Gallery: Shanghai Cafe Deluxe in Chinatown Serves Hit and Miss Classics (And Great Soup Dumplings)

Steamed Tiny Buns with Pork ($4.95)
Steamed Tiny Buns with Pork ($4.95)

When you walk through the door, glance left and you'll see a couple of ladies deftly forming pouches of dough into perfectly cinched little purses—the famous soup-filled dumplings of Shanghai. The Xiao Long Bao here are some of the better ones I've had in Chinatown. The filling borders on too sweet for me (though for Chichi they weren't sweet enough), but the juicy broth is savory and intense and the wrappers have a properly pliant and stretchy texture. You'll definitely want to lean way over when you bite into one—the copious juice has a tendency to burst and dribble.

Fried Shanghai Wontons ($4.95)
Fried Shanghai Wontons ($4.95)

Plump and tender with a sweet and savory pork filling, these guys come out hot and crisp.

Pig's Ear ($4.95)
Pig's Ear ($4.95)

The extensive cold dish selection features tasty and well-executed classics like Wine Chicken ($4.95), crunchy and briny sesame-scented jellyfish, salty seaweed salad, and a cartilaginous strips of sliced pig ear. The last of those is well seasoned with soy sauce, packed into a terrine, then cut into paper-thin slices that have a pleasantly crunchy-chewy texture.

Eight Jewel Sticky Rice ($5.95)
Eight Jewel Sticky Rice ($5.95)

Desserts don't feature heavily in Chinese menus, but Shanghai cuisine is an exception. Asides from plenty of red bean-flavored options, you'll also find a few sticky rice-in-syrup choices. The Eight Jewel version comes with candied fruits and nuts. It'll probably be too sweet and mushy for Western palates (I couldn't handle more than a bite), but Chichi dug right in.

Fried Tiny Buns with Pork ($4.95)
Fried Tiny Buns with Pork ($4.95)

The great dumpling wrappers here take well to a stint in the wok, crisping up nicely on the bottom, though we wished they were a little more consistent. Some were perfectly browned while others were pale and a bit dry.

Shanghai Wonton Soup ($4.95)
Shanghai Wonton Soup ($4.95)

With its oceanside location, it's no wonder the Shanghainese version of wonton soup has some heavy sea elements, flavored with a tangled mass of seaweed. It reminds me a lot of a Japanese-style seaweed broth. The wontons themselves are generously stuffed with a sweet pork mixture.

Braised Noodles Shanghai Style ($8.95)
Braised Noodles Shanghai Style ($8.95)

It's a massive bowl of noodle soup, but that's about it. No much flavor to speak of other than salt, and the noodles are cooked to the point of complete mushiness. Perhaps this is how it's really done in Shanghai, but it didn't suit our palates. This one sat around until the end of the meal.

Rice Cake with Black Mushroom ($6.95)
Rice Cake with Black Mushroom ($6.95)

Nice and smoky like the Shanghai-style lo mein, the rice cakes cakes are tender with a few nice crisp edges to contrast with their signature chewiness. The version with black mushrooms was deeply savory and aromatic.

Sliced Fish with Chives ($15.95)
Sliced Fish with Chives ($15.95)

Farm-raised tilapia, unfortunately, has become the norm in Chinese restaurants these days. I personally can't stand the stuff with it's muddy-tasting flesh (farm-raised catfish are even worse). But if you can get past that flavor (it seems not to bother many people), this is a well-executed plate of food. Tender and moist with plenty of aromatic chives.

Chicken with Chestnut in Pot ($13.95)
Chicken with Chestnut in Pot ($13.95)

Definitely not something you'll find on your typical Chinese-American menu, it's got tender and slightly dry chunks of chicken swimming in a gingery brown gravy with whole sweet chestnuts. The same gravy does justice to the massive braised pork shoulder.

Pork Ball with Vegetable Casserole ($11.95)
Pork Ball with Vegetable Casserole ($11.95)

This is a massive bowl of food—easily enough to stuff four. The big pork balls known as Lion's Heads came to Shanghai by way of Jiangsu. Cooked until tender in a sweet soy broth, they come served with cabbage and mung-bean vermicelli in a sweet and savory soup. Though tasty and filling, they were a little mushy in texture with an odd grittiness that some of us found off-putting.

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