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Xiao long bao, kidneys: Su Hong Palo Alto

David Sloo | Nov 30, 200502:18 AM

Elsewhere on Chowhound you have read the warnings: Su Hong Palo Alto is not the same as Su Hong Menlo Park.

(I believe that in spite of the rest of the menu you can get a peppery, hearty, worthwhile General's Chicken at Su Hong in Menlo Park about once a week, but I haven't pinned down the day.)

I went to Su Hong Palo Alto, on El Camino Way (wonderful street name -- my son says 'The Way Way, hah hah') to try xiao long bao. A few days after leaving Shanghai, I needed to see what I could do to fill that specific pit in my appetite.

As other posters have recommended, you can usefully ignore the lunch menu in English. Instead, start with the cold appetizers inside the case near the door. If you read Chinese or have a food dictionary (World Food Hong Kong is good, but sometimes frustrating, since it's focussed on southern cooking only), go through the different menus and white-boards in Chinese. Or just start asking, as I did:

Do you have kidneys?
Yes, pork kidneys.
Sure. Do you want them spicy?
Yes, spicy would be great.

I got a well-cooked dish of scored pig kidneys, with chopped up savory Chinese doughnuts (you2 tiao2 in Mandarin) and peppers. It was not delicate at all, but very warm and hearty.

I also tried the Shanghai-style spring rolls, which are on the menu. They are full of mushrooms, and absolutely the most mushroomy fried rolls I have had.

A few days prior, I was happily eating at street-side stands in Shanghai and in Zhejiang province. Bay Area spots will not soon equal the convenience or value of east China's dumplingeries. But Su Hong reminded me that the xiao long bao here are worth eating.

Xiao long bao. This is a cult food: pork dumplings, usually with a scallion flavor, wrapped while cold along with gelled pork broth inside a thin wheat-flour skin. It is steamed so that the broth-gel turns liquid, and you get to savor a thin envelope around a delicious soup surrounding a meatball. It's wonderful, it's messy, and most people eat it with a spoon under the dumpling in one hand and the chopsticks in the other.

Happy Cafe (San Mateo) has a better xiao long bao skin than Su Hong's -- thinner and even more delectable. However, I agree with previous posters: Su Hong Palo Alto make a better dumpling and bright, slurpworthy broth inside. Yes, it costs much more than in Shanghai.

Incidentally, Happy Cafe, open mostly at lunch, will gently cook pork kidneys with ginger, very different from what I had at Su Hong, and also worth the trip.

Su Hong, 4101 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, 650 493 4664
Happy Cafe, 250 S B St, San Mateo, 650 340 7138

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