Searching for the best "Shanghainese" place in Chinatown, I took Minna's suggestion and began with a little recon at Shanghai Cuisine. Swanky decor, so I'd always passed by this place and wrote it off as a tourist trap.
The meal began promisingly. A free appetizer, peanuts covered in seaweed were a pleasant surprise. This seaweed is what's used in the fried fish batter. I've seen it called 'sea moss,' elsewhere. Reminded me of my favorite Japanese nut snacks. Then, to test the kitchen and hopefully satisfy my craving I ordered the Lion's Head Meatballs, listed on the menu under casseroles.
Wow. If this was the best of my c-town options, I was in trouble. Compared to my memories of fragrant, complex, thick-sauced juicy meatballs in a cellophane noodle, tofu, and bok choy-strewn broth, this version with only bok choy, an anise-anemic overly soy-tasting watery sauce and one-dimensional meatballs fell far, far short. It was only slightly better than what I remember of Moon House's version, my first encounter with NYC Shanghainese. Based on that, and the fact that YSD had more on its menu I wanted to try I eschewed SC for the former, and decided it would be best for me to skip the dishes I knew. In retrospect, esp. after YSD, I'd give SC another chance.
At YSD I ordered standards recc'd here and elsewhere, but also a couple dishes I hadn't seen anyone mention:
Xiao Long Bao (aka 'soup dumplings'):
Ordered them despite many warnings to skip. Weren't that bad, actually. Especially pepped up with the soy-ginger. Thick skin, a little lacking in meat inside, a pleasant if unremarkable pork-heavy interior.
West-lake beef soup:
Famous soup named after grand ol' Lake Taihu. Haven't read any reports on this, and I knew it was a Jiangzhe cai classic. It's much like an egg-drop soup enlivened with bits of fatty ground beef and cilantro. Tons of cilantro here, very aromatic and helped to cut the richness of the other dishes. Eggs were very light and gave the soup an almost custardy texture.
Mock Preserved duck:
A subtle, somewhat duck-like tofu dish. Some disappointment at this. Texture was ducky, taste was neither ducky nor much of anything else.
Northern roasted chicken:
Moderately moist chicken, much helped by addition of the zhejiang vinegar-strong sauce. Better with the skin mixed in?
Was expecting pure rock-candy from the descriptions. Actually I found this rich, yes, sweet, absolutely, but also pure porcine heaven. Rich is really an understatement- there was at least an inch of pure pork fat atop the meat. Delicious.
Broad beans with preserved veggies:
The one dish from the specials chalkboard. This was a hit with all. Meaty beans somewhere between fava and lima, mixed up with mustardy slightly vinegary greens. Simple yet elegant combo.
Overall I'd say the food was solid, but short of spectacular. If each dish was nudged a little more it could have gotten there, but it seemed like the kitchen was content with it as it was.
Now, has anyone ever had the sea cucumber with "shrimp seed?" A seafood dish would have been the obvious next choice, and this is another regional classic (pictured prominently outside in the greatest hits of YSD photomontage).
Bayard at Mulbery St.
New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe (note the addition of 'new')
65 Bayard St.