the sauce was spicy, but not overly spicy...it was also a bit sweet. Everyone was really wow'd by this dish. Fyi, the waiter said there were two preparations a dry and a soupy one, but he said the dry one (the one we got) is better.
- braised pork shoulder in brown sauce: another excellent dish, a big pork shoulder with bone-in in a semi-sweet brown sauce. The meat was fall off the bone tender and the skin / fat was melt in your mouth delicious. It's pretty self-explanatory, but really good
- meatball casserole: the name was deceiving, but its actually a light soup with meat balls, tofu and cabbage. The meat balls were pretty decent, fairly light actually. The soup was good albeit a bit too salty. Good, but not great dish
- mushroom and gluten: this was very simple dish of sauteed mushrooms and gluten. The mushrooms were good, but the gluten was weird, it was kind of mushy, so the dish was just so so.
- eight treasure rice (ba bao fan): i like this dish, its sticky glutinous rice with red beans in the middle and then they put raisins and some other dried fruits on it (they are all colorful...think of like fruitcake colorful)...i love red bean and i love sticky rice, so i liked this dish.
I really want to come back to try to braised yellow eels, which they had run out of that day.
Overall, everyone really liked the restaurant and I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of some of the dishes. What I really liked about this place was that the focus was on shanghainese food other than soup dumplings. I think shanghainese in the city has become solely associated with soup dumplings similar to how vietnamese food is now associated with banh mi and I think there is alot more to these cuisines then these famous dishes (although they are both tasty). This place is definitely worth trying out to taste good shanghainese outside of soup dumplings. I highly recommend.
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