Shanghai Cafe Meets Rice Cake/Soup Dumpling Needs
In his profile a couple weeks ago, Lunch’er Corey asked the community where he could find “a nice big bowl of rice cakes.” Monstermooch suggested Shanghai Cafe, so on the gorgeous Good Friday we had last week, I set out to follow up on the tip.
I’m happy to report that while Shanghai Cafe’s rice cakes come on a plate and not in a bowl, they’re definitely nice and it’s certainly a big plate. The soup dumplings are terrific as well, so I’d urge Corey and the rest of you to head down there yourselves as soon as you get the chance. Ogle the goodness that awaits you after the jump.
I think that Shanghai Cafe is a little more under-the-radar that the Soup Dumpling Mecca that is Joe’s Shanghai. As a result, the service is better and I’d wager that you’re more likely to get a seat here at lunchtime than at Joe’s.
The interior is pretty standard Chinatown, though there’s a bit more neon than average. Two large circular tables (where single lunchers are usually placed) are surrounded by a number of two-tops, four-tops, and booths. The crown when I went was about half tourists and half Chinese-speakers, which leads me to conclude that Shanghai Cafe has made it into the guidebooks but that they’re also still serving up quality grub.
Service is harried, but fast and quite friendly. There’s also more English spoken here than at many places in the area, so it would make a good destination for Chinatown newbies.
The soup dumplings – or “steamed tiny buns” as they’re called on the menu – come in crab meat and pork ($6.25) and pork only ($4.25) varieties. In case you’ve never tried soup dumplings before, they’re just like regular dumplings except that each contains a bit of savory, salty broth in addition to the meat. They’re a must-try if you’ve never had them.
I went for the surf and turf and didn’t regret it:
Oftentimes, I find that pork/crab soup dumplings are almost all pork with a tiny bit of crab thrown in as an afterthought. The red glow produced by all the neon lights in the place makes it a little hard to see here, but there was a generous amount of crab mixed into each of my dumplings.
Joe’s Shanghai is generally considered the king of the soup dumpling, but I think these are just as good. The outside is chewy but not gummy, and there’s a nice ratio of dough to meat/broth. The meat is tasty and gristle-free (sadly, not always a given), and the broth is savory and fatty without getting greasy. These are solid soup dumplings.
And of course, I used the time honored “bite-blow-sip-eat” technique for eating soup dumplings that Jamie from Philly demonstrated so well.
If these rice cakes don’t satisfy Corey, he’s a much more discerning connoisseur than I. I got rice cakes with pork ($4.95) and they were everything I look for in rice cakes: Thick, well cooked cakes with plenty of meat and vegetables in a slightly-sweet, slightly-tangy, savory sauce. I would have liked just a little more pork in the dish, but I certainly didn’t feel ripped off. It’s heaping pile of food, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of rice cakes to make you full. This alone would be two pretty satisfying lunches for me, and I’m not dainty.
I love Chinatown, and places like Shanghai Cafe are the reason why: Restaurants where you can easily get sickeningly full for $5 or $6 on delicious food that people in other parts of the country can only dream about and where the only languages you hear spoken around you on a sunny Friday afternoon are Chinese, Swedish, and Portugese. Now that’s what I call lunch.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Soup dumplings that rival those at Joe’s Shanghai in a less chaotic venue.
- Craving-satisfying rice cakes.
- You just can’t beat Chinatown for the price.
THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The rice cakes could do with a little more meat in the mix.
- If you come alone, you will probably have to sit at a communal table with strangers, possibly foreign ones, and I am a misanthrope and raging xenophobe.
- There’s a whole lotta neon goin’ on.
Shanghai Cafe, 100 Mott St. (btw. Canal & Hester), (212)966-3988